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Coping with substance use and addiction in the family. Moving Beyond Tough Love

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A New Approach:  We must not believe it is ok or even human to abandon the people we love.  Tough Love is Wrong.  There is no excuse to abandon a loved one, or family member who is struggling with addiction or substance use. If you throw your loved one out on the street with no resources, don’t expect that the same person will return.  Recovering from or changing the negative trajectory of chaotic substance use requires love and connection, not the opposite.  We have taught people for 20 plus years that if they want to help the people, in their lives struggling with addiction/ chaotic substance use, they must turn their back and refuse to assist them until they are ready to STOP completely.  This is absurd.  The path to recovery is lined with small positive changes and small victories. When people become disconnected from everything they freeze, they give up.  They have no reason to continue.  When you can’t see how to get from point A to point B life feels useless.  Desperation kicks in.  You stop caring what happens to you.  You fall into a hellish cycle of depression and hell.  THIS IS NOT when people recover. Reaching a bottom does not situate a person to begin living again.  People need to feel connected, supported loved and listened to.  It is not pain that helps me change, it is passion and hope.  Pain simply makes things more difficult.

Caring for an individual with chaotic substance misuse and co-occurring mental health disorders can be challenging and, at times, overwhelming. Frustration is a normal and valid emotional response to many of the difficulties of being a supportive loved one.  While some irritation may be part of everyday life, you will experience an extra dose being a person who chooses to engage as opposed to abandoning, in fact, it is going to be quite normal to experience extreme frustration.  Your anger may even escalate beyond a range you have ever experienced.  This can be exaggerated by societies response to addiction etc.  The rest of the world has told you it is okay to abandon your loved one, and in fact, they tell you many things:  you are sick, you are killing your loved one.  When you have messages like this coming in constantly, you will become angry, you have decided to take a different more painful path.  It is the Path of Connection and Bond. Frustration and stress may negatively impact your physical health or cause you to be physically or verbally aggressive towards your loved one. If your caregiving situation is causing you extreme frustration or anger, you may want to explore some new techniques for coping, harm reduction family support groups, renewed dedication to care for self and sustain boundaries, and exploring options that involve asking professionals, or sending your loved one to a more secure and higher level of care facility.  Remember people that say there is nothing you can do to help a person that is still using are not using harm reduction philosophy and they are not correct.  You can always discuss safer drug use, overdose prevention, never use alone, etc.  We must remember there are many pathways to recover and recovery is not an event it is a journey.  MAT (methadone) is not only the gold standard for opiate addiction, it provides a protective factor against overdose.  I am amazed at the people who won’t think about methadone.  We have stigmatized the treatment.  I remember lying to my mother for 3 years about being on methadone.  It is crazy.  Methadone saves lives.  No one is going to ask you how you showed up for your family, they will simply be glad you did.  We must remain open to a variety of options and celebrate small victories and successes.  This is in fact recovery.

When you are frustrated, it is important to distinguish between what is and what is not within your power to change. Frustration often arises out of trying to change an uncontrollable circumstance. As a caregiver of someone struggling with chaotic substance use and co-occurring mental illness, you will face many uncontrollable situations.   Unfortunately, you cannot simply change the behavior of ANY PERSON.

When dealing with an uncontrollable circumstance, you do control one thing: how you respond to that circumstance.

In order to respond without extreme frustration, you will need to:

  1. Learn to recognize the warnings signs of frustration.

  2. Learn to communicate assertively.

  3. Learn to ask for help.

  4. Boundaries- Set and maintain

  5. You are allowed and must take care of self first. Taking care of self is not wrong it is essential.

  6. Intervene to calm yourself down physically.

  7. Meditate- Pray- Change your internal dialogue

  8. This is not about you….your loved one is not doing this at you or to hurt you. Likely it has very little to do with you.

Recognize the Signs of Stress Early so You Can get Ahead of an Explosion

  1. Shortness of breath

  2. Knot in the throat

  3. Stomach cramps

  4. Chest pains

  5. A headache

  6. Excessive alcohol consumption

  7. Excessive drug use

  8. Internal Dialogue that repeats over and over negative self-defeating language

  9. Compulsive eating

  10. Increased smoking

  11. Lack of patience

  12. The desire to strike out

IF YOU NOTICE YOUR INTERNAL DIALOGUE TALKING LIKE THIS ___STOP___REST___STOP ____REST

Internal Dialogue and talk that reflects your inability or lack of desire to think clearly.  Thinking I never am happy.  My whole life has sucked.

Personalizing You take responsibility for a negative occurrence that is beyond your control

Discounting the Positives

You take one negative situation or characteristic and multiply it. For example, youʼre getting ready to take the person in your care to a doctorʼs appointment when you discover the car battery has died. You then conclude, “This always happens; something always goes wrong.”

You overlook the good things about your circumstances and yourself. For example, you might not allow yourself to feel good about caregiving by thinking, “I could do more” or “anyone could do what I do.”

Jumping to conclusions

Mindreading: We assume that others are thinking negative thoughts about us. For example, a friend doesnʼt return a phone call, and we assume that he or she is ignoring us or doesnʼt want to talk to us.

For more tips read our stories of the stigmatized blog by Urban Survivors Union.

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