by Stephanie Tucker, MDAAC, MMin.
Dealing with a family member’s addiction has most likely been a painful rollercoaster. You’ve reached the bottom at times, and didn’t know how you would be able to continue another day. Watching someone you love destroy his or her life through addiction can be an emotionally exhausting and extraordinarily stressful experience.
So if your family member has finally sought help, why do you continue to feel anxious and stressed out? Why is it that as they are seeking help, you are finding it hard to cope?
Here’s a practical strategy to help ground you as you deal with difficult emotions.
The bible says that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) We can use the same approach in dealing with an addict in our family. If he or she is truly broken and remorseful, now is the time to give grace. This means it is not appropriate to bring up everything wrong that was taking place during the addiction. It is not the time to share your anger or frustration that has been pent up inside you (although you most certainly need to share that with a trusted friend or sponsor). At one point, those issues will need to be addressed, but for now, the addict in your life needs grace.
How do you do this? Be willing to see past an addict’s behavior and know that underneath is a human being in need of God’s healing and forgiveness. God isn’t going to deal with the addict in your life by pointing out all of his or her sinful external behaviors (even though the behaviors are wrong). God wants to find the true person locked underneath the addiction, and reveal to him or her what went wrong that led to this path of destruction in the first place. If the addict in your life is humble and broken, this will be an amazing process ignited by God’s grace. If the addict is not ready for this process and continues to engage in self-centered, rebellious behavior, the process of recovery will not work. Why? Because the “process” is confession, repentance and renouncing of sin. This could never work if one is not willing. If this happens, prepare yourself to set firm, strict boundaries that will no longer tolerate or permit the behavior surrounding addiction in your life.
Be Understanding and Educated about Addiction
Unfortunately, many people truly don’t understand addictive behavior, even people who truly do mean well. They see an addict’s behavior as personal weakness or willful rebellion. However, when in full swing, addiction is no longer a conscious choice, but something the bible calls a stronghold. (although at one point a choice was made that brought the addict to this point.) In the addiction cycle, the physical body is addicted, but the true cause is rooted in spiritual and emotional damage. These roots must be dealt with properly in order for true change to occur. The most important step in recovery is a full admission that one is powerless over addiction, BUT that God is more powerful. A true surrender to God through Jesus Christ brings all the power necessary to overcome addiction. This surrender doesn’t account for the transformation (sanctification) process that happens more gradually. An addict needs to learn how to live life again, change one day at time, and receive lots of support from others going through the same thing.
Set Realistic Relationship Expectations
Relationships take time to heal. An addict in recovery needs time to focus on self. Many times, family members feel this process is “selfish”, and feel angry or hurt that they are being left out. Understand, addiction truly affects and infects the entire family system. At New Life Spirit Recovery, the addict will spend much time learning about proper relationship skills and God’s plan for the family. However, focusing on relationships cannot happen until the addict in your life has addressed his or her personal issues, including the root causes for the addictive behavior. Don’t pressure your family member to become the spouse, child, mother, father or friend that you have wanted and need. Rather, patiently wait for that healing process to take root and spend much time in prayer, relying on God to change that person. Understand, it may take some time before the relational issues can be fully addressed. If true recovery occurs, this will happen.
While you will be required to forgive the addict in your life, you do not need to allow that behavior again in the future. Whether you are a spouse, parent, friend or church leader, this is the time to set boundaries that you can stick with. As a spouse or parent, you may want to clearly stake out those things you will not allow, and set specific consequences.
When working on developing boundaries, seek help from a wise person or sponsor who understands true recovery. Remember, it gets tricky at times, because as much as boundaries are necessary, there are times when grace is warranted. Knowing the difference can be difficult if you are learning to set healthy boundaries for the first time. Your loved one will also be learning in treatment how to set healthy boundaries. That means this is an excellent opportunity for both of you to mutually set loving boundaries and agree to have a mutual plan for accountability, expectations and consequences.
Prepare for Transition
If the addict in your life truly does begin a transformation process, prepare yourself for a major transition in the family/relationship. You may have grown accustomed for overly caring for that person. In some ways, you may experience a sense of loss in the relationship. All the things you have been doing for that person will suddenly be unnecessary. As strange as it may be, when we have dysfunctional relationships due to addiction, everyone can adapt so much that when the addict gets better, the other family members don’t know how to readjust. Prepare for some transition difficulties. You may not feel comfortable with your husband’s desire to lead the family again. You may not feel comfortable that your adult child wants to be entirely independent. But in reality, these are GOOD! Still, it’s entirely possible and even probable that this transition may be emotionally uncomfortable for you. If you are doing your part through educating yourself about addiction and codependency and participating in support groups, you and the addict in your life stand an excellent chance of coming through this with a healthy and whole relationship. It takes two people willing to address their personal contribution to the problem to allow the relationship to heal. If you feel especially challenged in this area, you may want to consider finding a counselor who has a biblical understanding of addiction to help you.
Learn to Refocus
Oftentimes, it can be as difficult to be the person supporting an addict in treatment as the person actually going through treatment. The addict in treatment is surrounded by supportive people who understand where he or she has been. You, on the other hand, may feel entirely alone. What should you do? The hardest part is for you to truly let go. Resolve to take the focus off the addict, (you can of course continue to pray) and take time to understand what is going on inside you. What are you feeling? Are you angry or hurt? Have you lost your identity while focusing too much on the addict and not enough on yourself? Use this time to connect to God and ask for His wisdom and strength. Ask yourself how you may have contributed to the negative relationship symptoms. Most family members have some form of codependency. Ironically, these issues can contribute to the problem so much, that if they are not addressed, they will prevent a proper healing to take place in the relationship. If you would like more information on codependency, you can contact one of our counselors. You can also find a local 12-step meeting such as Celebrate Recovery, Al-Anon or Codependency Anonymous. This will bring you the much needed support to get through this time and the transition of recovery.
Stephanie Tucker is the Codependency and Family Counselor at New Life Spirit Recovery