Several years ago, a national credit card company had a marketing campaign that used the slogan “What’s in YOUR wallet?” The presumption from that advertisement was that so long as you had their credit card in your wallet, you had everything you needed for financial support. The title of this article has the same focus. Whether you are the addict or a family member, having a solid WE is absolutely essential.
What is a WE you might ask? The term refers to the support system surrounding a person. It might be individuals, in or out of recovery. It might be health professionals. It might be community organizations. Let’s talk a bit about why it is so important to have a WE and who the parties in that WE might be. This article is written from the perspective of the family of the addict but it is equally pertinent to the addict, whether or not they are in recovery.
When our Loved One is suffering in the grips of addiction, no one that touches him or her is left undamaged. Whether or not you view addiction as a disease or a process, it adversely impacts the person using the substances. Everyone acknowledges that they will have obstacles to overcome. Most people will recognize that the addict cannot do this alone. What about the family?
It is true that the addict’s family should have each other for support. However, each family member will be suffering to some degree as a result of the Loved One’s addiction. Some may be more incapacitated than others. Often the family members are all so self-consumed that they can’t focus on one another and are not even paying close attention to themselves. Rather, they are spending all of their energy and waking moments fretting over the welfare and well-being of their addicted Loved One. How often have we lost sleep when we don’t know where they are and if they are safe? How many times have jumped out of our skin when the phone rang, wondering if it was them….or a hospital….or a morgue? What lengths have we gone to trying to cajole, plead, beg , or force our Loved Ones into recovery?
Just as the addict usually needs some form of support for recovery, so do the family members. The addict might use a rehabilitation facility. They might use 12 step recovery programs or individual therapy. They might rely on sponsors or coaches to provide guidance. They might rely on other addicts who are in recovery to help them find their way. All of these are opportunities to build a “WE”…. a support system to help when they start to feel unsteady or fearful or angry or name your emotion. Often in early recovery, the addicts still try to isolate, feeling “less than” and self-conscious about their situation. They often find that trying to do this alone and without substantial support is either difficult or impossible.
What can a family member do for support? Clearly, if the family does not get well, then the addict cannot long remain in recovery. In our BALM Family Recovery program, we tell our families that they are their Loved One’s best chance at recovery and they are also their Loved One’s best chance at relapse. It is up to them to decide which way to go. In order for the family members to be their Loved One’s best chance, they also need to heal and use tools of recovery for their own illness. Programs like Al-Anon and Naranon can be good sources of support for family members. These are people who are also dealing with Loved Ones who may or may not be in recovery. But whether the Loved One is or is not in recovery does not mean that the family cannot get well. Many cities have face-to –face meetings that family members can attend and meet other family members. Al-Anon and Naranon have programs and opportunities to have sponsor support.
Many families attend therapy sessions, either individually, as a family group or both. This can be done independently or might be done in conjunction with a rehabilitation facility. This can provide a family with the opportunity to communicate in a safe environment. But…..what if the family members do not even know how to communicate effectively with their Loved One?
Family Recovery Resources has a family program known as the BALM Comprehensive, which is an intensive family recovery program that is currently offered online and is in the process of being offered in many cities across the US and in England. BALM, stands for Be A Loving Mirror, and teaches family members tools to better communicate with their Loved Ones, as well as coping skills for themselves, self-care and spirituality (not religion), such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness and behavior modification skills. BALM families meet online, strike up friendships and often call or Skype with one another for support. They also have access to BALM coaches and have the opportunity to hire individual coaches as well.
So, at the end of the day, the family members of the Loved One have many opportunities to develop a support system, if they are willing to make the effort. And the question again becomes, “Who’s in YOUR WE?”