What About the Siblings?
What about the siblings of the addict? In the tangled web of the family, their lives are affected by the illness of substance use disorder too. And not for the better.
A family in a crisis generated by addiction is like a ship with a gashed main hull taking on water. The passengers and crew need to quickly get to safety. But are there enough lifeboats and life jackets?
Looking back over the years substance use disorder affected my family, there was a lot of collateral damage. Our beloved son lived a life assailed by addiction. My marriage to the man I absolutely adore took a major hit. The lives of our three wonderful daughters were constantly besieged with problems, drama, and, to be completely honest, a mother kind of crazed with the deadly downward spiral of their brother’s life.
We had been a close-knit family. The disease caused a horrible barrage of pain, blame, guilt, and sadness in all our lives. My husband and I sought help from a skillful family counselor, Dr. Bill Cipriano. In addition to suggesting strategies for how to deal with our son’s illness, he offered ways to support our three daughters, who were all at different stages of their lives in college, high school, and elementary school.
As things worsened for our son, there came a point where we sought counseling with our daughters. By then, he was pretty much estranged from all of us. My husband and I went with our two older daughters every Saturday at 8 a.m. to meet with Dr. Cipriano. That was a big commitment the girls willingly made in an effort to somehow find solutions for us all.
At that time, our youngest daughter was in second grade, so she stayed home with our oldest daughter’s boyfriend, who kindly agreed to babysit the high-energy seven-year-old early every Saturday morning.
Even during the most challenging times, our family likes to “keep the fun in dysfunctional.” That became our motto during those years, and it has stuck. Each week the running joke among us all was trying to decide who had the tougher job—those of us hashing it out in a counseling session or our daughter’s boyfriend, who had to keep up with endless card playing and gymnastics on a backyard trampoline in the early morning hours on his day off.
The counseling sessions were incredibly useful in a painful, let’s-get-it-all-out- in-the-open kind of way. Sometimes that’s what it takes. The process helped our daughters to feel heard and not overlooked. It led to positive change in how we understood the impact of substance use disorder in all our lives and how we managed the challenge with each other and our son.
Our daughters needed a lot of love, care, and support to deal with the illness affecting our family system, just as their brother did. We worked hard to ensure that for them, just as we did for our son. Did we do it perfectly? Hell, no. But we did it with all the love we had over the years of a long voyage. None of this is easy. There are still repairs that need to be completed from those difficult years. But with love as our focus, our family moves forward committed to each other—and to keeping the fun in dysfunctional.