It’s critical that family members of addicts get help too
Regular readers of this column probably realized years ago that I keep coming back to a few topics over and over again.
It’s not for lack of ideas, I can tell you that; rather, it’s because those individuals who suffer from and deal with addiction are often hard-headed individuals mired in self-centered fear and stuck in one place, and they need to hear some things over and over again in order to spur them to action.
At most 12-Step recovery meetings around the world, the members open with the Serenity Prayer and a few select readings from that particular program’s literature. After 12 years of going to meetings, I know them by heart, as do many other addicts who attend. But they bear repeating, because they can take years to sink in, and even then we need to be reminded of what works for us, if we choose to allow it.
One of those issues I frequently address is the health and welfare of family members of addicts and alcoholics. I speak from personal experience when I say that addiction is a family disease, and anyone who’s ever had to deal with a child or sibling or parent who’s caught in the grips of addiction will tell you the same in no uncertain terms. As addicts, we rationalize and justify our behavior, telling ourselves we’re not hurting anyone else ... until we do.
I lied to, stole from and conned and manipulated my parents. I’m not proud of those actions, and today I’m grateful a long period of recovery has given me a better relationship with them than I’ve ever had. But in those early days, they were as profoundly affected by the actions of my addiction as I was by the consequences of those actions.
They wrestled with guilt, asking themselves where they might have gone wrong. They alternated between fury and an impending sense of doom. They wondered if they would wind up burying a second child, more than three decades after losing their only daughter as a newborn. They were desperate for solace, for understanding, for support from others who were going through similar situations.
As I embraced recovery and began to work on myself, I discovered that there existed 12-Step programs dedicated to the recovery of family members of addicts and alcoholics as well. Today, I’m more aware than ever of the strength and hope and comfort that those programs — Al-Anon and Nar-Anon — provide to family members and loved ones battling addiction.
Because in one way, those family members and loved ones are fighting their own addiction — to us. As we spiral into darkness, their lives spiral out of control. Every waking hour is consumed by worry, dread, anger or fear, and it can become so toxic that their relationships with other family members, ones who have no drug or alcohol problems, begin to suffer.
That’s why it’s so important for those people to get help for themselves, even if the addict or alcoholic in their lives chooses not to. Because the harsh reality is this — no amount of pleading, cajoling, accusing, berating or shaming works on us. We will not get help until we want to get help — no matter how much you want for us to want it. You can’t share your desire for our salvation, no matter how great it might be, and expect us to embrace it with similar zeal. You can’t give us your willingness to do anything to help us and expect us to seek recovery with the same level of intensity.
Unfortunately, we don’t reach that point until we’re ready — and there’s no timetable on when that might be. The reality is that sometimes, an addict or an alcoholic often faces seriously legal consequences, catastrophic health issues or worse before they find that willingness.
But family members and loved ones can and should choose to take care of themselves, regardless of what the addicts in their lives choose. To do so, I would encourage them — as strongly and passionately as possible — to check out one of those family-oriented recovery programs right here in Blount County:
• The Rainbow Al-Anon Family Group meets at 8 p.m. every Monday and at 10 a.m. Saturdays at 325 Whitecrest Drive in Maryville.
• The Tuesday Morning Al-Anon Family Group meets at 10:30 a.m. every Tuesday in the Family Life Center Craft Room of First Baptist Church of Maryville, 202 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway.
• The Steel Magnolia Al-Anon Family Group meets at noon on Thursdays in the library of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 314 W. Broadway Ave. in Maryville. It’s a meeting exclusively for women, and those who attend are invited to bring a lunch.
• The Travelers Group of Nar-Anon meets at 8 p.m. every Monday at the AROC Clubhouse, 3722 Old Knoxville Highway (at the intersection of Self Hollow Road) in Rockford.
For more information on Al-Anon, call the local hotline at 525-9040. To contact the national Nar-Anon hotline, call 1-800-477-6291.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.