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Addiction Is a Family Problem

How family members cope differently.

pixel2013 / 2422 images/pixabay.
Source: pixel2013 / 2422 images/pixabay.

Addiction is a family problem. One person may use, but the whole family suffers. Parents suffer, siblings suffer, grandparents suffer, and sometimes extended family members do as well. And different members suffer in different ways.

My family has dealt with my adult son’s mental illness and addiction as he has bounced between manic periods fueled by drugs and calm episodes between. For a very long time, my son’s father (we divorced when he was five) provided moral and financial support, encouragement, and pep talks. He stepped up with job leads and money to help purchase a car and pay for rehab and legal fees. He traveled to spend time with his son, and during one visit, they adopted a friendly, rambunctious dog from the local animal shelter. That dog has provided my son with companionship and unconditional love—two positives currently in short supply in his life.

My son’s older sister and her husband also hung in for many years. Once, they shipped a used car cross country. My son-in-law, who works in entertainment, recommended my son to help with events scheduled near his hometown. During one gig, my son relapsed and was fired on the spot. That ended my son-in-law’s willingness to help. “Enough,” he said.

For many years my daughter listened to her brother’s tales of woe and tried to provide support and encouragement. However, little changed in her brother’s behavior. She began to distance herself more and more. In the past, I often burdened her with my fears and worries. Eventually, I realized that dumping my angst was selfish and could damage our relationship. So I stopped. We rarely talk about her brother. I believe that they still communicate occasionally, but I don’t pry.

At this point, both my son’s father and sister have detached. I believe that they both love him but realize that they’re powerless. I’ve been involved in a twelve-step recovery program for loved ones long enough to know that I’m powerless as well. Yet, I waiver between enabling and letting go. Recently, Dear Abby wrote about the difference between being softhearted and softheaded. I’m both, depending on my son’s latest circumstance. Unfortunately, currently he’s homeless. Another disaster.

What to do, or not do? Ignore the situation or once again step in to help? I decide to pay for a hotel room for a week to buy him some time. I try not to beat myself up for caving in again. My sponsor reminds me that my decisions aren’t a one-and-done. Each situation is different. Then again, I remember hearing, “Well, when you know better, you do better.” By now, I definitely should know better. Still, I waver. Softhearted or softheaded? That’s the dilemma of this family disease. At least that’s been the case for me.

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