One of the first shocking phrases I heard at my loved one’s detox center was “ You know? You need help as well. You can recover.” I needed help too.
I could not believe what the nurse was telling me. How could I need recovery, if the addict was my family member, who had been struggling with substance abuse for a long time and had just been admitted to the center? And what exactly did she mean by recovery for me? Was I supposed to be admitted there as well?
To tell you the truth, if being admitted to the hospital would have taken away all the pain and sorrow, all that worry, and all the fearful and sleepless nights I had been having for years, then I would have been packed and ready in a second. Unfortunately, my recovery looked like something else; it involved something new, something that included an understanding of life in different terms, and most of all, an understanding of love in a deeper way.
Having a loved one who struggles with addiction brings family members to a whole new way of living, and no one is ever prepared for it. We keep trying to convince ourselves that things will get better if only we made ourselves clearer, if only we tried harder; if only we said the right thing, at the right time; if only, if only …
We delude ourselves, in our despair, to believe that this situation is temporary, that our loved one could straighten things out if he or she wanted to. We are so eager to see this chaos end, that we might even allow abuse and neglect without knowing it. More so, we turn to believe the promises we are told over and over again, in the false hope that everything will be ok soon. But our desire cannot fool reality. The addictive behavior comes back again and again, and an overwhelming feeling of despair takes over one more time. Realizing this, I saw that I needed help too.
This cycle can go on for years and years. Little did we know that our actions had the power of interfering with our loved one’s sobriety because we were actually enabling. Our demanding or begging, cursing or threatening, offending and manipulating were just reactions to the fear we were we experiencing and in reality, we were only contributing to the chaos. Changing this pattern of action and reaction is what recovery looks like for me.
These automatic and well intended reactions are ultimately impeding our loved ones to accept what they are doing to themselves and others, to face the consequences for their actions, and to finally seek help. As much as we struggle to admit it, it is our wish to be helpful that is counterproductive, and at first, it’s very difficult to understand and to accept because we have the right intention and a lot of love to give. However, we will need to learn a new way of loving; a new way that will allow us to communicate with the person we love, without engaging in their chaotic needs.
We will need to learn to overcome the emotional loss, and begin slowly to understand and accept this new way of loving, (that seems so unnatural to us at first). This is what recovery looks like for me.
We Need Recovery
We need recovery, as family members, if we still believe that our love will be enough to overcome addictive behavior. We need recovery if we still believe we have the power of controlling what other people do and say. We need recovery if our thinking has become distorted as a consequence of having a loved one who struggles with an addiction we can neither understand nor cure. And we need recovery because we cannot do this to ourselves any longer. It doesn’t go away just like that.
Today, many years after that episode in the detox center, and many meetings, prayers, and self-reflections later, I can say that I deeply understand what my recovery means to me. It really saved my life and my sanity discovering that, to my own awe, I could still live a serene life in spite of what my loved one does or does not do. It allowed me to reconfigure my perceptions of what I thought my life would be, and be more accepting of what life has brought me. Not just as a punishment (the way I first thought of it), but as an opportunity to participate in life more fully.
My recovery showed me how to love in a deeper and more compassionate way, and to be less judgmental of others. It allowed me to build a whole new relationship with family members who struggle and to include those who don’t. Today, I know I can love more fully and have a sense of acceptance and compassion I never dreamed of having before. I am so grateful that I realized that I need help too.
Guest Blogger: Gabriella T.