Hi it's Dermot again. If you read my last blog from 19th April, you will know that this is a follow up to that blog and part of a "Recovery from Addiction Series", If not read on:
Family In Recovery
What is Normal Anyway?
Do “normal families” always talk over problems, never get angry with each other, always pay bills on time, or enjoy holidays and special occasions stress free?
The “perfect family” only exists on TV.
Every family has their ups and downs.
Families do their best with what they have.
What makes families work well is the ability to meet the physical and emotional needs of its members.
There is a feeling of security and shared identity.
What contributes to a healthier atmosphere within the family? The ability to:
• Interact with each other without put-downs.
• Say yes or no to other family member’s requests without fear of rejection.
• Ask without being demanding.
• Show feelings without fear of losing the relationship.
• Have special relationships with individuals in and outside the family.
• Be honest and feel trusted by each other.
• Celebrate and have fun together.
• Be confident that relationships are stable.
• (Taken from Don Wegscheider, 1979)
RULES: Rules are guidelines the family has.
They express a family’s core beliefs and values.
How respect is shown, being honest, permission to express how you feel, even who sits at the head of the table are examples of family rules.
While they may not be openly talked about, rules are still there.
ROLES: A role is what someone consistently does that has a purpose and function. Listener, time keeper,disciplinarian, comedian or coach are examples of roles family members consciously or unconsciously take on.
RITUALS: Rituals are customs or family activities that establish and maintain a family’s identity and a feeling of connection with each other. Sunday lunch, celebrations like birthdays and Christmas are family traditions or rituals.
HIERARCHIES: Hierarchies are relationships within the family that are defined by levels of responsibility. For example, parents are at the top of the hierarchy and hold most of the responsibility for maintaining the family’s survival.
BOUNDARIES: A boundary is an imaginary fence or line of demarcation between individual family members, between groups within a family (parents/children, boys/girls, etc) and around the family itself that contribute to the closeness and safety of family members.
It is not healthy for boundaries to be too rigid or for a family to have no boundaries at all.
While these structures exist in most families, the atmosphere and structures change through the chaos and unpredictability when there is addiction.
Common myths that families believe:
• If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.
• If we keep doing what we are doing, even if it does not really help, somehow things will get better.
• It can seem just “normal”. This is the way things are. People begin to accept what is really not acceptable.
• Addiction is someone’s fault. Someone is to blame
Don’t Talk: Family secrets, especially about the drinking or drug use are never discussed.
Don’t Trust: It’s difficult to trust if there is little communication. Lies and broken promises destroy trust.
Family members learn to mistrust others and eventually themselves.
Don’t Feel: Possibly the most destructive rule of all. The expression of feelings rocks the boat.
Family members learn not to talk about feelings but to hide them.
Other unhelpful rules that need challenged:
• Be good, strong, right and perfect: Preoccupation with standards that keep changing.
• Don’t rock the boat.
• Don’t communicate directly.
• Let someone else take responsibility for me.
What can help
Resilience: A ray of hope
From all that has been discussed, the impact of addiction on the family can seem pretty bleak.
The language of resilience
The language of resilience is more than a set of words. It is a set of tools that promote resiliency. It is a positive way to see your strengths, abilities and resources.
The “I Have” factors are outside supports. The resilient person says, “I have”…
• Structures and positive rules: Clear rules and routines help to contribute to a feeling of security and belonging.
• Positive role models: People to look up to and learn from.
• Encouragement: People in their lives who give consistent messages of “I believe in you.”
• People who are there for me: People who can and do help.
The “I Am” factors are internal strengths. These are feelings, attitudes and beliefs. The resilient person says “I am….”
• Lovable: The person is aware that they are worthwhile and capable of being loved.
• Caring and empathetic: They care what happens to other people (but not at their own expense).
• Proud of myself: They feel proud of who they are, their efforts and what they can achieve.
• Responsible: They can accept the consequences of their behaviour. They have values and keep in mind what is
• Independent: They can do things on their own. Believe what they do, does make a difference. Understand the limits of their control over events and recognises when others are responsible.
• Filled with hope: The person is positive about the future. They see possibilities and are hopeful.
“I Can” are skills. The resilient person says “I can”…
• Communicate: The person is able to talk about their thoughts and feelings. They listen to what others are saying.
• Manage my feelings and impulses: The person can recognise and name their feelings. They can think things through before they act.
• Seek trusting relationships: They ask for help, share feelings and concerns.
• Solve problems and conflict. This is a key skill and involves:
• - Planning: Being able to see options.
• - Being Flexible: Not getting stuck on one way of doing it.
• - Critical thinking: Can figure things out.
• - Resourcefulness: Can make use of outside help.
What does make it worse is:
• the absence of a stable figure in the family’s life.
• not seeking help.
• the energy it takes to keep things the same.
Despite what stress people may be living with, there is considerable evidence that people can live with all sorts of difficult situations, including addiction, without developing significant problems.
Studies of people growing up with extreme hardships show that many of these people grew to be competent, caring and confident.
The difference is factors in their lives that supported resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to recover and move on in the face of difficulties.
A more simple definition is to be able to “bounce back” from life’s struggles.
While resilience is something people are born with, many believe it is lost or damaged in some people through the problems they face.
For adults and young people it is not necessarily the need to be “stronger”. It is creating space to:
• Focus on themselves and their own needs.
• Develop without the responsiblity of other peoples’ behaviour.
• Learn or relearn skills and attitudes to enjoy the pleasures of living while coping the best you can.
Believing you can change is an important step
One of the most important strengths anyone living with addiction can have is a belief that they can change.
While you cannot make the person you love stop drinking or using drugs, it does not mean you are powerless.
You can look after you! The factors that build resilience can be developed.
The power to change is in your hands. Through recovery, the family member can regain a quality of life that has been disrupted by addiction.
Increase support for yourself.
Realise you are not to blame for their drinking or drug use.
Learn all you can about alcoholism, addiction and recovery.
Take time for yourself emotionally.
Realise that you cannot control their drinking/drug taking – they must make that
choice. Ensure physical protection if necessary.
For children and young people:
Talk about what you are going through.
Remember you are never to blame for your parent’s drinking or drug use.
Learn about addiction and recovery in ways that are ok for your age.
Have fun. Do things other children and young people do.
Everyone needs help from others sometimes. If things get hard, have people you can turn to.
Develop a back-up plan for any crisis. Someone you can ring, somewhere you can go.
If the family member continues to drink/use drugs:
• Don’t nag, preach or lecture. You will only force them to make promises that will be broken.
• Tell them how what they are doing is affecting you and your family when they are sober enough to hear it.
• Avoid any threat unless you have carefully thought it out and intend to carry it out.
• Prevent the drinker/drug user from avoiding responsibility. Let them deal with the consequences of their drinking or drug use.
Don’t hide the drink or drugs or dispose of it - they will only buy more.
• Try to keep some positive feelings for the drinker or drug user. You can love the person but hate the problem.
• Don’t regard this as a family disgrace. Any family can have problems with alcohol or other drugs.
• Recovery from alcoholism/addiction can come about as in any other illness.
• Don’t expect 100% recovery overnight. In any illness there is a period of convalescence and possible relapse.
While you can’t necessarily control what is going on outside yourselves, you can find ways to reduce that pressure from within.
The greater focus on your quality of life, the more your coping actions will involve:
• Looking after your needs.
• Personal enjoyment.
• Maintaining as undisrupted life as best you can.
• Not actively trying to control their use of alcohol or drugs or change the drinker or drug taker.
What we all need is to build ways of coping into our lives that work for us.
• Accepting your feelings without being overwhelmed.
• Letting go.
• Expressing how we are feeling.
• Looking after ourselves.
• Building support
Accepting your feelings without being overwhelmed by them
Emotions are a part of everyday life. They are neither right nor wrong. They are a normal part of being human.
If you have followed that rule of “don’t feel”, experiencing and talking about how you feel may seem new and even scary.
• Family members have spoken of extreme anger. “How could they keep doing this to themselves and us?”
• Sadness is also a common emotion. The person they knew just isn’t the same.
• Fear and anxiety are very real.
Naming what you are feeling more accurately can help you
deal better with it.
What do we mean by letting go?
Letting go is:
• Living in the present and not the past.
• Accepting what you can and cannot control.
What are some types of letting go?
• Letting go of guilt: Accepting your part to play in things and other’s contribution.
• Accepting personal responsibility for yourself and what you do.
• Handing the responsibility for others back to them and encouraging them to accept the consequences of their actions.
• Letting go of the fear of change. Accepting that change is an inevitable part of life.
Ways to let go
Thinking things through objectively and accurately is a positive way to let things go.
• How much of my life am I willing to let this affect?
• Will this last a short time or forever? Will this affect me next week?
• Am I totally to blame or are others partly responsible?
• Am I missing something positive in this?
Relaxation is another skill that helps us let go. Relaxation needs to be learned and practiced like any skill. Here are two self calming techniques that work for people.
Expressing what you feel: letting out feelings in a direct, positive way.
Expressing feelings in a healthy way is a critical skill to promote well being, especially when living with addiction. It is so important you are able to break that rule, “don’t talk”.One way to say what you are feeling is by using “I statements”.
• Are ways of saying how you feel without making the other person defensive.
• Help you communicate your feelings in a way that makes them more likely to hear what you have to say.
• Provide clear, direct messages and help them understand that their actions have effects on other people.
To use an “I statement”, follow a basic format:
• I feel (name your feeling).
• When (provide non-judgmental description of behaviour).
• Because (give the effect the behaviour has on you or others).
Here are a few examples:
• I feel upset when we scream at each other because it means we are not listening.
• I feel terrified when you don’t come home, because I am afraid you are getting into trouble.
Using “I statements” may feel awkward at first. With a little practice, it can become a regular part of how you talk in your family.
We can also use “I statements” to express positive feelings.
Learning new skills
Learning a new skill can increase your confidence whether it’s for pleasure, to make new friends or improve your chances of a job.
Doing something creative
All kinds of creative things can help if you are anxious or low. It can also increase your confidence. Music, writing, painting, drawing, poetry, cooking, gardening – experiment to find something you enjoy.
Try and make time for yourself. Fit things into your day that help you unwind – reading, listening to music, prayer or mediation – whatever you enjoy and find relaxing.
When times are difficult, it is sometimes all we can do to survive.
Take one day at a time and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Take time out if you need it.
Asking for help
Everyone needs help from time to time. It’s ok to ask for help, even though it feels difficult. With this being a challenge for some people, it will be useful to look at asking for help in more detail.
We all need help at some times in our lives. Young or old, there are times we may need practical, emotional or even medical help.
People living with the chronic stress that follows addiction are no different.
The article of "Recovery from Addiction" Family Roles is the opinion of the author and if you would like to contribute to it, please leave a comment in the comment box below. If you want to subscribe, for free, to any further blogs of mine please leave ypur email in the blue box below.
(Taken from Don Wegscheider, 1979)