A sibling’s view of addiction as a family disease

siblings talkingWhen I first heard that alcoholism is a family disease, I balked at that notion. I did not consider how all my thoughts and energy fields were directed on them: to get them to stop, to get them to see the light, to rescue or make excuses for them. I did not see my behavior at all – after all,they were the ones with the problem, not me! I might admit my stress level increased, but I’d justify “you’d be worried too if your kid was struggling!”

After I joined the Al-Anon family groups and started working the steps, I began to see how my actions, my feelings, my health and well-being were directly proportional to the degree of involvement with trying to control the addict. As the disease progressed, my obsessions increased and I started showing physical symptoms from the stress.

I had the opportunity to understand this from another perspective from a sibling of someone struggling with substance abuse.   She shared how awful it was to see her mother spend all her waking moments worried about her sister. It seemed all her mother did was focus on the sister; wonder and wish she’d get better, always talk about her, often sad about her, …and if her sister was doing well, her mom’s attitude was better. She was learning to please her mom by being the “good daughter.” She believed that she herself could somehow make mom happy. When that didn’t work, she lost all sense of self-worth. The frustration she felt with her mom often made her angry. She wanted to scream “what about me?!! I’m here and I’m doing all the right things”! Then the notion that she could somehow control her addict sister in attempt to “smooth things over” in the family soon became her new obsession.

Hearing her story put things in perspective.  In many ways I related.  I was able to look at how my behavior towards the “problem” might have affected other family members and friends who cared about me. Was I so preoccupied that I closed them out? I was seeing proof from others who shared their experience. There is a commonality of the symptoms. With proof I no longer had doubt about this being a family disease.

Lessons in the cunning, baffling and progressive nature of my sons’ addiction

A Dad’s Road to Recovery

The month’s Guest Blogger, A Dad’s Road to Recovery, features a 3-part series.   This is Part 1.

My journey through Al-Anon has taught me ways to deal with the repetitive actions of my 23 year-old son’s insistence to use heroin and commit crimes in order to get high and support his habit. I learned in step one that I was indeed powerless and that no action I could produce could turn my son into a normal person. Recently I completed all twelve steps with my sponsor and I became more knowledgeable on what it took to take care of me. My son got arrested four times in the past five weeks only to be released from jail a few days later as the jails are overcrowded. The cycle consisted of him getting released on his own recognizance and then a few days later he would get arrested again for similar crimes. His crimes ranged from possession of drugs, theft, burglary, and forgery. About a year ago while being homeless he went through a similar episode of drug use, theft, and forgery and spent 7 months in the County jail. I will say the jail time gave him time to think about his situation, attend 12 step meetings while in jail, and when he got out accumulated an additional 3 months of clean time. He attended about 90 Narcotics Anonymous meetings in 90 days. His road to recovery was beginning and then was shattered as quick as it began. It was after that the relapse of drug use and the crimes stated above occurred again.  Part 2 of this series will be posted on December 23.

Grandmother-to-be Takes Charge and Relapses

For a mother in a recovery program for co-dependency, sometimes unconscious triggers for relapse happen by outside influences to close to my heart. The ultimate one for me came when my sons’ girlfriend announced she was going to have his baby. My thinking went immediately to the bleak future. My thinking said I should be involved – they are not capable of raising a child! These projections were a result of my fears and rewarded as “mother knows best” as I took control and became in charge.

Back in my disease, hard lessons were soon to come to my way. I could no more control the “mother” of my future grandchild any more than I could control addiction.  I am powerless!  I had choices: to participate in the agony of involvement – or, to release myself from the crazy behavior emanating from the source and feeding my fears. Choosing option 1, involvement to the max, I became troubled by the deception and lies. And I kept wondering why I dismissed signs that something was amiss.

Thank goodness I was not alone – with the help of my 12-Step program, talking with my sponsor and others, I was able to discern what I had control over and what reality was. And I even got lessons from my Higher Power to help me Let Go of the future and be present in the here and now.

Ultimately, I was able to accept and let her go.  There wasn’t going to be a grandchild and possibly never was – to this day I do not know the truth about that and that’s OK too. All I know is when I detach the better I am. I can accept the disease but I don’t have to participate – in fact, keeping a healthy distance from my loved ones has proven to be the best countermeasure for all my troubles.

Changed Thinking

I think about Hope differently and especially with the turn of a new year. It was in the New Year, and in January of years gone by when sudden and terrible events changed my course in recovery. My sons were arrested. This time was serious. This time things would be different. My hope went from “I hope they will…” to “I hope I can …” This was not an overnight phenomenon. Over time, working the steps with a Sponsor, giving service, and attending Al-Anon meetings regularly, something changed in me.

Was it the fact my sons progressed in their disease and my humility was exposed? From an outsider, things appeared to be getting worse not better. Nonetheless, the focus of my conscience mind was no longer on them 100% of the time – Was it a result of my own growth in recovery from the family disease? More than likely it was a combination of all these things. One day I realized I was no longer consumed by them or other things I could recognize as “outside my control.” I began to get a better understanding of the disease. I gained compassion and empathy to friends and family afflicted. I could no longer lecture or give advice on other people’s matters. I had to acknowledge my limits and stick to my own experience, strength and hope.

My hope today focuses on my own recovery, reaching out to others and giving service. Maybe my experience, like those who shared their experiences before me, will be a beacon of Hope to someone else – it’s not for me to figure out. Somewhere in the recovery community I felt hope and realized it’s a unique, individual awakening and choice to live life fully. There can be joy. There can be happiness. I’m hopeful because recovery is for anyone who wants it.