Watching someone you love struggle with addiction or alcoholism is extremely painful. I often liken it to watching someone dig a deep hole.
When I started attending recovery meetings for family members affected by someone else’s addiction, something became clear to me pretty quickly: I had no idea how to communicate in a healthy manner.
The communication that had taken place in my marriage when alcoholism was present ran through three phases. Phase 1 was to talk to him about his drinking and use whenever I could, and however I could, in the hope of making him stop. Phase 2 was not talking about his drinking and use at all, with the hope that if I ignored it would go away. Phase 3 was letting the frustration of this situation take over, and not talking about anything – otherwise known as the silent treatment. Of course, staring at someone else and thinking at them until they figure out what’s wrong is not the most effective communication tool…
Currently there is a situation in my life that doesn’t have any direct impact on me, and yet it’s been on my mind and on my heart. Someone I love is struggling. It’s deep and painful, and it’s difficult to watch. I’ve often thought that if I had to choose between my own heartbreak, and the heartbreak of someone I love, I would choose my own time and time again.
It’s a gray and rainy day, and I’m sitting in a room with a group of people who never wanted to gain entry into the retreat we’re hosting. They desperately tried everything in their power to never be here. They formulated plans, they had talks, they paid good money, they supported, they begged, they pleaded, they researched, and they loved with all they had. And, yet, here they are: the folks who have lost a loved one to the disease of addiction.
All children living in homes where addiction is present experience some sort of impact. Some of their reactions are predictable, while some dynamic behavior combinations are completely unique and organic to each child. These reactions are defenses and are all situationally established to create a sense of safety or relief. Claudia Black, Ph.D. and national expert on the Family Disease of Addiction, has researched the patterns of reactions that children experience. She identifies one of these childhood roles as “The Scapegoat”.
When addiction is present in the home, and the subsequent instability and inconsistency in relationships that accompanies it, the reactions that different children have is varied, yet predictable. Claudia Black, Ph.D. and national expert on the Family Disease of Addiction, identifies one of these childhood roles as “The Adjuster.”
The expectation of the holiday season can be stressful for everyone. For reasons that might be obvious, that stress seems to be even greater in families dealing with recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction.
There is a simple practice that can reduce that stress and offer us the opportunity for a meaningful holiday experience; that is a mindfulness practice. It allows us to stop our racing thoughts, which are usually produced by some form of fear. It allows us to make choices that support our well-being. It allows us to be present.
Family Recovery Series: 6 Things You Can Do to Help an Alcoholic Loved One.
Part 3: Set Limits and Stick to Them