The family is truly a gift from God. Now families are under siege by global addiction. I honor and respect parents because the good ones are heroes, called to sacrifice themselves for their children. Parents need hope and direction. Their children, whatever their ages, are the main targets of the spiritual darkness at the root of addiction, which aims to deceive, exploit and destroy. I want to teach the family how to defend itself, to lay out a spiritual, therapeutic counter-attack.
Drugs and addictions assault a family by attacking love and connection. Persons with addiction are robbed of their good judgment and self-determination. Their whole life is about getting high, and it’s “Me first.” Their loved ones soon feel they don’t matter anymore. Family members do the best they can, waiting for things to change, hoping and praying for a miracle that their loved one will stop and see the light.
Without intervention and treatment, they don’t see because they can’t see, unless grace and mercy enter the drama unfolding in the home. Addiction is a disease that attacks the person physically, emotionally and spiritually. A family is both material and spiritual, with a body and a soul, and the members are living parts of a living system. Addiction’s poison spreads throughout the entire family system.
New players, like me and the doctors, nurses and others I work with, can be called in to stand with the person and their family. Extended family members and friends should also enter the drama to support the family under siege as a whole. Having the courage to come out of hiding, to admit there is a problem you can’t solve on your own and seek outside help is crucial and necessary to stop the destructive cycle.
Addiction and mental professionals are trained to fight the disease, and we are generally good at it, but we must have the family’s involvement.
Surgical Family Therapy
An addiction family therapist working with a treatment team can perform “systemic surgery” by locating the shame, guilt and internal conflicts present and bring them out, delicately. It requires a certain amount of compassion, skill and gaining the trust of the people affected.
A family system runs well or poorly depending on how it copes with the stresses impacting it over time. When the oppressive stress of addiction is the enemy, it conceals itself and starts to do damage undercover, which in the earliest stages can be countered and put in stasis. Following this containment, the success of pushing back this family illness will be short-lived unless a course of recovery for the entire family is articulated and begun.
A family can avoid being dismantled when there are protective factors present, including a faith tradition to sustain it when the enemy tries to rip away mutuality and traditional elements of love and caring, or when suspicion, fear, anger and deceit threaten to shred the family’s delicate emotional wiring called cohesion.
A skilled therapist will remind the family members of its’ strengths and seek their revival. Destruction threatens to bring a family down if the weight of despair and hopelessness have too long infected it, so that addictive patterns create highly reinforced symptoms, as in a family in which most of the members are either addicted or codependent. Any existing spiritual traditions and religious practices the family possesses can and should be utilized to fight for the family’s survival.
Community resources are very valuable, such as the National Alliance of Mental Illness, medical, addiction, mental health agencies, churches, service organizations, non-profit media outlets dedicated to supplying assistance, government programs, clinics and hospitals. Important spiritual forces are prayer, grace, mercy, faith, hope and courage.
Discovering a Road Map
The family therapist, once blended into the system, can inquire how each person has been affected, expressing empathy for everyone involved. Getting the family member with addiction (FMA) to recognize and face their problem is often difficult, but when the person is tired of suffering and hiding in the shadows, an intervention is possible. The therapist recommends treatment for the FMA, or the family seeks it on their own.
The FMA usually disengages from the family, followed by lapses in functioning and personality changes. Sometimes they can hide their compulsive using, always in denial about it, until at some point the wheels of the system begin to fall off: a DUI, job loss, marital conflict or another serious disruption of normal behaviors.
There is the possibility that the family under siege may continue to put up with the stress by adapting to it, pretending nothing is wrong. When the FMA can no longer conceal their problem, and the family can come out of denial, interventions become possible and assistance is invited and called into service. The chances of change then are greatly enhanced.
The Road to Recovery
If the FMA is willing to seek treatment with the support of the family, real change can and often does happen. There will, of course, be pitfalls to watch for along the way, such as, which can be prepared for and avoided:
Desire to be normal
A short-term slip
Missing getting high
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (irritability, poor concentration, sleep problems)
The Wall Stage
With any one of these or paired or multiple occurrences of them, treatment may be re-entered without shame or guilt. Addiction is generally considered to be a “relapse-prone” ailment, although relapse is not inevitable. The family system, itself re-strengthened, needs to remain a player, with each member finding their own personal recovery. Al-Anon Family Groups, Families Anonymous and similar family recovery fellowships exist in great numbers. The family is strongly encouraged to hold their FMA accountable to stay in recovery. “One for all and all for one” does apply here. Another slogan might be coined: “The family that recovers together fights to interdependently live one day at a time.”
To be humble is to have both feet firmly on the ground and you are done playing God. Since you can lapse into a wishful La-La Land and forget this, you take supportive clean and sober friends along with you on the Journey, who will lovingly remind you in times of weakness. Trying to go backward into an imagined original state of independent functioning invites a recovery collapse and the need to start all over again.
It is said that you may have many relapses ahead of you but only a fixed number of recoveries, in which case your personal gains could be forfeited. Then you find yourself unable to bounce back. Because of that dark possibility, the recovering family must support, hope and pray their vulnerable FMA keeps moving forward on a Road to a Happy Destiny, with an honest approach to the problem, a willingness to “go to any lengths” to recover, being nurtured daily with a spirit of gratitude. That combination usually wins the day.