On January 29th 2013, my Mom had to file a missing persons report for me in Los Angeles because I was on a drug run.
By this time, the bags under my Mom’s eyes were as dark as the alleyways and streets I was hanging out in. The sleepless nights she experienced were enough to last her a lifetime. My Mother lived in a state of sheer panic, terror, and helplessness as my addiction passed her off to the shadows as an outcast, leaving her to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all.
Nine months later, I ruined Thanksgiving – ending up in the hospital from an overdose.
I was dismantling my life, and it was also dismantling hers. My addiction gave my Mom post-traumatic stress disorder.
The thoughts in her head spun as fast as a tossed coin. But, where would the coin land? Would it be the loss of the job? Another hospital or rehab visit? The loss of my apartment? The loss of my life? She was exhausted, heartbroken, desperate, and on high alert 24/7 for the next incident to come her way.
How could someone she love so much hate themselves so much? How could my addiction be taking over everything? What did she do wrong as a mother? No mother thinks their child is going to grow up an addict or an alcoholic. She thought back over and over again about what went wrong, and what she could have done differently.
The truth is, my Mother did everything perfectly. I had a great childhood. I had two fantastic parents in my life. A big yard to run around in. But here I was, throwing caution to the wind.
If the tears of my Mother could have gotten me sober, I would be sober enough for at least one hundred people.
Addiction is traumatic – especially for those who are on the frontlines. And, with any war – including addiction – the things that loved ones see, feel, and experience can create PTSD, and in turn, that can create unhealthy patterns.
I Used My Dad as A Scapegoat
Along with the PTSD, my Mom developed unhealthy behaviors in response to mine. For a long time she was afraid of me. If she nagged on me too much I exploded, ran away and would swear at her. At the time, it was easier to live in denial and give me that $20 instead of ask questions about the “gas money” I needed that day.
Conversely, my behaviors also shaped the behavior of my other family members and put them on high alert. If I lied and stole my way to my next high, I would blame the stolen pills on my Father who once suffered from addiction himself – in turn, creating friction between my parents marriage. Overtime, my Father became more controlling and felt more responsible for my recovery. Exploding behind closed doors and creating tension within the household, raising blood pressures and heart rates as he was fearful for my life. One of my sister’s stepped out of my life and the other sister started drinking with me in secret, making excuses for my behavior.
If the family is a system, the equilibrium of the family shifted during my addiction to cope with the effects. Each person changed, adjusted accordingly and developed dysfunctional patterns of coping with and compensating for the pain and stress.
When someone gets sober, it takes a lot of work, but oftentimes the family can be overlooked. The outward focus leaves family members unaware of their own mental, physical, and emotional deterioration. What does it take for them to heal? There’s no doubt that my Mother’s PTSD wasn’t the only issue that followed my addiction.
Addiction As A Family Disease
It’s safe to say that addiction can be characterized as a family disease. Nobody knows right off the bat how to effectively deal with a loved ones addiction. However, a process of recovery is available to family members and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics to help sort out negative feelings and help with the process of healing. This process typically involves being aware of specific ways in which addiction affects families and relationships while learning new skills and boundaries to implement into daily lives.
For a longtime, my family felt that I was the only person who had the issue. Of course, I was the addict, alcoholic, and the identified person. However, the longer my mother, father, and sisters held onto this belief – the problem ended up getting worse.
After treatment, I went back to the same home environment. I had changed, but my family was the same. My mother was a raging codependent. When I was happy, she was happy. When I was sad, she was sad. She lived on edge at the fear of another relapse, carrying poor boundaries and low self-esteem. My Father was emotionally unavailable, withdrawn, and my sister didn’t like that I was beginning to become healthy, wondering when I was going to drink with her again.
Everyone was hyper-vigilant, ready to run to shelter to erect their defenses up at the first sign of trouble.
Obviously, my family didn’t cause my addiction, but there were ways that they unknowingly contributed to the problem. Through my addiction, they became organized around trying to manage the unmanageability of it – and everyone played a part.
Recovery For the Family
Fortunately, recovery doesn’t just have to be for the person who quit the drugs and alcohol. Recovery involves growth, learning, and healing. Once the members of my family were able to take a look at their part, they began to develop the awareness to build skills to live a whole and healed life, support my newfound life – and at the same time, their lives got better.
When families try to alter their dynamics, they often find it is a real challenge. In many cases, counseling and therapy are able to help families better communicate on important issues and reconcile for past issues. When the group dynamic begins to function in a healthy way, an addict will more easily meet their recovery goals.
Addiction doesn’t just wreak havoc on the person who is addicted. Within the entire family system, hurt feelings, resentments, anger, and a tangled web of emotional strain affects each person who’s life the addiction touches. The whole family must recover.