By Submitted Story on September 7, 2020
Much attention is given to a person addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs. Often the others in their lives are not given the same attention. They may feel that they have no support and that no one understands the difficulties they experience. They may also not know their options regarding dealing with their loved one.
How does one achieve serenity when loving a person who is suffering from the disease of addiction? I have been in this position for over fifteen years, and I have made all kinds of mistakes. After 15 years of being a member of Nar-Anon, this is what I have learned. Perhaps it can be of use to others.
Having an addicted loved one (ALO) is pure hell. And “hell” might be a euphemism. We are all different, and our situations are unique to us, but for those of us who have an ALO, our stories are actually quite similar. I will focus on having an addicted child.
The story goes something like this. At first, you notice a change in your child’s behavior. School grades decline. He starts hanging out with friends that you don’t approve of, but you don’t criticize. He loses interest in things he used to love—sports, hiking, fishing and other hobbies, He spends a lot of time in his room. You don’t know why the change, and you never think that it could be drugs. And then it becomes obvious that drugs are involved.
He loses his job because he can’t show up on time. Or he is caught stealing. He is arrested for having drugs in the car. If he is an older child who has been on his own, he not only loses his job, he loses his car. Then the house goes. There is always the next court case. Finally, the significant other can’t take it anymore and walks away. However, you, as the parent, can’t simply walk away, physically or emotionally. You try to fix the addict, thinking, just one more car payment, one more rent payment, one more bail, and one more lawyer will set your loved one up for success.
Of course, nothing you do changes anything other than your bank account. Finally, after he has gone into your purse and stolen your credit card, you realize you can’t go on living this way. You know your child needs help, but you also realize that you do too. If you didn’t love him so much, it would be easy to walk away, but you can’t do that. HE IS YOUR CHILD! You decide on a two-prong strategy.
Rehab is an option, and if the ALO is willing to go, it can be just what is needed. But rehab is only a first step, albeit a critical one. The reality is the addict must work an extensive follow-up program, and he must work a program for the rest of his life. And one relapse could, but not always, start the whole horrible process over again. There are success stories, but my point is rehab and a follow-up program belong to the addict.
Support for the family member or friend is also necessary. Support for the loved one is available in Nar-Anon and in AlAnon (for family and friends of alcoholics).
You decide to walk through the door of a Nar-Anon group meeting. You learn that the purpose of Nar-Anon is to help people like you achieve serenity. But how to achieve it? You are told that you didn’t cause your son’s addiction. You can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. You learn the importance of setting boundaries.
My opinion is that to achieve serenity one must detach from the ALO. That doesn’t mean having no relationship. It doesn’t mean not communicating with my ALO. It does mean not becoming emotionally invested in the success of my ALO living a life of sobriety. Doing that is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. But it must be done. In the past, my serenity depended on my son’s sobriety. How vulnerable was I? My emotional and physical well-being was dependent on someone else’s behavior, someone whom I had no control over whatsoever. WIth every relapse, with every arrest, my wellness took a serious hit. The sad reality is I have no control over his sobriety; I can only control how I respond. I hope my ALO is successful, but I no longer ask him if he is working his program, if he is going to meetings. That was a way for me to try to control the situation.
The ALO needs treatment, which involves having a program upon leaving the treatment facility. The program should include professional help, but she and she alone is responsible for working her program. And I am responsible for working my program, just as I am responsible for living a responsible life. I am responsible for how I respond to the disappointments and vagaries of life. That is the only thing I have control over.
NOTE: During the COVID-19 Pandemic, many meetings of NarAnon and of AlAnon (for families and loved ones of alcoholics) are available online and are free of charge.
This column was submitted to the Outer Banks Voice by Jo Ann Hummers, EdD, a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist with a private practice at the Nags Head Professional Center. The story that it tells, and the thoughts and feelings, were written by the father of an addict.