Understanding addiction is part of my therapy as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Most survivors, including myself, have addictive behaviors to shield us from the demons of our trauma. Some of us are addicts. This is part two of a four part story about two men fighting to overcome their addictions, fighting for their lives.
Let’s return to our climbers. They were isolated by their trauma and were obsessively rock climbing to dull their emotional pain. Their self medicating behaviors may have saved them from a crushing emotional burden but now those same behaviors were slowly turning them and those around them into empty, lifeless husks, like pithed frogs, with nervous systems skewered and prepared for dissection.
The families don’t know what to do but clearly something must be done. Most of them have long family histories of self sufficient men and women taking care of themselves without outside interference and they passionately despise being “beholden” for help. Yet the two men are in danger. If equipment breaks they might fall to their deaths. They might go to jail. They are already lost souls. The situation daily pushes family members to the breaking point: with worry, never having enough money just to live, feeling emotionally cut off from the men they love while watching them slowly deteriorate. No one in the family believes they have a hope and a future and what little they have is draining away into a storm sewer.
One family member is researching treatment for addiction and is in contact with health care professionals. After much discussion and many loud arguments, the extended families decide to stage interventions for the two men to encourage them to go immediately to a treatment center to “dry out” and learn new coping skills. The men will be confronted separately but at the same time. They must individually choose between treatment, or a total loss of all support and connection with the extended families. They will be forced to move out, locks will be changed, restraining orders will be filed, no emergency money or shelter given.
Before the intervention, the mental health professionals quietly encourage the families to also accept treatment for themselves. Clearly the families need to change their own dysfunctional behaviors to be able to successfully support the men when they return from treatment. Most of the younger man’s family, including the enablers, consents.
The family gathers for the younger man’s intervention and he first looks startled and then uneasy as he comes into the large room. Family member after family member describes how his behavior hurts them, how much they feel the loss of companionship and connection with him, how much they want to return to better, happier days. And each asks him whether he will choose treatment or enforced separation from the family. Almost from the beginning the younger man begins to cry. With successive testimonies he shrinks deeper into himself. Finally he looks beaten and confused, but he quietly agrees to treatment. The family crowds around him, smothering him with love and acceptance and appreciation for his courageous choice.
The older man reacts differently to his intervention. He is angry and bolts from the room, to smoke he says, and reluctantly agrees to return and listen to what his family has to say. As each family member speaks, his face sets into deepening anger, he interrupts, argues, and bargains with them. He can’t possibly abandon his younger friend. These treatment centers are all scams to make money. Besides he can handle it. He doesn’t really have a problem, it’s everyone in the room who has a problem, and if they really wanted to help they would just stop the bullshit. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. As each family member vows to cut him off if he refuses treatment he thinks of his alternatives but they are vanishing quickly. The last to speak is his young teenage daughter. He has been glancing in her direction throughout, aware of her silent tears and clearly uncomfortable with her presence in the room. Then she begins to speak. With tears now cascading down her cheeks, her voice breaks as she haltingly voices her fear of losing her father forever. Something in the man gives way as he too begins to sob. He also agrees to treatment but delays departure as long as possible.
The men have reacted at a subconscious level for so many years that they have almost completely lost the ability to make rational conscious choices. Intervention offers a carrot and a stick to a donkey. The men were forced to choose between health and wholeness and an improved relationship with their loved ones following treatment, or the ugly reality of facing the full consequences of their behaviors, alone. However much it felt like it, they were not being punished for being wounded and isolated in their pain. But no addict and few abusers would willing accept treatment without unbearable consequences. Making them comfortable in their dysfunction and enabling their addictive behaviors actually traps them in shame, unable escape psychic pain, with dulled emotions, slouching through an empty and joyless existence toward the grave. They were given a choice between light and darkness, between life and death.
This was no easy choice. Addicts have an overdeveloped capacity for denial even when confronted with an irrefutable reality. The denial comes from deep in the subconscious where the men have learned that they must take care of themselves, that nobody else can be trusted, and that only they know what is best for them. Survival depends on their own strength and their ability to manipulate others to support their habits. These men are not team players. Despite their years of climbing together they climb alone, each enabled by the other. Yet at a deep instinctive level, far below their awareness, in the deepest darkest recesses of their minds, despite confusion, loss, abandonment, they need to connect with other people. They need to be loved. Without their families they will wither.
These men were forced to acknowledge the pain their dysfunction had caused the ones closest to them. Typically those consumed by addictive behaviors believe that only they are affected. It was time for the families to establish new and firm and loving boundaries. This was particularly hard for those who were co-dependent, who enabled the men to continue in their dysfunctional ways. No matter how desperately the enablers tried, they could not save the men from the consequences of their abnormal life style nor could the enablers manage the destructive behaviors of the men. It was not only time for the men to cease their addictive behaviors, it was also time for their enablers to cease efforts to rescue them.
Dysfunctional families rarely cope well with conflict and disappointment and such environments are often incubators for further dysfunctional behavior. Unfortunately, the emotional development of addicts generally stops when they begin to medicate because medication replaces healthy coping skills. So if an abused child begins drug use at age twelve, then that’s where their emotional maturity and their coping skills remain. Even if healthy relational skills are taught in our hypothetical unhappy family, while in the midst of addictive behaviors the addict or abuser can’t learn them. And if only side understands addiction and trauma, then the inevitable result is estrangement. Isolation leads to a progressive and inexorable death, but healthy relationships bring life.
Families of addicts also need intervention and treatment, for education, retraining in how to support the addict without enabling their addictions. If the addict returns to the same environment, with the same stresses and strains, with the same temptations, with the same comfortable habits and patterns, then how can a recovering addict maintain sobriety? The family environment must change, the family behaviors must change, the family enablement must end. It is unloving for families to protect addicts from consequences. It is unloving for families to bail addicts out of prison. It is unloving for families to provide emergency money which will be diverted to addictive behaviors. It is unloving for families just to accept addictive behaviors. It is unloving for families to allow their own lives to be destroyed by the addict’s behavior.
With past psychic damage and current emotional stresses, with changed brain chemistry, with the subconscious lying that the drug is necessary for survival, how can an addict possibly live a sober life?
Copyright © Peer Advocacy for Impaired Nurses, LLC, 2008- 2011 All Rights Reserved.
|Scott - Addiction|
|Scott - Intervention|
|Scott - Treatment|
|Scott - Aftercare|
|Stages of Recovery|
|Early Addiction Recovery Services|
|Signs and Symptoms|
|Alabama - Illinois|
|Indiana - North Dakota|
|New Hampshire - Wyoming|
|Nurse Support Groups|
|To The Addicted Nurse|