Signs of Addiction
Signs of Addiction -- Save Me from Myself
By Ned Wicker
If there is any single aspect of substance use disorder that is more heartbreaking than watching somebody you love self-destruct, I am sure I do not know what it is.
It’s one thing to watch as a person slips deeper and deeper into the disease, but the agony of knowing that in so many cases that person is going to die unless there is a dramatic and sometimes painful intervention, will either energize a person into action, or cause them to shrink into the background and do nothing. It’s a story repeated countless thousands of times.
Because we are built for relationship with others, we tend to fear the loss of relationship, which leads to enablement. “I love him so much, I just can’t…” is the way the statement usually begins, as mother or father explains why they put up with the antics of an adult child living at home. Once the apple of his parents’ eye, little Johnny has turned into adult, addicted and going nowhere Johnny, whose reason for getting up in the morning is to do more drugs, because nothing else matters.
Gone is any desire to get a job, foster meaningful relationships like marriage and family, or anything else that involves giving of one’s self and acting for the benefit of the community. It is the dehumanizing of Johnny that is so difficult to observe. As the disease progresses, not much is left of Johnny, but what remains is held on to tightly by the parents, who lament, “I just can’t give him up…” They might as well say, “I’m willing to help kill him, but I won’t leave him…”
We REALLY Want To Help!
Still, it is that connection to those we love that can be so very powerful in helping an addict into treatment and encouraging them to persevere through the recovery process. While listening to a lecture by Dr. Carlton Erickson of the University of Texas, whom I have mentioned in other blogs, I was struck by one simple statement. Carlton was talking about the ability to choose and one thing was clear to me, little Johnny can’t choose. More importantly, in a perfect world, little Johnny would not be ALLOWED to choose.
However, he’s an adult now and he has the right to choose to kill himself. The person with the disease has lost the ability to make a rational choice, but his right to choose supersedes the rights of all others. Mom and dad cannot force him into treatment. They can have him arrested perhaps and force the issue that way. They can attempt a civil commitment, but that can be a difficult task, as you have to convince somebody that there is an issue and that person, i.e. the police, may not be in a position to make an educated assessment and escort the person to a mental health facility.
Parents of adult addicts aren’t left with a lot of options. But they can turn to those who know how to manage difficult situations to best put “tough love” into practice and get some positive results. They have to trust that person to guide the process and make good decisions. Mom and dad, who have enabled their child for years, may not be willing to surrender their parental duties because they “know what’s best” for their child. Al-Anon deals with this all the time, helping people get out of their own way. Once they learn that their need is important too, they can be a major player in their child’s return to health and well-being.
Books like “Getting Them Sober” by Toby Drews, or “Why Don’t They Just Quit?” by Joe Herzanek can be the lifeline for those trying to help. Parents and family members don’t have to sit back and lament that “There’s nothing I can do…” But separating what is helpful from that which is harmful is an important educational step they have to make.
Sometimes that forces a long look into the mirror and the necessity of “owning up” to one’s own personal responsibility. Addiction, as you see, is a family disease and it requires a family response. A strong, united front, unwavering and secure, is the kind of support that will both encourage and inspire the treatment and recovery process. Families breathe that sigh of relieve when their loved one goes into treatment, but what about their treatment? The destruction doesn’t just dry up like the early morning dew, there is work to be done. The healing process needs time and attention.
As a hospital chaplain, I see every day that it is much easier, even in dire situations, to be the patient and not the loved one watching everything unfold. Families feel that terrible sense of helplessness and sometimes that leads to them acting out of fear, even to the point of getting in the way. But, families that are informed and working in cooperation with the medical team, generally speaking, do better, even if the outcome is not favorable.
Needs To Be A Team Effort
Everybody is different, but when everyone is trying to pull in the same direction, there can be a calm assurance and peace of mind, because it’s a team effort. There are times when the disease wins.
But if a person has a heart problem, or kidney failure, or multiple fractures, or double pneumonia, or cancer, chances are good they will allow treatment. They may, at some point, decide that treatment is no longer viable, and that’s a tough call, but it can be made with the blessing of the doctor and the family.
But addiction hates treatment and people fight it. The addict doesn’t want it, the family is afraid of it, or something else gets in the way, like finances. The outside world looks on and says, “Well, duh, just get the treatment.” But it’s so much more than that. It’s body, mind and spirit and all three need to be addressed. It’s family dynamics. It gets complicated. Most of all, for the family, it’s emotional. The family baggage gets brought up and revisited, the guilt and the regrets are hashed over, the pain of what might have been haunts those who have made bad choices.
The relationships, in whatever form, are at the center of the drama. Acting out of love, some may make a well-intentioned but otherwise silly decision. Some may want to do the right thing, but have no clue what that is. That’s why, in life, we sometimes need to trust somebody we don’t know, who has no stake in the family issues, to help us through. It’s important to act in a meaningful and responsible way; unselfish and out of true love.
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