THE BLOG

An Open Letter to Families Where Addiction Is Present

With so many variables being out of your power, the one thing you are in control of is your well-being. Feeling any of this at any point does not mean you are suddenly a judgmental person who does not understand addiction. All of this does not mean you do not love this person unconditionally.
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Alicia Cook, pictured above, is from New Jersey.

Last night someone said to me, "For someone who writes about addiction, you are being judgmental!" Now, without going into specifics, I can tell you I was a lot of things last night: Mad. Hurt. Sad. Confused. Frustrated. At a loss -- but judgmental? No. No way.

I wish it wasn't me who was writing this blog. I really wish it wasn't. I wish I wasn't "qualified" to speak on the heroin epidemic from the perspective of the loved ones. I wish I wasn't gaining notoriety for having one of the "best handles" on this subject. I wish I wasn't a member of a community no one really wants to be a part of. No one ever says to themselves while reading articles like mine, "I wish I could relate to this."

But I am. I am the non-addict who knows all too well what it's like to love a person who suffers from addiction.

I know what it's like to worry yourself sick. To cry yourself to sleep.

I know to watch out for pinhole pupils and subtle changes in behavior. To listen to them talk and make excuses and pile on lie after lie. I know what it's like to pretend to believe them because you are just too mentally exhausted for an argument.

I know what it's like to be confused all of the damn time; to see their potential, to know what they are throwing away. I know what it's like to want their recovery more than they do. To be the one doing research on rehabs and other outlets for recovery.

I know what it's like to miss someone who is still standing right in front of you.

I know what it's like to wonder if each unexpected phone call is "the" phone call. I know what it's like to be hurt so bad and be made so sick a part of you wishes you would just get "the" phone call if nothing is going to change. You want that finality. You need the cycle to end. I know what it's like to hate yourself for even allowing yourself to find relief in that horrible thought.

I know what it's like to get the worst news of your life, and still walk into the grocery store and run your errands and smile at the cashier.

I know what it's like to become a part-time detective. You know you are going to find something, and you look until you do just so you feel less crazy. So you can say to yourself, "I am not paranoid. This is happening again."

I know what it's like to have your mind clouded; to turn into a functioning zombie. I know what it's like to be physically present at board meetings and dinner dates, but mentally gone.

I know what it's like to be really mad. Like, REALLY pissed off. Between the sadness there is a lot of anger. I know what it's like to feel guilty for being so mad, even knowing all you know about addiction. You are allowed to be angry. This is not the life you signed up for.

I know what it's like to scour a bookshelf and not find what you are looking for because this illness is still so hard to talk about, let alone write about.

I know what it's like to hear someone argue that addiction is not an illness, but a choice or social disorder. I know all too well that feeling of heat rising in your face as they go on and on about something they know nothing about.

I know what it's like to stop being angry with these people. They do not understand. They are lucky to not understand. I know what it is like to catch yourself wishing that you didn't understand either.

I know the difference between enabling and empowering. I know there is a fine line between the two and the difference can mean life or death. I know what it's like to the feel the weight of each day on your shoulders trying to balance the two.

I know what it's like to have "good days" and "bad days" but never "normal days." I have been through enough to know that things don't just change for the worse overnight; they can change in a millisecond. In a blink of an eye. As quick as it takes two people to make a $4 exchange.

I know what it's like to feel stigmatized. To be the "cousin of a drug addict," a "friend of a drug addict," a "sibling of a drug addict," "a parent of a drug addict," "a neighbor of a drug addict." I know what it feels like to be handled with kid-gloves because no one outside of your toxic bubble knows what to say to help.

I don't know what the future holds for anyone who loves a substance abuser today. One thing I know for sure is I am not alone. I write often on addiction from the family's perspective. My last article, Lessons I Learned from Loving a Drug Addict, was picked up by numerous news outlets. My new essay series, The Other Side of Addiction, aims to help non-addicts and addicts alike share their story in a place free of, you guessed it...judgement. They often feel voiceless, so I wanted to give them a voice.

I write on addiction for a lot of reasons. I want to let you know you are not alone. I write on addiction because for far too long many have felt isolated, hopeless and stigmatized by this illness.

Today I am writing on addiction to let loved ones know you are allowed to feel angry without feeling guilty. You are allowed to feel sad, mad, or frustrated without feeling guilty. You are allowed to take a step back if you need a breather without feeling guilty.

With so many variables being out of your power, the one thing you are in control of is your well-being. Feeling any of this at any point does not mean you are suddenly a judgmental person who does not understand addiction. All of this does not mean you do not love this person unconditionally.

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Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.