By: Marilyn L. Davis
“How can both Nics, the loving and considerate and generous one, and the self-obsessed and self-destructive one, be the same person?”― David Sheff,
Conflicting Words of Love
How many times did I say that to my parents when they would come to DC for a family holiday? Too many to count. I couldn’t tell them that I also loved getting high. I had sense enough to realize that this statement would crush them further.
Instead, when they would find fault with my decision to stay in DC, I’d rebut their concern with:
“I need to stay in DC, the girls like their school.”
“My life is here.”
“There’s nothing for me in Georgia.”
The truth was that I was neglecting my children. My life revolved around getting and using, and the ‘nothing’ in Georgia would include people who cared enough about me to intervene.
The Final Straw
Christmas, 1984 found me living with the drummer from one of the bands my partner and I managed. I’d moved him into the home to stop me from using cocaine as if anyone else could prevent me from being self-destructive.
My sister had staged her own version of an intervention by taking me to her boyfriend’s cabin in the woods outside of DC. When I started arguing about why I didn’t need to go to Georgia and wanted to leave, she wouldn’t drive me back home. I was too messed up to even realize that I could call a cab.
Instead, I merely nodded in agreement hoping that she would just shut up. Finally, she let me go to bed.
We Can’t Hear You
I knew that my parents and sister loved me. That wasn’t the question. What I could not realize was that they were trying to save my life.When we're in the throws of our addiction, we can not hear the love, only the criticism. Click To Tweet
We listen selectively and filter out anything that doesn’t conform to our way of thinking.
What can you say or do to help someone get help for a problem they refuse to acknowledge? How can you penetrate the armor we wear to protect ourselves from the truth?
It’s baffling to families that they can see the destruction, yet their loved one seems obvious to the damage. But that’s how denial works.
Our Personal Biases Fuel the Denial
“Everyone alters reality somewhat by perceiving events in accordance with our personal biases,” says Darlene Lancer, a marriage and family therapist. “Denial helps us cope with a potential threat or uncomfortable facts and feelings.
Can you see how our admission of a problem is only the beginning? If we admit there’s a problem, then we’re faced with the realization that we have harmed those we say we love.
And that kind of admission is simply too much for us sometimes. The guilt, shame, and remorse can send us back out to use more.
Since that is the last thing a family wants, they will often stop the conversations because of their fears that the addict may die the next time they use.
We know this and use this stance to our advantage in getting our families to just shut up.
Keep Talking, But Differently
Most people use statements like:
“You hurt us deeply when you continue in your use.”
“Your father is losing sleep over your actions.”
“Can’t you see what you’re doing to your children?”
Instead of making blaming statements, these same concepts can be turned around with “I” statements:
“I am deeply hurt by your use.”
“I’m losing sleep worrying about you.”
” I worry about your safety and the safety of the girls.”
These are not accusatory statements and might help your loved one see the concern, not the condemnation.
You’ll Still Have to Remind Us
We can falsely remember situations and when you’re talking to us, remind us of the specific times our use negatively affected you.
However, be mindful that a year-to-year list of our bad actions isn’t helpful. It contributes to shame. Instead, remind us of how it used to be and how much you enjoyed us when we weren’t using.
- “I felt such hope when you graduated from school.”
- “I loved hearing about your new job.”
- “I was so proud of you when you got that promotion.”
- “I know the person who accomplished all of those things is still in there.”
- “Let us help you reclaim your life.”
What You Want and What Your Loved One Wants
It’s very evident that you as a family member what your loved one to quit using. But do you know what they want?
I’ve never met anyone who said, “I want to grow up and be an addict.”
This is a good time to ask us, “Do you think using will get you closer or further from your dreams?”
When We Acknowledge our Addiction
How do you provide support? By having phone numbers for treatment, local recovery support meetings, counselors, or other agencies that offer help for substance abuse.
By giving them a professional or paraprofessional to work with, it helps to remove the shame, blame, and disappointment from the equation.
With the right type of treatment, your loved one gains insight and answers. They can work with their provider to remove the ongoing obstacles to recovery.
I finally heard the concerns in my intervention and entered treatment on September 30, 1988. It wasn’t anything my family hadn’t said to me before, but I could listen to the professionals.
We’re In This Together
But it’s not just the loved one who needs help. Find appropriate family groups, a counselor, or therapist. This means that you’re getting the help you need, but also showing your loved one that you’re willing to change, grow and be a better person, too.
With the right care, your loved one can gain the insight and skills necessary to remove obstacles and find lasting recovery.
Now, the family is healing. And isn’t that all you wanted in the first place? A healthier family.