“Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.” – NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence).
I’m not an addict, but I was married to an alcoholic for many years and the above quote sums up my experience, and that of my two daughters.
There is a growing acceptance that addiction is a disease which can be treated, but my experience is that those close to the addict often do not find the support that they need. And if they aren’t helped and supported, how can they provide the support that their loved ones need? Nobody gets through addiction alone.
Looking back on how I tried to deal with alcoholism, I did everything I shouldn’t have done. I know that now. I worked through anger (“How can you be so stupid?”), guilt (“You’d stop if you loved me and the girls”), bribery (“If you stop, I’ll pay off your debts”), kindness (“We’ll do this together, I’ll be there every step of the way”) and threats (“I’ll leave you if you don’t stop.”). Of course none of it worked. I was horribly lonely.
The pressure of trying to sustain a family life, watching the person I love fade and collapse, working twice as hard to keep paying the bills, worrying about the future and keeping up the pretence of normality was often overwhelming. And I felt guilty that I couldn’t sort things out.
Part of my work at Castle Craig now involves helping to coordinate the Family Programme, which is open to anybody, whether or not they have a family member in treatment. Family members take part in discussions, lectures and therapy which are directed at them, and come to see that the feelings of guilt, isolation, shame and anxiety can be shared and managed.
For many, the experience of simply sharing their feelings is a huge relief. People like me can come and learn how to deal with addiction as well as our own feelings and responses.
Understanding partners, parents and children can make an enormous difference to the success of the addicted person’s treatment and recovery; and to the lives that ripple out from that central stone that’s addiction. I wish I’d known about it when I needed it.