Sharing an addiction story takes courage, not only for the addict but also for the family, friends, supporters and loved ones who have been affected by addiction. Alcohol and drug abuse can carry so much denial and stigma, that many times those who do or have used will not admit it, sometimes even to themselves. Families often bond and seclude themselves to avoid discussing the struggles they face, ashamed and afraid of potential consequences. However, surviving a loved one’s addiction, and better yet, bringing them into recovery is something to be celebrated.
Sharing Stories of Surviving a Loved One’s Addiction
So sharing these stories takes incredible courage, but stories of strength and survival have the potential to help others. Around the world, families are coming forward to speak out about surviving a loved one’s addiction.
Approximately 10% of the US population, age 12 and older, uses illicit substances or abuses prescription drugs. With so many millions of people affected by substance abuse, it’s time to start removing the stigma by sharing stories of surviving a loved one’s addiction and joining together to combat this national epidemic. No matter what stage of recovery your loved one is in, there are stories of survival to comfort you and strengthen family bonds.
Survival 1: Watching Someone Slip Away
Karen and James had been married for 12 years when he broke his leg in a skiing accident. James was away on a trip with a group of friends, fit men in their late 30’s and early 40’s, all of them. So the injury itself came as an unfortunate surprise, but little did they know it would be the beginning of a terrible change in their lives.
James needed surgery and the recovery was painful. To cope with the pain he started using a prescription opioid, OxyContin. At first, he took it exactly as prescribed, but then he started to take more.
For Karen, the hardest part was when she realized she didn’t recognize her husband anymore. He yelled at her and their two children. He lost his job but did not seem interested in getting another one. He seemed agitated all the time.
At first, she didn’t even know that he was abusing the pain pills until she realized how many empty bottles she had seen, and found one that had someone else’s name on it. “Watching someone change before your very eyes, someone you knew and loved for so long, that was the hardest part,” Karen says. “I think it was even harder on our son. Dad was a hero in his eyes, and then he was just… someone else.”
By the time James got help, he had been legally and illegally obtaining oxycodone, and sometimes resorting to heroin. So what is a family to do, in that situation, when you suspect someone might be using drugs, or abusing their medication?
“I think you should confront them,” Karen advises. In retrospect, she wished she had said something sooner. “Maybe it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Maybe I didn’t really want to admit what I suspected. But then again, sometimes I wonder if I would have gotten James back before he had gone so far.”
Advice for survival 1:
- Confront the suspected addict.
- Learn about enabling, and don't do it.
- Solicit help from other family members.
- Stick together and show unconditional love.
- Your support can make all the difference.
Survival 2: Waiting for “Rock Bottom”
Many of the families who have been through the process of surviving a loved one’s addiction talk about the hopelessness felt when watching a loved one hit what seems like “rock bottom,” only to watch them crash again. You may see them go to rehab, only to get out and use again, sometimes many times.
Maintaining and building family relationships under such circumstances can seem impossible. Just ask Nadine and Corinne Purdy, two sisters whose story of devotion under the stress of addiction was televised through an NBC Dateline special.
Nadine hit rock bottom more than once. She got help and stayed clean, only to spiral out of control again. She was homeless and even ended up in jail, while pregnant. For her, she had two guiding lights: a desire to be reunited with her children, and the unwavering support of her younger sister, Corinne.
Eventually, a true change occurred. “I like myself finally,” Nadine reports. “I really do. I never — from the time I was a child, I always wanted to get out of my own skin, and now I’m comfortable in it… I’m a walking example that there is a God because so many miracles happened in my life, and it’s all because I’m sober and I deal with life the right way.”
Advice for survival 2:
- Patience, patience, and more patience. No one changes except by their own choice. You can encourage, even insist, but you cannot force a change.
- Seek out support from friends or loved ones. When someone you love is an addict, you may feel like you need to hide it, but that can be isolating and lonely. You deserve your own support network.
- Stage an intervention and draw the line in the sand that you will not cross, so you do not enable.
Survival 3: Rebuilding Relationships in Recovery
In a treatment program, addicts also learn about improving relationships with family and friends. Undoubtedly, those relationships get damaged while using or abusing drugs and alcohol. Survival at this stage, for the long-haul, often requires incredible strength, humility, and forgiveness.
For the addict: Learning to communicate and repair relationships can be an important step in recovery. Programs also often teach to make amends in some way, with those whose lives have been damaged as a result of your addiction. Suggestions include:
Sending updates and regular communication while in recovery.
Admitting wrongdoing, without any particular expectation of acceptance of those apologies, since everyone must learn to accept in their own way and on their own terms.
Making up damage, if at all possible, such as replacing the stolen money.
For James, after rehab, he realized that repairing his relationship with Karen and their two children would take time. He decided to set a “date night” with each of them once per month, so that he could show them each that he cared for them, as individuals. “In some ways,” Karen reports, “We are doing better than ever. We know we’ve lived through hell and come out alive.” Surviving a loved one’s addiction is never easy but is so rewarding.
For the loved one: Getting this sort of advice can create a sense of hope, but also one of expectation. But no two recovery stories are identical, and expectations can get in the way of reality.
Instead, consider these suggestions:
- Communicate support
- Do your best to forgive
- Practice patience, it does take practice
- Forgive yourself, which can often be the toughest part
- Encourage, whenever possible, and try not to find fault or criticize or point out perceived wrongs
Surviving a Loved One’s Addiction Takes Working Together as a Family
Working together as a family, you can often restore bonds. It takes persistence, and more than a little patience and forgiveness on everyone’s part. It takes letting go of expectation, about who someone “should” be or what they “should” do, and instead allowing everyone the personal space and freedom to make mistakes and find their footing.
But above all else, surviving a loved one’s addiction takes strength. If you are ready to share your own story of strength and survival, comment below and let us know. We would love to hear from you.
Written by Serenity at: Families Share Stories of Strength and Surviving a Loved One’s Addiction