It has been the bane of most of us who have dealt with addictions – either ours or someone else’s – that it doesn’t go as we had planned. Everything was supposed to get better. Life was supposed to be smooth again. Now she’s lost her job and all she wants to do is sleep and go to meetings. Then the meetings stopped. Did that treatment even take? You thought so at first, but now you have doubts. Susie’s mood swings are over the top. She may be clean, but her behavior is worse than ever. You’ve had it with tiptoeing around and want her to get it together and be done. Enough is enough already! When will life get back to normal?
Guess what? Susie is never gonna be done. Her process will take as long as it takes, because everybody is different. And no one in recovery is ever really done. That’s like saying that your teen is done learning once that diploma is in hand. Life itself is a process that’s never ‘done,’ and so it is with sobriety.
Here is where we can split hairs. Is she struggling to abstain without the benefits of recovery? If so, that’s a tough road to hoe. Recovery is where all those things she learned about at the treatment center come into play. You can teach someone all the ins and outs of driving a car, but if that person never gets behind the wheel, she won’t know how to put that knowledge into use. And everyone is vulnerable to forgetting things they aren’t using. If you take a class, then are never tested or in a position to put that knowledge to use, you will probably forget a good portion of what you learned. Treatment isn’t just about getting away from the addict’s substance of choice, friends and dealers (or local bars and liquors stores), but it is also about learning what it is she’s really dealing with, so that on leaving treatment there’s a solid set of guidelines to counteract the challenges she will face. It would be nice if treatment were like chemotherapy – you take what’s needed, get past the side effects, then you go on your merry way through life. Unfortunately, addiction, unlike cancer, never goes away. An addict will be at risk of relapse for the rest of her life. Abstinence puts the disease into remission, but there is an added mental, or psychological component that must be addressed if one wishes to maintain a happy, healthy lifestyle.
The mental gymnastics that accompany the distorted thinking and lifestyle of an addict can prove to be quite detrimental when trying to change one’s life. And if nothing changes, obviously nothing improves and the addict may go back to what is familiar – like a rubber band snapping back to shape after being stretched. For example, if Harriet had to lie to her husband every day about whether she was using, where the grocery money went, or where she’s been the last four hours, and she’s been doing that lying for years now, upon abstinence she may slowly discover she’s still lying. It’s been so entrenched in her she may not realize she’s still doing it. She may still be such a negative thinker that it’s affecting her relationships with the kids and her family.
Then if they have the expectation that once home from treatment everything will go back to normal, everyone becomes disillusioned. Without the added support of aftercare and some sort of continuation in practicing what she has learned, most likely old behaviors and depression will creep in and greatly hamper her chances of long-term sobriety. Old habits die hard, and immersion in new ways takes lots of repetition, support, and imprinting new behaviors. That is one reason recovering addicts often use 12-step or other programs to continue the process that began in treatment.
You may wonder why your loved one can’t just get what she needs from the process of life. You don’t need to go to meetings and hang out with other bookkeepers to remember how to do your job – so why does your wife need to? Can’t she just do what she did before she drank alcoholicly? Isn’t your continued support, love and encouragement enough? Do you (and she) need one more complication before life goes back to normal? You may wish not, but once an addiction has taken hold, there is never any going back. Hundreds – thousands of addicts have tested this theory but haven’t seemed to get around this simple reality.
So what can you do? Stuff the urge to complain and replace it with positive encouragement to follow through the treatment plan suggested upon discharge from her rehab. Learn what you can about what may be going on for your loved one in that first phase of sobriety. See that she’s eating properly. Nudging your loved one out of the home if she’s isolating can be of great benefit if you are nudging her in the direction of the outside support of her recovery community. You may be tempted to want her home with you so you can ‘keep an eye’ on her (the nature of addiction makes trust tenuous at best), but you have to start somewhere. Learn what she’s up against, and get some help yourself so you know how to help. Learn what enabling is and don’t do it! Practicing escapism, in essence, is what addiction is about in the first place, so if she’s sleeping all the time, over-shopping, gambling or using some other avenue of escape, notice and try to make her aware that she’s merely found another route to pursue immediate gratification.
Addicts not practicing the principles of recovery often will switch what they use to “fix” themselves, so if she’s convinced you and her doctor that she just needs some Xanax to get past her jangled nerves, don’t buy it. She will soon be using whatever it is to excess because immediate gratification is what she’s grown used to and that won’t change overnight. If she does need some type of medication, learn what she’s taking and why, then make sure she is using what she needs properly. Xanax and other mood altering drugs should be absolutely taboo, but those drugs should not be confused with antidepressants, which work over time with the addict’s endorphin system, producing no ‘high’ whatsoever. There have been instances when well-meaning recovery purists have talked bipolar addicts out of taking their medication, only to find their uninformed method of helping has sent that struggling addict to the psych ward or back to their addiction. Staving off those sort of disasters is definitely something you can do.
Addiction and Family
Addiction is a family disease. Al-Anon is a 12-step program designed for family members that can really help you understand which things may be helpful and which things may actually be harmful – both to yourself and the addict. Encourage your loved one to find social activities that don’t involve drinking or using. Many 12-step and other recovery programs have their own social activities, as the addict (and yourself) will have to change slippery activities to more healthy alternatives. Just because your spouse was an opiate addict doesn’t mean that cocktail parties are now on the list of things you may enjoy together.
Watch for signs of relapse. Relapse is actually a process rather than an event. Long before the slip, there will be signs: making excuses for not going to meetings or following through with recovery suggestions; breaking rules and showing signs of irresponsibility; changes in routine or hygiene; withdrawing from normal activities and insisting there’s nothing wrong; beginning to fraternize with old friends; practicing old behaviors and being in denial about it. Don’t be afraid to talk about your concerns and what you see happening. Bust the denial and don’t buy it. Don’t lecture, more come from a place of wanting to help. Let’s face it, how many of us listen to the lecturers droning on and on about what we should be doing? Learn what a sober routine is and encourage the addict to step it up.
If there should be a slip, don’t go ballistic. In a perfect world addicts wouldn’t relapse, but in the real world many do. Just as we turn to food when we’re hungry, the addict turns to relief when life starts imploding – using the old ways to chase away that stress. Giving up, getting angry or banishing them from your life are not likely to encourage your loved one to get right back to their program. Expecting the addict to unlearn the old ways and relearn new ones will take time, so try to understand and temper your frustration. Of course, turning to your own support system can be helpful in knowing the best ways to handle a slip. It goes without saying that if your loved one continues to use there should be consequences, but try not to jump the gun. Patience and support are key, but enabling can prove fatal. When in doubt, seek the advice of professionals.
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