Friday, February 17, 2017

Some Wounds May Never Heal - Part 5 of Addiction is a Family Disease

Sometimes life leaves you with an open wound rather than a scar 

This truth is a painful one to learn and a lesson I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Unfortunately, when you have someone in your family struggling with substance abuse, whether actively using or in recovery, there is a 50/50 chance an oozing wound will be your new reality. While my family's injury scabbed over during the last seven months (PRAISE GOD!), I've met countless others still sporting gaping, bleeding sores.

All the devastation and utter heartache of watching someone you cherish destroy themselves stops once they change their trajectory and head down the road to recovery, right?

Not always.

In fact, the journey of sobriety is just as difficult and painful for all involved as when your loved one was actively using, yet for different reasons. The emotional impact hits both the former user and enabler hard. The challenges faced by both include:
  • Feelings of guilt for mistakes and bad choices
  • Looking back over the past and yearning for a "re-do" button that will never appear
  • Listening -- really listening  -- to what our loved one is feeling no matter how much it hurts to hear the truth
  • Dealing with core issues of what triggered the behavior
  • Anger at wasted opportunities/time
  • Financial/health/living arrangement struggles
  • Retraining the mind to focus on healthy ways to deal/cope with stressful situations, rather than returning to previous habits
  • Letting go of the "old" and welcoming the "new" by practicing forgiveness

There is no chance for healing if you continue to poke the injury

Notice the last bullet-point in red. For me, it has been the hardest issue to tackle. Why? It wasn't the struggle to forgive--that was the easy part. We're all human and susceptible to mistakes and bad choices. It's called life. No, I struggled with tossing away the old habits. We waited so long, prayed, hoped, begged, cajoled, yelled and cried, beseeching the Heavens and our addict to get help and when he did, we found ourselves in unfamiliar territory. So many years had been spent behaving, acting and reacting in certain ways it was a jolt to the system to steer the course of our lives in another direction.

Old habits and feelings are embedded inside our psyches and they don't like the idea of leaving! Just like remaining clean is a daily struggle for our loved one, enablers struggle with not falling back into the old ways of thinking. Examples:

  • Flinching when the phone rings; heart rate skyrocketing as we assume something is wrong
  • Bringing up past mistakes/issues/difficult times when they've already been addressed and apologies given and accepted
  • Interjecting our opinions/desires/wants/needs/hopes/dreams onto our loved one and expecting them to act/feel the same way we do
  • Stepping in to "fix" a problem rather than let our loved one take ownership and solve it on their own (even if they fail--they learned)
  • Letting the "worst case scenario" control your thoughts when confronted with something your loved one does that you perceive as a step-back to their former lives
I can't count how many times during the previous seven months I caved and let the old worries and fears rise to the surface. One particular incident still haunts me because of the look of sadness on my son's face. The thin trust bubble we'd worked so hard to cultivate and grow popped--and not because I caught him in a lie, but because I jumped to the wrong conclusion.

That moment changed my perception of this journey. I realized that if I didn't learn to release my tight grip on the past we could never move forward. I needed to alter my view and see him as the new man he'd become, not the old one I'd coddled and enabled for years. It also was the reason I refuse to refer to him as a "former addict" or "recovering addict" because, at least for me, that particular nomenclature still tethers him to the past, and he isn't that person any longer.

I'm sure there are those who will disagree with me about the above statement, and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. After a lot of thought and prayer, it dawned on me that by continuing to label someone by their past, we are dooming them to the same future. It's no different than saying "former liar" or "former adulterer" or "former thief."

We all make mistakes and bad choices in life. Do you want your past transgressions to be what defines you? I certainly don't, and I suspect most of you feel the same way. I know my loved one doesn't and he fights the good fight each and every day to continue learning and growing into the new man he's worked so hard to be, so I refuse to pick at the sores of his past. 

It's time they healed.

May God bless each and every one of you, and your loved ones struggling down this path. Stay strong, faithful, and most of all, humble. Open your arms wide and embrace your loved one today with all the love, kindness, support and forgiveness our Heavenly Father offered you.

If you do this one simple thing, the healing of the wound begins, and soon, the scar appears.

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