I was recently talking with the parent of an addict who is still in active addiction and didn’t appear to be stopping any time soon. This father was concerned about his daughter, who was in her mid-twenties and had been using drugs for a number of years. Some of the many mind-altering substances his child was abusing, at various times, included alcohol, weed, cocaine, meth, heroin and other opioids she was buying on the street.
Lisa (names have been changed) was still living at home, with her own private bedroom in the basement of the family home. She was allowed to come and go as she pleased—with a private entrance that led directly to her living space. Unable to hold a job for very long because of her addiction, Lisa was on disability income assistance and was not being asked to pay rent or to contribute to food, hydro or any other expenses in the home. Her mother and father both had outside jobs, yet along with Lisa’s siblings they took care of all the household chores such as the shopping and cooking, the laundry and the cleaning, and the yard work—while Lisa ‘partied’ at night and slept most of the day. All of the money she received from the government went to satisfying her own needs—including her need and desire for drugs.
Lisa’s behaviour was erratic—some days she was loving and warm—great to be around. At other times, she could be moody and cranky—not only verbally abusive with her parents and siblings, but also physically threatening by throwing things at others around her. She talked about killing herself frequently, especially when she was about to hear a No when she wanted to hear a Yes.
Her dad told me that Lisa struggled with “anxiety and depression”—something I hear often from parents with addicted children—and as a result, he was sure that she was very unhappy. He wanted to know how he could make her feel better—that seemed to be what he wanted most when he contacted me. When I suggested that he might want to set some loving and respectful boundaries with his daughter, to help her learn how to live in the world that actually exists so that she wouldn’t have to feel so anxious, his response was “I know I probably should—but she won’t be happy about that and I just don’t have the heart.”
As an Addictions Therapist, I see this as a very clear example of why I choose to work with entire families and not just with the person who has an addiction. In situations like this, the whole family is struggling—everyone is affected and everyone needs to heal.
This father was dealing with what I call the “Fix My Addict” syndrome. This occurs when a friend or family member believes that the only person who actually needs help is the person with the obvious addiction. They believe that once that person is taken care of, all will be well. In my opinion—and in my 30+ years of working with addicted families—they are mistaken.
It just doesn’t work that way.
Do you know of anyone who has gone to a residential treatment / rehab center? Sometimes families pay upwards of $30,000 to $60,000 (or more) for the addict’s 30 to 60 day stay. These places work with the addicts individually and in groups, sometimes with excursions and other entertainment thrown in as part of their scheduled program. And sometimes the addicted person does well and decides to make some positive changes in their behaviour. They may even complete the program feeling much better about themselves.
The problem is that most rehabs don’t work very much, if at all, with the family members—who may have unwittingly been enabling and doing things that are contradictory to the recovering addict’s continued success. Although there may have been a family weekend or education seminar while their loved one was receiving treatment, in most cases the family doesn’t receive specific and targeted counselling so they have no real idea about what they need to change, or—even more importantly—how to do that. Often, as a result of this lack of guidance for the family, what inevitably happens is that the addicts return to basically the same situation that they left, with the same dysfunctional dynamics in place. In time, they become increasingly overwhelmed and all too often make the easy decision to relapse.
And the family is left shaking their heads and thinking “How could this have happened? After all the money we paid and everything we’ve tried to do for them…?”
That’s when another treatment centre is sought out by the family and the same thing happens all over again—and perhaps again and again to the tune of many thousands of dollars—to the astonishment and consternation of the family. This ongoing situation is a set-up for failure for everyone including the addicts, who may really want to recover and don’t understand why they can’t seem to continue on that path for very long.
As the loved ones of addicts, we need to do something different—in short, we have to do our part. We have to love our addicts enough to do what it takes—and what it takes is for everyone in the addict’s ‘Circle of Love’ to recover right along with them. We need to learn how to set—and maintain—boundaries that are appropriate and truly loving. We need to care enough to learn why we feel uncomfortable doing exactly that—and to do it anyway. We need to be a united front as a family, to show our addicted loved ones that although we will no longer support their addiction, we will definitely support their recovery.
Ultimately, we need to “Have the Heart” to do what’s right for the addicts we love, even when it’s uncomfortable for us to do that. Until that happens, the same-old, same-old cycle of addiction is bound to play out exactly as it has been.
Are you ready to try a new approach to addiction recovery as a family? Click here for a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how to do this in a different and more lasting way. At Love With Boundaries, we are here to help both you and the addict you love so dearly end the ravages of addiction that have been plaguing your family.