With the opioid crisis raging—a true beast running rampant—friends and family members are left behind to clean up the messes that addictions dump everywhere. I know because I’ve been there, scooped that.
Both times my true love headed off for his 28 days of treatment, I stood in my driveway crying tears of joy and jealousy. I was happy he was going. I was pissed he was going. I was exhausted, especially when I suddenly realized I was left alone to parent two frightened children while juggling everything from carpools to reduced paychecks.
I love many wonderful folks who have dealt with substance-abuse disorders and enjoy hard-earned recoveries. I believe they deserve all the help and treatment options they receive. I’m just saying I want in on some of that 28 days of help-y goodness. Family members need more help and care. Addiction is exhausting whether you’re the one using or the one left holding the bag.
Addiction is exhausting whether you’re the one using or the one left holding the bag.
Can we put the “family” back in “family disease”? Together we can create a culture where loved ones—not just addicts—can ask for the help they need without fear of judgment or recrimination. If the focus remains only on the person who is active in their addiction, their pit crew all too often loses sight of their own care and mental health. It sure happened to me.
Caregivers Need Care, Too
While I did the dishes at night by myself, I fantasized about a world where therapeutic residences existed for family members, too. I dreamed of a place where my sons and I could receive 28 days of counseling and prepared meals while surrounded by babbling brooks and enough pine-scented breathing room to look inward and repair.
But before that exists, we’ve got to find a way to eliminate the stigma still surrounding the disease of addiction. It’s a disease worthy of the same walk-a-thons and charity balls as any other malady. Let’s form protest marches in the streets wearing t-shirts emblazoned with phrases like, “We’re Here! In Tears! Get Used To It!”
Maybe we need t-shirts saying ‘We’re Here! In Tears! Get Used To It!’
Perhaps there’s a way to change legislation so that a parent can talk openly to school principals about a child who is struggling with drugs or alcohol—without worrying that such a confession will automatically lead to suspension or dismissal.
We have to feel safe talking honestly about the crisis unfolding around us because isolation and secrecy are dank places where pain grows and spreads. These wounds need light and oxygen to heal.
If everyone felt safe asking for help, then bosses, clergy, headmasters, and gurus could be prepared to offer a list that is chock-full of resources. Dear friends and neighbors would know to rush in with carpool help and casseroles. That’s what I wanted and needed—and what everyone deserves.
Support Groups for Families of Addicts: Stopping the Stigma
So how do we bring about these changes? In my little quest to end the stigma, I talk openly about my own family’s struggles with addiction. My husband and I are fortunate to work in creative fields that are perhaps more accepting of addiction and recovery. I respect others’ need for anonymity, but it did not work for me. Only by personalizing the epidemic—“Yes, this is happening to me, my family—people you know!”—can I feel I’m having an impact.
I would’ve done cartwheels for a little care and understanding: a special coupon for a free cup of coffee at my local Starbucks, or anything else to assure weary family members that the world knows they’re struggling—and that help is available. If you’re a business owner who’s dealt with addiction and you have coupons to spare, leave a comment below. If you run a nanny agency for emergency childcare options, give a shout-out. The world is big, and the chance to help is even bigger.
The world is big and the chance to help is even bigger.
Yes, there are special programs at treatment centers and social services for family members already. There are therapists and 12-step programs, but how do you find them if you’re afraid to say you need them? Thank God for the internet. Someone is always awake online at 3:00 a.m. I created a private Facebook page (Serenity + Sanity = Seranity) for anyone whose life is affected by another person’s addiction or recoveries. We support people who are learning how to shift the focus off the addict or alcoholic in their lives and back onto themselves. Folks need to have a chance to talk about what it means to detach with love and compassion.
There are other resources, too, like Al-Anon, Families Anonymous, and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and for finding a therapist, Psychology Today.
Let’s make these changes together. When addiction kicks through the front door and runs crazy in a family’s home, let’s make sure those affected don’t feel the need to isolate or hide. Let’s cheer them on as they pass by. Let’s toss glitter and confetti on their motorcade because, if you ask me, these folks are some of the hidden heroes of addiction.