I finally broke down and went.
I did NOT want to go. Did NOT.
But then it happened. Three people in one day told me I should go. If three people in a short period of time give me the same invitation/direction/suggestion/advice then I know I've been divinely ordered so I have to do the thing. I feel like that's God/the Universe/Spirit whatever you like to call it talking and so I follow the directions.
The thing was an Alanon meeting. A meeting for family members of people with addiction. It was started around the time that Alcoholics Anonymous was started by the founder of AA's wife. It makes sense that this exists for families and I know that millions of people have benefitted from the support it provides. People living with addiction, the family members are being adversely affected by the environment.
To be completely transparent, I'd been told I should go for about two and a half years. My therapist said it practically every time I sat on her safe sofa. I resisted.
"you really should try a meeting" she'd say. "you are ripe for it."
"No," I would say. "I am going to do this on my own. I am going to figure this out on my own."
"You are already doing all the things a program tells you to do. Somehow, intuitively, you're doing it but I still think you would benefit from the meetings." she said.
Then it happened. Three people in one day. She was one of them.
Ugh. I had to go. So I went because I typically don't like to ignore Divine orders. Ignoring Divine orders scares me.
What I heard in that meeting ( I'll write more about my experience with alanon meetings in the future) and what I'd heard from well meaning people in treatment centers, from my therapist, from articles online and books about addiction the most was "you have to take care of yourself."
When I heard those words, "take care of yourself," in that context I heard "Don't help the person with addiction. Ignore/detach/let go of the person/the issue and just focus on yourself and things will get better on their own." And I think, I take care of myself. I take care of everyone.
I tried it like that. The detach/let go method of taking care of myself. Things got a little better and they didn't. I got a little better but my person/people with addiction did not get better on their own, therefore things didn't really get better, they got worse or what felt and looked like worse. It was a kind of dual existence. I went to yoga, meditated, prayed, exercised, ate well, listened to music, spent time with people, took baths, all the things but then addiction would hit me like a huge wave and I'd be underwater flailing around for the ground I'd so carefully built "taking care of myself." I felt better sometimes but the issue still existed within the family sometimes raging within the family.
In the meetings no one was explaining exactly what take care of yourself meant. In the articles no one was explaining it. In conversations no one was elaborating on it. Even in the family sessions at the treatment centers we'd been to were vague about it really meant.
What I discerned later being the curious person that I am was the true intention behind "take care of yourself." I recognized that it had been watered down, misinterpreted, used as an excuse to ignore a situation or potentially dangerous health issue pertaining to someone you love. This to me felt irresponsible. Here's where someone might call me "an enabler." Go ahead. I love debating that term and I will another day. For today I am taking on "take care of yourself."
What does "take care of yourself" really mean in the realm of being a family member or friend of someone with addiction?
First of all it means what it sounds like it means take care of your SELF.
The basic things. Attend to your own needs, your own wellbeing.
If you are not taking care of your own basic needs that keep you at a baseline of a healthy mind, body and spirit, start there. Your boundaries are being compromised if you aren't taking care of your own mind, body and spirit. Boundaries are something foreign to people who have grown up in addiction. I didn't even know what that meant until I really got down and dirty with the issue of addiction. If you've become isolated, disconnected, on high alert, not sleeping, not eating well, not doing the things that nourish you, you are just as sick as the person with addiction.
Then it means do what the person with addiction needs or is doing in treatment and recovery.
That is, learning, establishing and maintaining healthy life practices, dealing with unresolved trauma, grief and loss, breaking unhealthy patterns, building emotional intelligence and becoming mentally, spiritually and physically healthy and staying that way your SELF.
What does a person with active addiction need? Treatment that includes all of the above, time and space to heal, a program for recovery.
Treatment/Rehab is a safe place without drugs and alcohol and the triggers of the disease to heal and to learn a program of recovery.
What does a family member need? A program of recovery, treatment and time and space to heal in an environment free of drugs and alcohol.
Take care of yourself really means,
1. Go to therapy and deal with your unresolved trauma, grief, loss, wounds, issues, pain, addictions. Everyone benefits from therapy. If you don't think you would you are in denial. Everyone has pain, childhood wounding, grief, loss, heartbreak of some kind that has an averse effect on our mind, body and spirit. If you don't think you do, you are in denial. I said that twice on purpose.
2. Find a community of support. Alanon, family meetings, some sort of group that understands and can provide fellowship around the specific issue.
3. Hire a coach, a mentor, a guide or get a sponsor to help you through issues you struggle with, hold you accountable to your healing path, help you see things from a recovery perspective, to help you establish healthy boundary practices and wellbeing.
4. Choose a healthy mind, body, spirit practice. Examples... healthy mind practices: yoga, meditation, therapy. Body: Move your body. exercise, walk, dance,, whatever makes your body feel good and activates the healthy, healing, happiness producing chemicals in your own brain.
Spiritual: My go to's are yoga and prayer. Some people go to church or 12 step meetings. Spirituality is not religion. It's a practice that nourishes your spirit. A loving kindness to your SELF. Devote yourself to these practices.
5. Look at your own emotional health. Dig Deep. I spent a lot of time in therapy asking the question "what is my part" in all of this. I still do it. "what is my part" in the loss of a relationship, a matter of disappointment, an unsettling situation. What are my patterns that contribute to unhealthy ways of being. How do I become the best version of my SELF. What am I doing that causes harm to myself and others, where am I unkind, unhealthy, wrong in action and in speech, what am I doing to create an environment where addiction can thrive. What are good practices for healing and wellbeing?
6. Connect. Connect with like minded people, with people you love, with people who love you. Humans need connection, best of all healthy connection. Be with the people who build you up, who believe in you, the positive influences in your life. Let them feed you.
7. Be substance free. Commit to at least 90 days without substances to support your persons recovery and your own. See how you feel at the end of 90 days. Experience your body, your mind and your spirit without the influence of substances.
8. REST & RETREAT. Your body, you mind and your spirit have been compromised by addiction whether you are the person with it our not. You need rest to heal. Research shows that people closest to the person with addiction similar brain nuero patterns and they show the same responses to triggers in recovery. Your brain needs healing as well. It take two years for a brain to heal from the effects of addiction and a consistent recovery lifestyle to develop new nuero patterns. Take breaks, take naps, go on healing retreats. I am a healing retreat pusher just like I am a yoga pusher, because I've been there and I know what it feels like in my body to be healed, to experience the effects on your soul that rest and retreat provide. You are doing your SELF a disservice if you're on the wrongly glorified busy train not the the rest and restore cruise through life.
9. Replenish. Drink lots of water. Eat food that is good for your body. Fuel yourself well.
10. Identify your strengths and your core essential needs and use them to grow and heal.
I'll be talking about "needs" and being "needy" this week so stay tuned. Family members in addiction become "needless" which is not a good thing.
To make it extra super simple. Take care of these four things.
1. Mind-mental health, brain health.
2. Body- physical health
3. Spirit- spiritual health
4. Environment - healthy home, healthy workplace, healthy community
One of the best questions anyone ever asked me was, "how are you going to take care of yourself?" and the she asked me to write it all down as a schedule and show her everything. I did it. I color coded it by work time, exercise, ritual, food, rest and wrote in exactly when and what I was planned to do.
It's an excellent self care practice that stuck with me.
While working with my own mentor, I began to "really take care of myself" with these practices, that's when I was able to make impact on addiction, the health of my family member crisis and regain my own internal balance and wellness. My wellbeing had a huge impact on our family which rippled out and continues to ripple out.
How are you going to take care of yourself?
It's an integral part of the healing process of your family member with addiction and in recovery.
With love and healing vibes coming your way,
Ps. stay tuned, I'm going to address WHY YOGA? very soon.
"How long did it take?" she asked.
I'd had an epiphany in the month of March 2015. I'd decided that I would no longer be wishy washy about addiction. I would no longer waffle back and forth about whether it was a disease or a phase or a lifestyle choice.
In January I'd gone on a solo retreat. I'd spent the weekend deep in a healing process. One of the things I'd given up at the end of that weekend was being wishy washy especially when I knew with my whole being when something was right or wrong for me. Being wishy-washy in the face of addiction was not only hurting the person with addiction but my other family members and myself. You can read about that weekend here.
In February I'd hired a spiritual mentor/guide to work with me for a year to help heal my broken heart, to help me find purpose and to walk with me on the path of devotion. I realized I needed help and I wanted guidance. You follow the path of devotion in my journal starting here.
In March I went to Seattle and spent a weekend with two highly talented spiritual and professional coaches and did equine healing work (horse therapy) and somatic bodywork and my spiritual guide. I spent the weekend learning about the frozen and broken places in my heart and in my body. You can read about that weekend here. and here.
In March, after that retreat, on the phone with my spiritual guide, after an episode with my child, I decide. I will not be wishy washy. I will treat my child that way my friend treated her child with cancer. I will treat this situation exactly the way my friend, the mother of a sick child that could potentially die, treated her situation. I would treat addiction like a disease, period.
My daughter's best friend since she was five years old was diagnosed with brain cancer when they were in seventh grade. We were very close to the situation. I watched how her mother and father advocated for her care. I watched how they supported her healing process, how the community supported them, how the entire cancer community connected and supported each other. I watched how they raised awareness about the disease, I watched the advocates and the activists. I watched how people rallied. I made note of the language that was used in treatment, I made note of my friends ferocity, strength and determination to help her daughter get well. I made note of the collateral effects that fighting a life threatening disease creates. I went to fundraising events. I connected with the advocates and the advocates and I listened. I didn't know at the time that what was happening would be a shining example of how to help my child battle and heal.
I was on the phone with my guide Jen. I remember the moment very clearly. The moment I took it into my heart and shifted my mind that what I was facing was a disease, not a lifestyle choice, not a phase. A disease and I was going to treat my child like he was battling cancer. "Ok" she said. "It's a disease."
From there everything shifted. I began to look at the entire situation from a disease perspective only. Information about the disease began to flow to me. I reached out to people who'd been where we were and asked questions.
"What did you do?"
"How did you do it?"
"What was the most effective treatment?"
"What do I do?"
I learned how to discern with my heart, my mind and my body what was true, what resonated, what I could use as a weapon in the fight and I learned what "take care of yourself" really meant and I learned that some of the old ways, messaging and philosophies would not work for my person or my family and I had to continue seek new protocols, research, information and practices, theories and adopt and align with what worked into the plan, the path and for the future and I had to trust myself, the innate healing properties in my child and have faith in the process.
How long did it take?
For five years with my child I was in the haze of drug & alcohol use as a lifestyle choice/phase that someone might grow out of. Riding the waves, trying to keep some semblance of normalcy in my house for my other kids. Addiction ruled. For 35 years I was in the haze of alcoholism with my mom. We got her into treatment a few days after my third child was born. I was angry with my mom. I still didn't understand that she was sick. It's taken a lot of deep personal work to heal the damage of growing up in addiction and I still have a therapist as part of my wellness team, that started 6 years ago. For 20 years I was in the haze of alcohol misuse and addiction as something "out of my control" in my marriage. Call it a haze, call it denial, call it ignorance, call it misunderstanding, call it stupid, call it the cards I was dealt. It doesn't matter. I suffered. We all suffered. I didn't know then what we know now.
My mom died of the side effects of addiction. She died of cancer. Cigarettes cause cancer. Wine/Alcohol cause cancer. She'd been sober for two years before she died. We treated her cancer with compassion. We fought cancer, we put her wigs on and laughed, we spent time with her and went to her appointments and chemo treatments. We hated her addiction. We left her alone, we were silent about the situation until it reached the late stage and none of us had any fight left in us and we disconnected, pulled our life support little by little until she finally walked into a hospital to detox at the request of my father and we spent the next two years trying to heal from the damage addiction had done on our family before cancer took her body.
My marriage died of addiction. I hated addiction. I loved my people but I hated my life in addiction. I was silent about it. I let it rule. I didn't fight it, I was complicit in it. I finally walked away defeated by it. I knew if I didn't I was going to die from it. I never uttered the words, "addiction is killing me and our marriage." I never asked anyone for help. I never asked him to get help. I just abandoned the situation. We still have a relationship because we have children together but I am no longer married to addiction.
But this time, with my child somewhere deep inside a fight rose up in me. It wasn't just a fight for my child's life but a fight for my life, all my children lives and the lives of my future grandchildren and even beyond. I didn't want them to feel the way I felt. That deep sort of loneliness that rides along in a life with addiction. You can limp along in addiction, living a life that's ok, tolerable at times, with moments of joy, feeling love, enthusiasm, connection but the feelings that begin to prevail are sadness, despair, hopelessness, grief, boredom, isolation and disconnection. And it felt like addiction was trying to break me. I'd come up against it in new relationships, it shattered my heart, I was smacked in the face with it in my friendships, it felt like I couldn't escape it. I didn't want that anymore. I wanted clean, true, connection, peace, love, contentment, happiness as a baseline. I had to figure out how to treat it or it was going to kill me for real.
When I finally said those words out loud, "I am going to treat it like its cancer" and declared war on the active addiction that day in March, imitating my friend, it took five months to get my child exactly where he needed to be to be treated for a potentially fatal disease of the brain and I learned how to talk about it, to gain support in the battle, to gain the support of my community, to be open and honest, to ask questions, to challenge doctors, providers, insurance, the law, the justice system and anything that was a barrier to the kind of treatment a potentially fatal disease required. I learned how to live in recovery so that we stopped living in addiction. I learned what I was doing to in my own life to perpetuate it and attract it and developed practices and a program for living that supported sobriety, emotional and physical.
I believed that recovery from the disease was possible and I kept my focus there. If 23 million people were living with the disease in remission not active in it, it was possible that we could too.
I believe that if something has been done before, it can be done again and most of the time it can be done better and better with practice. So I practiced and kept practicing and keep practicing.
Five months. It took five months from that moment of declaration, that awakening and the paradigm shift in our family. I didn't give up trying to find the right kind of treatment or offering tools for wellness. I treated my person with addiction with compassion, like a sick person who needed to get well. I fed him, I took care of him, I reminded him he was loved, that he could get well, that I knew that he was in there battling demons and after each episode/flare up I confronted the disease and offered help. I intervened a thousand times in big and little ways. I also stopped asking anyone in active addiction for help. I changed my own patterns and sought out professionals and sober peers. I learned how to be an advocate for his health. I learned what "take care of yourself" really means and made a practice of what worked and left behind what didn't. I rested. I failed sometimes. I got really scared. I cried. I called for help. I got really angry and had to find ways to release that without hurting someone. Every step and mistep led to where we are as a family today. Twenty months in recovery.
I believe we are in an evolution of treatment for addiction. I believe that like many years ago with cancer we will not be whispering about addiction and because of that more people will get treatment and the stigma will melt away. I believe we will treat all people with addiction appropriately. More people will awaken to the truth and will fight addiction with compassion, love, intervention, community and professional treatment not shame, hatred, abandonment, jail and justice. It's happening. It's shifting. I see it all the time. I believe in recovery.
I believe that our beliefs shape and create our reality. When I looked at my child I never saw an addict. I only saw my golden child. The ball of love that that always was from the beginning, is now and ever shall be. I didn't believe the message that we were powerless. I felt powerless sometimes but I knew somewhere deep down the power source had not died, it needed healing, fuel, nourishment and affirmation.
It's been two years since that declaration. It's been 19, almost 20 months since the first day of our lives as a family in recovery. Everyone had to invest in recovery for us to get here.
We are well, happy, peaceful, still using the practices that served us on the path and abiding by the treatment plans that got us here. The people that survive the disease practice a wellness program that affects all areas of their lives, that's what keeps it in remission.
"It began with a shift in perspective," I told her "and little interventions, act of kindness and compassion, wellness practices all along the way."
Every morning I say a loving kindness/metta prayer for all of you.
May you be well, happy and peaceful too.
I am working on a project for families that supports recovery. I didn't find whole family support to be substantial and some of the information I found went against what I believe to be our true nature and core values as we navigated the process. I am called to share the wisdom gained from the journey. If you'd like notification when the project is ready to launch, just add your email to the box up on the right or send me a message and I will add you to the wish to be notified list.
I may not cure addiction but I will do what I can to destroy the conditions that it thrives in. I promise that.
There is a saying in the anonymous community "you have to wait until they want it."
"IT" is Recovery.
Recovery is the path out of sickness and suffering from addiction and back to your true nature and wellbeing. Recovery is the process by which a brain heals and new neuro patterns are created after treatment for addiction/substance use disorder or an eating disorder. Recovery is a wellness lifestyle that has to be learned and then practiced for life. It is a lifestyle built around healthy practices, a community, connection, sobriety, spirituality, emotional intelligence and self-love. Recovery is step after step after step on a path of healing and wellness.
Who doesn't want a life where they love themselves, they feel love and connection to spirit, have good relationships with their family, close friends and community as well as feeling well taken care of, healthy and alive?
The truth is someone does have to want it. What's most important to know is that It doesn't matter who that someone is. It doesn't have to be the person with the substance use problem or the addiction, it can be any family member, friend, lover, community member who recognizes that the problem exists and is willing to be the catalyst for treatment of the disease and the first step towards recovery, willing to be the catalyst for change, willing to hold the hope and the light. The next step is believing that recovery is possible then creating an environment that supports recovery.
The hardest thing for me to hear when I am with families in crisis is "my husband/wife isn't on board" or "his wife won't participate" or "her parents won't be supportive" because I know the most powerful force against the disease of addiction is family unity and connection. A side effect of addiction is denial. Denial is the disease of the family. Its rooted in shame.
I understand. I spent a good amount of time in denial even though there was plenty of evidence of a problem. I didn't understand the disease. I didn't know where to get help. I didn't know how to make it stop. What I've learned is that you have to forget everything thing you've ever heard and start with fresh eyes, a fresh heart and a fresh open mind, take one compassionate step at a time and keep your focus on healing. You can be the one who wants and ushers in healing for your loved one. One educated, well supported advocate can make a difference.
Here is where I point out that addiction is a disease of the brain, a chronic but treatable, potentially fatal condition that affects the part of the brain that is responsible for reason and choice. Here is where I also point out that most people with addiction do not want be a person with addiction and some are in the later stage where they mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually can't "want it" because the disease is so far progressed. Holding that truth alone will propel your loved one on the healing path because it will drive all of your actions in helping the person you love get treated for the disease.
Here is where I will also point out that sometimes people die from the disease, just like cancer, with or without treatment, even with the best treatment that can be found, even with the most well educated, well intentioned, loving and connected families. It is a disease, just like cancer, it kills people.
If you're looking for help right now, it's you, you're the someone. You just have to want it. The person searching for the answer right now.
IT is recovery.
Recovery for your child/spouse/sibling/friend/lover and recovery for yourself. Believe its possible. Now reach for help. You've already begun. You can be the catalyst for healing.
I'm here for you and with you with all the love in my heart,
Passionate Storyteller, Enthusiastic Mother, Facilitator of Magical
Family Recovery Activist,
Founder of Buddy's Family Foundation aka, The BFF.
High Priestess of Love
on The Path of Devotion