Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Using Resources

Often after getting help we wonder why we waited so long before seeking support and learning how to use the resources that are available to us. Often we are aware there is a serious problem with the behavior of a family member. We see them changing in negative ways and may even understand that alcohol/drugs are an issue but if we don't understand what this means we continue to act as if we can or should be able to take care of the situation ourselves. The idea that someone in our family is an addict is so disturbing that we will focus on almost anything else as an issue. This is very understandable. There have been many time when someone in the family class knew there was a serious problem going on with one of their family members and even were clear that alcohol/drugs are the issue but were not willing or able to acknowledge that their family member was suffering from addiction. Many times we know the reality of the situation in our heads but can't or won't accept it in our heart. This split between head and heart is not unusual but may prevent us from moving forward toward learning how to respond to our loved one's drug use in a healthy way and seeking help and resources for ourselves and family.

The first issue is that many of us don't really understand addiction, and the second issue is that the concept of addiction carries with it a heavy load of blame, shame, guilt, failure, and is unfortunately and inaccurately seen as a reflection on the character of the whole family. Our tendency is to try to take care of problems within our family, not to "air out dirty laundry." This behavior tends to isolate the family and individuals in the family and reduces the chances of learning more about the reality of addiction and how to contact and use resources that could be helpful.

It is important to remember the 3 C's. We didn't Cause the addiction, We can't Control the addiction and we can't Cure the addiction. The three C's sound to some people like we are more helpless than we want to be. We would rather force ourselves into the situation rather than believe we are helpless in a family crisis. In fact we are not helpless and if we are to make the best use of important resources we need to learn the other 3 C's. These are learning what we Can Cause (improvement in our well being, increased knowledge about addiction, treatment and how to respond to the addict) What we Can Control (Our environment, How we respond to addiction, How we allow ourselves to be treated) and what we Can Cure (Our own emotional and physical health).

The resources we use should help us in understanding what we are dealing with when we have an addicted person in our family, help us reduce our feelings of isolation and anxiety, help us in relating to our entire family, help us feel better about ourselves and stay connected to friends and other people we know in the community.

Good resources should help family members learn the following skills:

Skill 1. Understand the nature of the disease of addiction.

Skill 2. Understand the difference between the addicted family member's issues and our issues.

Skill 3. Understand and begin to implement the 3 C's
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Skill 4. Understand and begin to implement the new 3 C's based on what you can do.

Skill 5. Learn how to manage anxiety and fear. Learn how they drive unhealthy reactions to the addict.

Skill 6. Learn how to use resources both inside and outside the family.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Families on the Frontlines

I'm back...I hope everyone is working toward healing themselves. It is important for us all.

Every major professional organization in the world, such as the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, etc. agree that addiction is a disease process and a major public health problem. They also agree that when someone in a family is affected by this condition everybody in the family unit is negatively impacted. Family members generally begin to develop ways of coping with the problem of addiction that are unhealthy. They may reduce their level of communication with each other, avoid showing emotions and keeping the situation secret from friends, relatives or co-workers and they may start taking on the responsibilities that the addicted person should be fulfilling.

Family members are on the front lines in the "war on drugs," but they are not trained for the task and are usually operating as isolated units that generally do not communicate comfortably with each other or with the larger community in which they live. They are the invisible casualties that are piling up on the battlefield of this war and they are suffering on a daily basis in isolation and struggling with the pain and fear they are experiencing as a result of their loved one's addiction. As family members struggle to figure out how to help their loved one, without help for themselves they gradually begin to take on the pain and anxiety that the addict should be feeling. Families need help but aren't getting it.

When people are struggling with drug abuse in their family they grasp for answers. They are anxious to seek information about how to make it stop; they want to know how to get their loved one to stop using drugs and get into treatment. Family members become stressed out and they don't process information well. Many times what they do hear is that the user can get help only when they want it, and that translates into hopelessness and they feel even more powerless. What is going on, everything is focused on the addict. Paradox: More focus on the addict the worse the family feels.

What do family members need to learn?

Family member need to learn if what they actually believe about addiction is true. They need to develop enough confidence in themselves that they are willing to act based on what is true about addiction. Family members beliefs about addiction will continue to shape what they think, feel and do in relationship to the addict, other family members and themselves. It is important to get accurate information.

Family members need to learn about issues of control and stress management and how stress and fear can destroy family relationships. Control issues are at the core of addiction and it is the loss of control that frightens family members the most. Family members can learn what they have control over and what they don't have control over. Family members don't have control over the addicted person's behavior but they can exercise control over the type of behavior that occurs in their home if they are willing to. Armed with the knowledge that there are things that they can control, if they are willing to do that, they can begin moving a direction that is healthier for the family and may increase the possibility the addicted person will seek help. The skill of managing stress in a healthy manner is extremely important to learn. Stress, fear and anxiety play a central role in the struggle with addiction in the family. This is absolutely normal and at the same time must be acknowledged and managed. When family members learn to manage their fear and anxiety they will be better able to take back control over their own lives and respond to the addicted as well as other family members in a healthy way.