Fridays were the hardest night of the week when I got separated and then divorced. I was happy it was Friday but my situation also felt socially uncomfortable. It seemed like everybody was paired up on Fridays. It seemed like the only option for someone like me was "Happy Hour" at the bar.
I didn't really enjoy happy hour at the bar but my friends were there so I went anyway but I always went home feeling empty, disconnected, wistful. I'd gotten divorced because my marriage felt empty and disconnected, it wasn't the feeling I wanted to keep feeling.
Things have changed over the past five years. There's been a transformation. I don't do happy hour at the bar anymore. I opted out of that lifestyle completely. It never served me well anyway. I can attribute much of my broken heartedness to relationships built and lived in under the influence of alcohol. I don't find any joy there. The effects were only temporary and the side effects were often discomfort, unhappiness and sometimes regret.
Then I chose to divorce myself from the drinking culture too and I learned to listen to what my soul calls for in the Friday night feeling, what my heart wants, what my body wants.
It still calls for connection, but deeper connection, the kind that can't be found on a barstool under the influence of alcohol. It calls for new points of connection. It wants to feel whats real, sustainable, enduring, happy.
I love Fridays more than ever now. I've found a community of people and vibe that resonates with my soul.
Usually my happy hour is on a yoga mat for spa yoga at Wheelhouse. I leave there feeling happy, connected and full whether I'm alone or with people I love.
I'm heading out to spa yoga tonight. Tonight it's happy hour with a twist. I can't wait. There's room for you and your mat too.
OH Friday I love you! Come here and let me hug you and kiss your face.
PS, I've started a Social & Social group on Meetup If you've opted out of the drinking culture or are in recovery and want to connect with and meet new people who want to do life without being under the influence, join us.
"What is the one thing you wish you could tell the world about living with someone with addiction?" I asked.
I had conversations with 100’s of people over coffee, on the phone, in the line at the grocery store, on benches at the treatment center during family programs, in anonymous meetings, on bleacher seats at high school football games even at the studios where I do yoga and Pilates. I listened to hundreds of relatives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lovers, spouses, friends of people in active addiction, in treatment and in recovery and with people with addiction, in treatment and recovery.
I asked these questions.
-What is the one thing you wish you could tell the world about living with someone with addiction?
-What does it feel like to be the relative of someone with addiction?
-What do you think the person with addiction needs the most?
-What do you think is missing or needed for relatives of people with addiction?
-Do you believe addiction is a disease?
The responses were overwhelmingly emotional.
If I could tell the world one thing about living with someone with addiction
I’d ask the world to end the stigma,
I tell the world that they are sick not bad,
That it impacts everyone in their circle
That there is a real person behind the addiction
That addiction steals your life
That it is a family disease
That its really hard to find help and understanding.
It’s lonely and it hurts.
Its isolating and painful.
It’s pure hell.
My family need support too.
Some of the words they use to describe what it feels like to be a relative are:
Sad, overwhelmed, sorry, hurting, lonely, scared, deep sorrow, fear, exhaustion, damaged, secret, empty, not good enough, betrayed, angry, crazy, helpless, uncomfortable in your own home, inadequate, heartbroken. Alone.
Hopeful and grateful were mentioned when their loved one was in treatment or recovery.
When I asked what they thought the person with addiction needed most they said this:
Love and support especially support communities.
Friends and community to give much needed support
Support and understanding
Love and understanding
Compassion and empathy
Feeling of being truly loved
Over and over again the resounding word were support, understanding and love.
What do you think is missing or needed for the relatives of people with addiction?
More public events to change the stigma
Bring the meetings out of the church basement and have supportive, loving, gatherings to offer Spiritual and emotional connection with others.
Education about the disease and the impact on families
Help from their communities
The strongest threads were support, understanding, love but also education.
Which is where this question comes in.
-Do you believe that addiction is a disease?
Most everyone said yes. But most everyone was confused by it.
Addiction 101: Addiction is a disease that affects the brain.
It is chronic but can go into remission or flare up like an auto immune disease if not managed with a recovery program. It responds well to treatment and a program of recovery.
Holding addiction as a disease I began to understand that
Love alone wouldn’t cure it.
Prayer alone wouldn’t cure it.
The threat of law enforcement, jail or the court system wouldn’t cure it.
Even medical treatment alone wouldn’t cure it.
And my silence around it made it worse.
What was needed was all the things.
Our love and understanding.
A community of spiritual support.
Law enforcement to protect him from himself and from doctors who knowingly prescribe drugs to people with addiction.
And a safe place of expression and connection.
Addiction is chronic.
A person with addiction will always need all the things.
Love, prayer, a sober community of support, medical treatment, accountability and a safe place to live to prevent reoccurrence.
People with addiction need all the things to stay in recovery.
They aren't the only one who need all the things.
I needed the love and support of my community.
I needed to be able to speak freely without shame, without judgment. To be met with understanding so that I could care for and advocate for my child's treatment and recovery.
I needed a community of spiritual support.
I asked my community to pray for him, the way we prayed for our friend who had cancer. His name was lifted up during our neighborhood prayer circle.
I needed therapy to work through the trauma of mothering someone with a disorder of the brain.
I needed connection and a safe place of expression.
And so did my family.
Because addiction is a disease that affects the whole family and the whole community
I would love to see for more people who have someone in their family who is in active addiction, is being treated for addiction or in recovery for their community to rally around the way they would for any other disease or hard life circumstance.
I would like to see more people say, I am going through this, my mom, my brother, my son, my husband, my daughter is going through this we need your help and the community wrapping their arms around the whole family.
This was my wish a year ago. It's happening. As a community, as a culture and and a society we are evolving in the understanding of addiction and what's needed to recover.
When we opened up about our story our community wrapped its loving arms around us and has walked with us every step of the way with love, understanding and support.
If you are suffering, reach for help.
It's the first step. The hardest step but know you will get help. Recovery is possible.
I know it. It's happening right here.
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.
Family Recovery Advocate
I serve women seeking healing and transformation.
I serve people who have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.