What led you to finally seek recovery?
Question: I recently found out my son has been struggling with substance abuse. I want to be as helpful and proactive as possible. In your experience, what are three things we, as loved ones, do (or don’t do) that seem to be the least helpful for someone in early recovery or entering treatment?
This is a great question. The first thing I would list as unhelpful is having expectations for recovery that are unrealistic. Families often lack an understanding of how truly cunning and powerful the disease of addiction is. Instinctively, family members will direct their loved one to take control of their addiction by entering some form of treatment, often not realizing they are subconsciously placing an unattainable expectation on the person struggling. They assume their loved one has the ability and can control the disease of addiction. Expectations like these, unfortunately, leave families painfully disappointed, and the disease of addiction thrives in shame and disappointment. I often use the example from Alcoholics Anonymous—the Big Book—page 420: “My serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations of . . . other people are, the lower is my serenity. I can watch my serenity level rise when I discard my expectations. But then my ‘rights’ try to move in, and they too can force my serenity level down. I have to discard my ‘rights,’ as well as my expectations.” Both family members and the loved one struggling learn that recovery as a family can begin once we discard our expectations.
The second unhelpful thing family members do is fail to see that they, too, need to recover. The responsibility of healing is not only on the person struggling with substance use disorder, but also shared by the family. As we know, addiction is a family disease. Families often carry generational trauma stemming from enduring years of untreated addiction, resulting in anxiety, anger, and fear. Once the addicted family member is in treatment, the other members feel relieved, if drained and exhausted. Eventually, though, families with little to no support become just as unhealthy as the loved one struggling with substance use. When the entire family can receive support, no one is left carrying these burdens alone. Family support groups are not just a way of connection, but sounding boards that offer personal experiences of hope, forgiveness, acceptance, and healing. Our families and loved ones deserve to heal and recover just as much as we do. Healing does not mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our family members’ lives.
Finally, offering financial incentives is usually unhelpful. Obviously, the intention is pure, hoping to spark motivation in the loved one to recover. Unfortunately, this rarely works long enough to achieve sobriety, commonly resulting in both family members and the loved one struggling with feelings of disappointment. Eventually, money or financial support isn’t enough to motivate the loved one. Instead, it is something like our drug: once the instant gratification subsides, we quickly move on to the next fix, eventually draining all offerings. In my experience, offering physical and emotional support while your loved one enters treatment is the strongest motivation. Limit financial support to supportive gestures like care packages. Emotional support is more powerful than we can understand. Emotional support throughout the entire recovery process is priceless.
Continue asking great questions, Mom!
A Daughter’s Perspective
Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.
Keriann Caccavaro is a recovery coach, drug court advocate, and woman in long term recovery helping to support people struggling with addiction and their families. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn or Facebook.
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