Groundhog Day — Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result
By Jackie Stein
In the movie “Groundhog Day” Bill Murray’s character is an arrogant self-centered and selfish weatherman who goes to Gobbler’s Knob one February 2nd to witness Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow and predict six more weeks of winter. For reasons that are not clear at the beginning of the movie, the character is destined to repeat that day over and over again, each day beginning with his radio coming on to the sound of Sonny & Cher singing “I Got You Babe” and the local radio jockeys making silly comments. In the course of the movie, each time he awakens, he begins to make modest changes in his day and each day gets a little better. By the end of the movie, he has become a changed man, no longer selfish and self-centered, caring more about others and repetition stops…and it is February 3rd.
In the rooms of recovery, insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Not until we are willing to start making changes, does the insanity start to wane. Not until those changes become habit and we start to care about things outside ourselves do things start to get better.
I started to think about how this relates to family relationships in general, and my family in particular. When we have a Loved One that is in the throes of addiction or in early recovery, we may have a tendency to see this as exclusively their problem….if only they would stop using their drug of choice, our lives would be normal again. Often we cannot see that we have also changed as a result of living with the disease of addiction and usually not for the better. We live in a state of denial, unwilling to see that everyone in the family needs to make changes. The family members each find their own way to “act out”. One may become sullen and isolationist, no longer participating in family activities. One may become a jokester, trying to make light of everything so there is no need to deal with the pain of reality. One becomes the Loved One’s caretaker, doing everything from paying their bills to driving them to score and paying for their dope. Another one becomes the judge, jury and executioner, constantly badgering the Loved One and trying to control their every move. And of course, someone is forever saying that the Loved One just needs to find God and everything will be okay.
So what happens if the Loved One starts to find recovery? Whether going through a medical detox and residential rehab or just toughing it out at home….what happens when our Loved One starts to find a new way of living? The answer depends upon whether the family also pursues recovery for themselves or continues to live in their system of dysfunction. As much as we think we will just change back to “normal” if our Loved One gets help, we are more likely to stay in the toxic behaviors. They are new habits we have acquired and changing them will require us to find a new way of living for ourselves. Think it’s so easy to give up a habit like sulking or controlling or enabling? Think about other habits, like smoking or nail biting, cracking knuckles or constantly saying “um” when speaking. These things have become second nature and take both a concerted effort and some “clean” time to break the habit.
So, while our Loved Ones start to break the chains of addiction and live in recovery, we must do the same. While there is no “detox” or “rehab” for the family members, there are family programs that can help the family members to start new habits and break the chains of their own destructive behavior. Family therapy is one way to work on this set of circumstances. Taking comprehensive classes on how to engage in self-care and also be your Loved One’s best chance at recovery is another possibility. Attending Alanon and/or Naranon meetings is yet another avenue to assist family members. Working with a family recovery life coach, perhaps in conjunction with classes or 12 step programs is a way to help the family heal itself and therefore become a healthy place for the whole family, including the recovering addict.
What happens to our Loved Ones if they go to pursue recovery in a rehab facility and come home to a family that has not changed? Anecdotal research shows that if the Loved One comes back after only 25 or 30 days clean, to a home that is still filled with dysfunctional family members, our Loved One’s chance of relapse is increased exponentially. Imagine coming home after a month without drugs or alcohol, living in a facility where you have the opportunity to talk about your feelings openly and are encouraged to do the next right thing. You come in the door and one person avoids you because they aren’t sure what to say or not say. One person makes jokes about drinking and drugging because they aren’t sure what to say or not say. One person dotes on you so much that you feel suffocated…they worry about everything you say or do, looking for a deeper meaning and wondering if they are missing some cue that you are in danger. The stern one starts setting up limitations, some of which might make sense but some are over the top and they are also suffocating you. And of course, someone wants to make sure you get to multiple meetings a day and church all the time. After 25 or 30 days clean, your Loved One is not yet strong enough to withstand this barrage. The chances are as likely as not that they will relapse in short order and you will wonder what is wrong with them….DENIAL.
So, just like Bill Murray, nothing changes if nothing changes. If we want to change the unending loop of Groundhog Day, we need to take action. We can’t control what our Loved One does but we can start to take steps ourselves to help our Loved Ones and ourselves.
Written for I Love Recovery Cafe…www.iloverecovery.com