Regardless of the status of your loved one's recovery program or lack thereof, I recommend to clients that they educate themselves about substance abuse to discover as much as they can on a personal level. This blog is not about your part from a non-enabling, or stronger boundaries viewpoint, but is of a more specific nature.
We all know knowledge is power, therefore the more you learn, the calmer your state of mind will be.
Here are some concepts to consider which may help when furthering your education of your loved ones addiction issues:
Do Your Own Research on Addiction
Investigate the substance that you believe your loved one is using or may be addicted to. Opinions and facts are different. Stick to the facts and not the opinions of well-meaning friends who could cloud your head with misinformation. The more you know about your loved one's addiction, its characteristics and traits, the more confident you can be in a conversation regarding their specific situation. You won't be caught off guard or caught up with another's opinion if you've already done your own research. That said, don't overload yourself by spending countless hours reading about what amounts to quite depressing material. The description of heroin and its side effects will not change no matter how many sources you check out.
Be Wary of Well-Meaning Advice
Please don't take the advice of family members and friends as gospel. Although they are only trying to be of help, formulate your own conclusion. They may suggest that you do one thing or another. However, even if they have experienced a similar situation, remember that everyone's issues are different, and complex dynamics come into play. What might have worked for them may not work for you.
Be Mindful of Who You Talk To
You might want to think twice about discussing your struggles or a loved one's addiction issues with friends, certain family members or relatives. This is not because you are ashamed or fearful of their judgment, but because you may be opening yourself up to their advice or opinion. It could put an unnecessary strain on your relationships, especially if you don't take the advice. Also, friendships can be very precarious and delicate. Although your friend might ache for your pain and suffering, if that's all you end up talking about it may become too much of a burden for the person to handle. Additionally, information regarding your loved one's addiction could prove detrimental if it finds its way to the workplace or is brought into other relationships. Remember, no matter how upset you are, or how desperate you feel to unload your burden, be respectful of your loved one's privacy. Unless they give you permission to discuss their situation openly or with certain individuals, allow them to tell who they want, when they want.
Attend Open Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings (meetings open to anyone with or without an addiction issue)
This is the first order of business I suggest to my new clients as it gives them an honest look at the struggles and successes of other alcoholic/addicts. Here you can be inconspicuous and won't be called upon to say anything, yet you are afforded the opportunity to listen to alcoholic/addicts in recovery. This can be a profound and eye-opening experience, as these meetings are usually "speaker meetings" where one individual talks for the bulk of the meeting and traces their life from dysfunction and destruction to recovery. You can hear firsthand the same plight that your loved one may be experiencing from someone else, affording you some distance and objectivity. Understanding that someone else has been able to become successful in sobriety may give you hope as well. There is a lot to be learned from these meetings, and it is the first place I would start to gather honest and genuine information about the disease.
Attend Al-Anon meetings (meetings for the friends and families of the alcoholic/addict)
I have been attending Al-Anon meetings for 20 years. The camaraderie and spirituality that knits this special group of family and friends together is worth much more than the dollar contribution. Al-Anon is not for everyone, but give it a good chance. Listening to what the other members have to say often hits home for many share the same issues that you may be thinking about. Al-Anon presents a very strong "higher power" viewpoint, as they believe no one can regain control of an out-of-control life if they don't surrender their will and care to something larger than themselves. Please don't be turned off by this. You can participate regardless of your personal beliefs and gain a great deal.
Seek Professional Counseling
If your world takes on a different dynamic because you're loved one continues to remain in addiction or because they are working toward a clean and sober lifestyle, issues will arise during your own recovery process. You might consider obtaining the help of a professional addiction counselor, not just a marriage and family therapist. It would be beneficial to seek a counselor who has had a personal journey in this field and can relate from "been there-done that" experience as well as professional training.
Though difficult to watch, there are some insightful and informative movies that portray addiction as their central theme.
Though there are many, here are five of my favorites:
- "My Name is Bill W." -- A television movie starring James Woods and James Garner. The story traces the lives of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Learning about addiction is scary. No two ways about it. But learn you should, if you are to be a responsible family member or friend who comes from a place of knowledge and not just emotional reactions.