“I want to stop, I hate my life and I promise this will be the last time.”

Anyone who’s been involved with an addict has heard this cry. The pain of watching their friends and loved ones’ desperate efforts to escape the grip of physical and emotional dependence is overwhelming. While there is a plethora of new evidence for the causes and treatment for addiction, there is much less attention focused on managing the stress and despair of family. There are common themes in the relationships between the caring and the cared-for. 

FEELING CAUGHT IN THE WHY: Why don’t they care? Why can’t they see what they’re doing to themselves? Why don’t they just get help? Feeling caught in the why keeps us in the past and prevents our ability to find  functional response right now. The primary experience of the addict is discomfort and the fear of pain. Seeking relief is a singular goal that no words of love will quell. Powerlessness is at the heart of every addiction and can create destructive behavior for both the caring and cared for. The fear that every solution will cause more pain often prevents an addict from taking the next step and reinforces the cycle of addiction. This difficult cycle is amplified by the sense of shame that comes with fearing that I am/we are weaker than the rest. 

MYTHICAL POWER OF ANGER: Anger can feel like the only force that will overcome sense-impending doom that is a the hallmark of opiate addiction. It  gives the illusion of strength, where we have typically felt weak. The looming threat of the worst-case scenario provokes louder and more intense “more of the same.” Anger is scary and pushes people away when they feel vulnerable, ashamed and crave closeness

OPPOSITE OF ANGER: Compassion is the only choice. We often become over-focused on the behavior of an addict as if it is a weapon they are consciously aiming at us and themselves. I imagine we all have notable memories of the strength we gained from someone speaking to the soul-crushing pain we were feeling. Standing in the place where we are resonant with the pain  of our  loved one’s creates warmth, healing and hope, where previously there was only fear and anger.  

It is often difficult to let go of control and explore the possibility of compassion. This is where coaching and therapy can help form the foundation of understanding ourselves and others. The most frequent comment of more than 20 years of clients is, “I wish I would have come in sooner.” 

David Kelner is a family intervention coach in Lyndhurst.

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