Friday, June 27, 2008

Creating Boundaries

Creating boundaries is an important skill to learn in order to respond in a healthy way to the addicted person in your life.

The key to your ability to create real boundaries is your willingness to hold the addicted person responsible for their addict behavior for the benefit of the family, not to manipulate the addicted person into better behavior. This is a skill that must be learned.

I have talked with family members that wanted to create "consequences" for their addicted loved one for a variety of bad reasons, because the family was angry at the addicted person, or because they wanted to punish the addicted person for being addicted, or the family wanted to manipulate the addicted person into treatment.

The first thing to understand is that the family does not create consequences. The family creates boundaries, and the addicted persons behavior results in consequences. One aspect of boundaries are clear rules or limits on behavior that everyone in the family is expected to honor, including the addicted person. Developing boundaries involves both perception and emotion. Being able to see that your loved ones addiction is not your issue can be very difficult. Boundaries help create a dividing line between the issues the addicted person must deal with in order to get help and issues that the family members must deal with for their health. Family members often spend too much time trying to solve their loved ones addiction and as a result they begin to loose touch with their own needs and identity.

Some family members have asked the question, what are examples of creating boundaries.? The most important examples of creating boundaries are invisible and are created through support and education. They involve an internal shift involving the understanding of addiction and learning to not overreact to your emotions. Family members are able to create healthy boundaries when they begin to understand that their loved one can only recover when they take responsibility for their own issues, family members can't do it for them. Healthy boundaries are created when family members can overcome the guilt, the anger, the disappointment, and the perception that they are responsible for this situation and are expected to make it better.

Remember the three C's: You didn't Cause it, You can't Control it and You can't Cure it.

When family members begin making this internal shift then they can create healthy boundaries that don't involve manipulation, anger, punishment and they will be able to follow through and uphold these boundaries.

Anyone can look as though they are creating a "boundary" but if it is done for the wrong reasons it just keeps the addicted person and the family members more enmeshed in an unhealthy dance.

If you enforce a rule or boundary and you are doing this because it is good for you and your family your on the right track.

If you enforce a rule or boundary and it is about trying to manipulate the addicted person your on the wrong track.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

What People Ask!!

The last 50 people who have come to this blog have asked about information related to, the manipulative behavior of addicted people, being able to trust the addicted person again, the creation of boundaries and how to say no, enabling behaviors and coping strategies to deal with the anxiety, stress and fear associated with living with addiction in the family.

Over the past 12 years of talking with family members who are struggling with addiction in at least one or more of their family members these questions make up about 90% of what they are dealing with and want to get better at managing. The other few 10% of issues has to do with whether addiction is a disease and questions about specific drugs.

I would like to make a small statement related to the addiction as a disease question. Forget the word disease. I call it a medical condition, you can call it anything you want. All reputable medical organizations in the world will say addiction is a disease process. The most important concept to understand, no matter what you decide to call addiction, is that you can not control this condition and the addicted person can not either.

The addicted person can learn to manage their condition only after they have acknowledged their addiction and become willing to take responsibility for managing their own recovery.

It is important to clearly understand that addiction is a medical condition which results in changes in brain chemistry that alters the normal perception and decision making process in the brain. These changes are caused by chronic use of the addicted persons drug of choice, whether it is alcohol, methamphetamine, cocaine, etc.. The primary message that addicted persons are giving themselves is that their drug of choice is what makes life worth living. The drug replaces you, other family members, education, career, economic responsibility and hobby's. I'm sure you can add many others through your own experience. The primary activity for the addicted person is to acquire and use their drug of choice.

All addicted people will manipulate those around them and their environment to ensure that they meet their goal of getting and using their drug. Manipulation is the normal behavior of an addicted person. It is not personal, it is just what addicts do. When you begin to understand this you can better decide on your choice of strategies for not allowing yourself to be manipulated by the addicted person.

Yes, addiction is not personal!! It is hurtful because you can see that the person you love is hurting themselves and others but it is not aimed at you. Addicted people, because of the changes in the brain brought on by their compulsive drug use can not see other peoples suffering. Addicted people are trapped in a narrow focus of getting and using their drug of choice. Because you are thinking logically you see offers of help and support. Because the addicted persons brain is altered they see the offers of help and support as roadblocks to be overcome or manipulated out of the way to meet their goal of using their drug of choice. You are simply a witness to their addict behavior. The more you are gradually able to learn to lessen the personal aspects of your response to your loved ones addiction the better able you will be to respond effectively to the chaos they create in their lives that effects your life.

Trust issues are important family issues. Many family members trust what an addicted person says because they want to trust them and want them to be trustworthy. They trust what they say because they think they should. They trust what they say because they think if they don't they are abandoning them. It is important for family members to understand this about addicted people, if their lips are moving they are lying. Never trust what an addicted person says, even if you want to. Remember just as addiction is not personal neither is this. Addiction happens to the most wonderful people. This isn't an attack on their character. This is an acknowledgment of the realities of addiction.

Learning to trust again. Nobody deserves your trust just because they are breathing, or they are related to you. If you think about people you really trust it is probably people that follow through on what they say they will do. They may not be perfect but their behavior matches up with their words.

What about the addict? If you understand addiction, and that the primary goal of that addict is to acquire and use their drug of choice they also follow through. The problem is they won't tell you the truth. If you understand that no matter what they tell you it is all for the drug it is easier to say no. Never call an addicted person a liar. The information about not trusting them is for you to understand when responding to their very predictable addict behavior. If you want to learn to trust them again remember it is all about the behavior, just observe. As they begin a program of recovery you may note that they are beginning to "walk their talk", as they say in 12 step programs. Start out slow and allow trust to be earned, no judgments.

Creating boundaries between you and the addicted person in your family is an important skill to learn. Without boundaries you can not learn to respond effectively to help improve your emotional well being and also be helpful to others in your family. An important part in creating boundaries is coming to the understanding that the addicted person you love has different issues than you. For example, their addiction is not your issue. In order for them to begin any process of recovery they must take responsibility for their condition. Many family members try and try take responsibility for their loved ones recovery and they become more and more frustrated and hurt. The issues you need to be focusing on are related to you and are separate from your loved ones medical condition. These issues need to be addressed for you to be successful in your own recovery.

Getting support is probably the most important behavior a family or individual family member can do for themselves and the addicted person in their family. Addiction thrives on isolation, fear and shame. Part of your recovery is learning how to be yourself again and to live a healthy life even with the stress of addiction in the family.