The previous mentality surrounding addiction was that the person struggling had to suffer alone. Go to rehab, attend AA, then return to the family with the expectation that they have been “cured.” Fortunately, addicts and alcoholics now have access to specialized help like treatment facilities, counselling, mentoring programs, etc., but there’s one major aspect of the addict’s life that is still often ignored: their family.
Addiction is not usually a topic for the dinner table
Addiction is not the sort of thing most families talk about. Quaint remarks like “Oh, he drinks a little too much sometimes,” are often as far as the conversation goes. No one likes to acknowledge the alcoholic in the family who can turn a gathering into a nightmare, but now that something can be done about it, families can feel safe talking about it and doing something about it.
The addict is not the only one that suffers from addiction
With everything society now knows about addiction and recovery, we can no longer ignore the impact the disease has on a family. Families do not escape unscathed from the addiction of a loved one. Anxiety, emotional pain, stress, fear, shame and guilt are emotions that are difficult enough to manage in our day to day lives, and all of those emotions and feelings can be magnified when we know someone we love is suffering.
Physical, mental, and emotional fatigue set in. We begin to lose sleep, and it all becomes overwhelming. The trust we once felt begins to erode, and loving relationships turn into bitter and resentful ones. This doesn’t happen overnight; it tends to creep up on a family. Loved ones’ ability to cope begins to fray at the edges. Many families are literally traumatized by addiction, and the damage doesn’t just disappear because the addict sought help.
The addict’s family needs help too
We can no longer ignore the suffering that the entire family endures. The reality is that the addict’s family needs to heal from the devastating and toxic effects of addiction — almost as much as the addict themselves. The rifts that have formed do not simply vanish. The family and the addict need to work together to understand and recover from what happened in order to once again enjoy life and each other.
The good news is that help for the family now exists. There are meetings family members can attend where they are educated about addiction and alcoholism and how to cope with a family member who’s suffering. Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Family Anonymous are organizations that provide help and support to the families of addicts and alcoholics, and Aurora Recovery Centre has gone a couple of steps further.
Aurora recognizes the importance of family healing
Aurora hosts families of addicts in recovery every Sunday where programming is offered. Aurora also provides an intensive 20-hour program intended specifically for the families of members in active recovery. The program is included with the loved one’s recovery program and gives the family the opportunity to heal along with their loved one. The program is facilitated by a Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent many years working with addicts and alcoholics in recovery.
Since the inception of this program, families who have taken part are in awe of the quality of the program and what they have learned. Families have been exceptionally thankful that the program exists and for the clarity and peace of mind it brings. Understanding the addicted brain, what a healthy recovery looks like, and how it can be supported by the family brings peace of mind to everyone suffering.
As someone with his own history of addiction and recovery who has watched his family suffer from the ravages of his addiction 30 years ago, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of healing as a family. I wasn’t afforded this opportunity. My family wasn’t afforded this opportunity. Please don’t let it slip by.