Finding Hope and Help in the Midst of Addiction: Healing Your Family

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Deathiversary of my son’s death

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary (deathiversary?) of my son’s death of a drug overdose. Brandon was one of those people who are larger than life. He was the life of the party. He had a loud voice, a lot of friends, an infectious smile, and he enveloped people with his bear hugs. He befriended the underdog and defended the helpless. He was intense; he loved and hated with his whole heart. He was the glue that held our family relationships together. He constantly reached out to each person in our family to spend time with them and to make sure they knew they were special to him.

From the time he started crawling, he was compelled to experience everything first hand. He touched and tasted everything (including the cat food). He exuded confidence. But looking back, I remember times when he was afraid or unsure of himself. Like the time when he was eight years old and was afraid to wait in the car while I went into the gas station to pay for the gas. But I overrode his fear and forced him to stay in the car and wait with his brothers. Because that’s what our family did—we ignored feelings.

His death came as a complete shock; we had no idea he was a drug addict. During the months leading up to his death, he often smelled like stale alcohol. But when I confronted him several times, he always vigorously denied that he drank too much. And we knew he did recreational drugs, but we had no idea he was taking anything dangerous. He was 25, and although we didn’t think he was an addict, we knew one of the catchphrases about addiction is “keep them alive until they’re 25,” so we thought he was going through a phase that he would outgrow.

What should you do if you think your child may be an addict or alcoholic? Learn the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and drug abuse. Listen to your gut instinct and educate yourself about addiction. Set boundaries with your child. Find a good Al-Anon meeting and attend regularly. Listen to talks by members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Seek advice from a therapist and/or interventionist. Learn about residential treatment centers so you can make an informed decision about drug and alcohol rehab. The more information you have, the more options you will have, and the better equipped you will be to decide whether or when to offer help to your addict. While it’s true that an addict or alcoholic needs to hit bottom before they are willing to accept help, the premise of rehabilitation and recovery facilities is that sometimes you can bring the bottom up to the addict. Because some addicts, like Brandon, die before they reach the bottom.

The two most important things to understand if your child is an addict or alcoholic are these:

  1. Addiction is a disease like diabetes or cancer. Your child can’t help that he or she is an addict.
  2. It’s not your fault. You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. Ultimately, it is up to your child to take responsibility for his or her disease. It is critical to understand that addiction is a disease. There should be no stigma attached to it.

While I do believe addiction is a disease over which I have no control, I’ve often asked myself if there were any factors that contributed to this perfect storm in our family. Could we have created a more open family atmosphere in which Brandon would have felt comfortable asking for help? Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, but I believe certain factors and family dynamics may have made it more likely that our family would experience this. For one thing, we have a long family history of addiction. For more about our unhealthy family dynamics, see Finding Help, Hope, and Health.

Here are some key ways to ensure your home is emotionally unhealthy:

  1. Don’t allow your children to express their opinions.
  2. Don’t allow your children to feel and express emotions.
  3. Don’t talk freely and openly about anything.
  4. Make sure you are enmeshed with your children; do your best to live their lives for them.

Obviously, I can’t go back and do things differently with our family. Nor is there any guarantee that the outcome would be different if I could have a “redo.” But I hope my experience will serve to help and encourage anyone reading this. Our family has sought counseling and we are steadily improving in these areas. We are building strong, trusting relationships with each other, and we are learning to incorporate healthy dynamics, including feelings and emotions, into our relationships.

There is hope—you and your family members can change, and you can improve family communication and dynamics. Our family relationships are better than ever, and it has been worth all the hard work!

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Resources

Books

Bradshaw On: The Family: A New Way of Creating Solid Self-Esteem by John Bradshaw

Healing the Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children by Allison Bottke

Audio Recordings

Talks by Mark Houston

Talks by Don Pritchett: Search for “Don P”; you can also search for “Mark H”. The site has thousands of talks available to listen to for free.

BRC Recovery Speakers