“If you loved me, you’d stop!” How many times have you said, pleaded or screamed these words at your husband, brother or daughter after a particularly nasty bout of drinking? How many times has your wife, sister or son promised to stop or cut down…drink no more than two a day or drink only on the week-ends? How many times has your heart been broken when this time turned out to be just like all of the times before?
Helping families – with or without the loved one who is abusing a substance, present – is one of the most rewarding aspects of the work I do in my Informational Consulting work with families. I bring to these sessions both my personal experiences and my nine years of researching, writing, speaking and consulting on 21st century brain and addiction-related science.
For decades and with a number of family members and friends with whom I’d lived, I’d believed I had the power to get them to control and/or stop the drinking that was wrecking havoc in our lives. And, when my latest effort failed, I’d step up my vigilance to manage the next inevitable crisis as a way of wresting control of the situation – and in a complex life of jobs, children, friends and family, there was an endless source and variety. Little did I understand that focusing on the next crisis was a way of trying to control some aspect of my life, but in fact, it often created problems of a different nature (like my daughter setting aside her own needs in order to make me happy when she sensed I was upset with the loved one, for example). But, as long as I focused “over there,” I didn’t have to face the underlying problem right in front of me – alcohol – and my loved one’s use and my reactions to his/her use.
Fortunately for me, one of my loved ones entered a residential treatment program for alcoholism in 2003. The end finally began to my decades of ineffective interactions with loved ones, whose collective drinking behaviors had included countless broken promises to stop or cut down, DUIs (driving while under the influence), arrests, health issues, financial problems, lost friendships, bankruptcy, “disappearing acts,” insane circular arguments about what constituted “excessive drinking,” verbal abuse and even physical intimidation and violence towards me. I found myself plunged into a whole other world – a world that included terms and concepts like codependency, adult children of alcoholics, 12-step programs, co-addictions, dual diagnosis and the role a family member has in the denial that protects a loved one’s drinking. It was a world I found confusing and overwhelming.
True to my nature, I began my quest for deeper understanding in the same way I’d approached my other published books and articles. I immersed myself in research, intent on learning as much as I could about the subject – in this case alcoholism and treatment programs – and then all of the other issues that emerged as I tried to understand why a loved one drinks too much and why someone like myself puts up with it for so long. I started attending Al-Anon meetings and doubled my individual therapy sessions with an addictions specialist. Additionally, I was extremely fortunate that my loved one had chosen a treatment program that had a family-help component as part of its effort to help the alcoholic. I took part in their weekly family group sessions and added additional weekly sessions, as well.
I eventually found my own serenity and recovery, having spent the past nine years researching “all-things” brain and addiction. I’ve used my own experiences to frame my questions and focus the search for scientific answers that are now possible thanks to new imaging technologies of the past 15 years that allow neuroscientists and medical professionals to study the brain in action and over time. What they’ve learned about brain development, risk factors for developing the disease, brain impacts of chronic stress, the reasons addiction is, in fact, a chronic, often relapsing brain disease, and the brain’s incredible ability to heal is nothing short of profound. Sharing the science and research that proved so instrumental to me is radically changing how my clients view and work through this family disease. Often sessions are multi-generational – sometimes the substance abuser chooses to be present and sometimes not. Through these sessions, family members learn about the disease, its impacts on family members, and the information I’ve described above so they might take important first steps towards breaking the cycle.
To learn more about my Informational Consulting Sessions, and two other consulting services I provide with Caroll Fowler, Continuing Care Plans (an extremely valuable resource to address aftercare/continuing care issues and the integration of the alcoholic/drug addict back into the family after a residential treatment stay, which in turn contributes to the ongoing recovery of all concerned) and Living Arrangement Agreements (a resource for families in which substance abuse is acknowledged as a problem, but the person with the problem is not convinced it is addiction), please visit my website.
Lisa Frederiksen is the founder of BreakingTheCycles.com and the author of If You Loved Me, You’d Stop! and Loved One In Treatment? Now What! She writes a blog and consults, presents and provides training to families, businesses, treatment center providers, schools, community coalitions and others. Please visit her website, www.BreakingTheCycles.com, to learn more.