Conflicts occur within family members of addicts.

Posted Jul 28, 2015

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 “I’m the invisible child.” When my daughter said this to a mutual friend, I was taken aback.  We were soaking in a hot tub in a fancy resort in beautiful Sedona, Arizona. Since the trip was my birthday gift to my daughter, I let the remark go.  Why get into another discussion about her brother and his problems?  Later that evening I couldn’t sleep. I ruminated over my daughter’s simply declarative sentence. She felt neglected. Who could blame her? After all, I had devoted enormous time and energy on her younger brother’s drug problem. Over many years, I poured out my anguish in long phone conversations. I shared my worry when he didn’t respond to my phone calls. I shared my sorrow when he landed in jail. I shared my panic when he was shot. I shared my frustration when he refused treatment. Eventually my daughter said, “Enough.'' Although she loved her brother and would support him in recovery, she refused to become a partner in my co-dependent dance.

Conflict within the Family

Conflict is a part of every relationship. It’s often more pronounced for family’s affected by addiction. Often moms, dads, sisters and brothers disagree on how best to handle the thorny situations fueled by the addict’s behavior Some enable. Some detach. Some  straddle the murky line between. Addiction is a moving target with loved ones caught in the crossfire.. 

Since I’ve written a memoir about my journey with my husband who abused alcohol  and am involved in a twelve-step program for families, sometimes I’m approached by others who are struggling with family relationships. One day at my health club, Sylvia asked to talk in private. Over coffee, she shared her story. Her younger brother had been abusing drugs for a long time. Her mother enabled.  She made excuses. She gave him money. She lent him cars. He wrecked two of them. At one point, she asked to borrow money from Sylvia because she couldn’t pay her rent. Sylvia was conflicted. Does she give money to her mother who might turn around and give it to her son?  She begged her mother to get help and dragged her to a few meetings for loved ones.  Like my daughter, Sylvia was caught in the middle.  She refused to enable her brother and worried about her mother’s emotional and financial well-being. No doubt she often felt neglected by her mother. 

Finally, after many years of being controlled and manipulated by her son, Sylvia’s mom stood up for herself when faced with another crisis. When her son stole and then totaled her new car and forged her signature on five checks, she pressed charges. He landed in jail and she did not bail him out. She now participates in loved ones meetings where she is learning how to keep her spoon in her own bowl and take care of herself.  

Further Family Conflicts

This tragic situation is further complicated because the brother has two young daughters. Sylvia and her mother have stepped in to provide them with love and support.  I’ve not been blessed with grandchildren, so I can’t imagine grandparents' anguish when their grandchild’s life is caught in an addiction’s web.

Approximately 2.5 million grandparents in this country assume the role of raising their grandchildren each year due to unforeseen circumstances, including addiction issues. At our loved ones meetings, grandparents share their concerns.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen when my son returns home from treatment. What if he relapses?”

“How do I explain to my granddaughter that her mommy is sick and can’t take care of her?  She cries for her mommy every night. It’s heartbreaking.”

“I’m  65 years old and ready to retire. I’m having a hard time keeping up with my three-year-old grandson. I adore him but it isn’t easy.”  

Like other family members, these grandparents face many challenges. (An excellent article appears on Lisa  Frederickson’s “Breaking the Cycle" website.) 

Amends to family

Several weeks after my daughter uttered her “invisible” statement, I sent her a letter of apology. I said that I was sorry for obsessing over her brother during her teen and early adult years, that I was working on my own recovery, that I would do my best not to burden her with my worries and fears. Although he has taken many years to achieve,  my son  has been in recovery for the past three years. While I can’t predict the future, I’m grateful that our family has healed, but I know to only take one day at a time.