When someone we love is struggling through recovery, it’s easy to feel intimidated or unsure how to help. Our intentions are to offer support, but we don’t know how to express it. Sometimes we find ourselves in conflicting situations where we want to protect our loved one from feeling pain, but we know they need to be held accountable for their actions. Other times we feel like we’re pouring all our attention into the addict’s recovery, but we’re struggling as their support system with our own recovery.
If you’ve been in these situations, you know how difficult it is to watch someone suffer, and you might have felt embarrassed or confused how to express your own struggles. But knowing that recovery is a journey can help you set your intention each day for how you will support someone else. If someone in your family is going through recovery, consider how you can encourage their health and progress by first taking care of yourself.
Al-Anon Family Groups
One of the ways family members of addicts can connect is through Al-Anon Family Groups. These groups provide a place for friends and families of alcoholic/chemically dependent people to understand addiction and how an addict thinks. Al-Anon is not meant to teach someone how to stop a loved one’s substance abuse. Instead, these groups are designed to help you widen your perspective, assess your attitudes, and gain a deeper understanding of addiction as a disease.
Your loved one’s addiction is not your fault. Al-Anon’s purpose is to empower you to own the things you can change and accept the things you cannot change, whether your loved one is in their darkest moments of using or seeing the light of recovery.
Codependency: Recovery isn’t just for the addict
Caretakers or close family members of addicts are easily prone to symptoms of codependency. Codependency exists when addicts develop an unhealthy relationship, and their partner in that relationship blames themselves for the addiction or tries to problem-solve alone. The codependent feels responsible for the addict and becomes obsessed with worrying about the problem. They typically crave control over an out-of-control situation, and they end up feeling defensive, depleted, and rejected.
One of the biggest misconceptions about addiction is that only the addict goes through recovery. Codependents also go through a recovery process of releasing anxiety and obsession with their loved one’s addiction. As one of the victims of the addiction, codependents often experience similar feelings of guilt, shame, or resentment as they process their emotions. Families of addicts go from a state of constant stress or denial to uncovering deep, emotional pain. Al-Anon can be a helpful place to unpack those feelings and find others who can relate to that pain.
Help yourself; then help others
Addiction is sometimes called a “family disease,” because the family shares in the pain and the healing of the addict. Remember, we cannot fill up someone else’s “tank” if we’re running on an empty one of our own. If you’re feeling exhausted or believe your needs are being overlooked because of the attention placed on your loved one’s addiction, consider attending an Al-Anon meeting to find others going through similar struggles.
Regardless of what you’re encountering, you are not alone, and there are resources available. Attending an Al-Anon meeting or setting aside time to do something you enjoy are great places to start your own recovery. Call The Walker Center to learn more about recovery for families.