Ever drive through sideways rain?
Eight years ago, Hurricane Rita was approaching and my husband was returning from his weekly out-of-state work commute. We had five hours until the storm, so I got in my car and began the 15 minute drive to FLL to pick him up.
Light rain was falling as I left my house. Within two blocks, the sprinkling showers gained power. By the time I reached the highway, the rain was falling hard. No big deal, I thought. In Florida, we are used to strong afternoon showers.
But then I got on the highway, and moved into the middle lane. Suddenly, all Hell broke loose. The rain turned into blinding sideways sheets of concentrated water. As I drove, the raging storm of water and wind pelted me from all sides. This sideways rain made it impossible to see anything but my windshield, the white line on the road and an occasional light to my left or right.
I tried to figure out how to get off the road. But the lights that came up beside me were only slightly visible and they came and went without warning. I knew it would be far too risky to veer over into the exit lane, so I just followed the white line and kept moving forward.
Doing so wasn’t easy. I was probably going about five miles per hour. It took every bit of concentrated focus for me to keep my mind on the road and off of my abject fear.
Instead of a 15 minute ride, it took me two hours to get to the airport. As I pulled into the arrivals gate, the sky began to clear. My husband didn’t understand why it took me so long to get there and I was too traumatized to explain. The road back was completely clear of any rain or wind. The sun was out. My husband was in an upbeat mood, happy to be home in time for the storm, while I could hardly talk or think.
Like coastal residents facing a hurricane, the families of addicts move forward together as the addict’s descent into substance abuse begins. At first, they experience some little ups and downs. But when the addiction really kicks in, its storms can move from challenging to blinding in what seems like an instant.
As the addiction progresses, the addict is often unaware of its effects, numbed by his drug of choice. Meanwhile, the family members are awake, alert, and taking it all in. Tension, confusion, the search for landmarks and ‘a way out’ all add up to a traumatic ride for the family members.
If the addict and the family are fortunate, sobriety comes. But even then, while the addict may appear relieved and content, family members can find themselves racked with anger and anxieties as they wait for a slip or a relapse to take away all that they’ve always wanted…
Throughout the journey, of course, some family members fare better than others. Those who do, have a built in resilience that allows them to weather the storm with minimal damage. Just as homes built of concrete outlast a storm better than those built of wood or tin, resilient family members bounce back from the storms of a loved one’s addiction more easily than those members with less resilience.
While not everyone finds it easy to bounce back, most of us can recover, even before and during the addiction’s worst moments, with some education, coaching, therapy, and encouragement. These recovery supports can be seen as storm protection, shielding those who seek them from the storm’s hardest hits.
Here are a few tips to help you build your endurance and inner calm in the midst of the storm of a loved one’s addiction:
• Just keep breathing. Often, people who are upset by a situation or event get so worked up that they stop breathing. To avoid this, create a breathing practice for yourself that will allow you to consciously breathe, deeply, slowly, and naturally, on a regular basis. Some ways to stay conscious of your breath are to take a slow, deep breath before opening the door or answering the phone. Just cultivating these breath breaks can help you go a long way toward serenity.
• Understand that this behavior of your loved one’s is not about you! If you cry, scream, have a fit, and attempt to guilt them into stopping, you make it about you – and so will they! If you were a fly on the wall during their next drunk or run you might even hear them say, “if you had a (wife, husband, sister, mother, etc.) who acted like that, wouldn’t you drink?” Of course not, but crying, screaming and guilting are unhelpful behaviors better left for a conversation with your recovery coach, sponsor, or therapist. There are better ways to get your point across to your loved one! Discover and practice them regularly.
• Take good care of yourself. As a grown up, your job is to be there for yourself and the other people in the family. This is almost impossible to do if you are not taking care of yourself! Therefore, instead of letting yourself ‘go to pot’ along with your loved one, take a daily shower, brush your teeth and hair, and eat healthfully! Taking care of yourself is a prerequisite for any help you would like to give anyone else.
• Be A Loving Mirror™. This act alone can make a tremendous difference in your loved one’s openness to considering a change to their lifestyle! To Be A Loving Mirror™ is to cultivate an inner calmness, and on that basis, to communicate what you see your addict doing and what you hear him saying, in a calm, factual way, without judgment, or anger. If the ability to do this eludes you, keep practicing it. It is probably one of the most important things you can do for your addict, since it allows you to provide them with a mirror of their behavior so they can see things from the perspective of those affected by the storm they’ve
created. When you do so calmly, you have a better chance of helping motivate them to make a change in their life.
Just as victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters can find themselves in need of help afterward to get their bearings and recover from the trauma of what they’ve gone through, so, too, do family members need tools to help them find better ways to relate to themselves and each other, despite the traumas of the past.
No matter how bad things seem, as long as there is life, there is hope. Families can play a positive role in encouraging their loved ones to get and stay sober once they get their focus back on themselves. After all, family addiction, like a hurricane, can leave some pretty deep scars, especially if its effects are ignored or denied.
Each of these recovery practices will help you build inner resilience. Plus, each time you speak in a peaceful, loving way to someone who is struggling, you give them hope that there could be a way out of the insanity for them, too.
Beverly Buncher, MA, PCC, CTPC, Family Recovery Coach, helps family members of addicts turn their chaos to sanity, through her Be A Loving Mirror (BALM) Family Recovery Coaching Programs. She is the originator and host of the Daily BALM, a weekday teleseminar that helps family members around the world learn practical recovery principles and tools. Author of the BALM E-Book series, Coach Bev is internationally recognized as a Professional Certified Coach by the ICF (International Coach Federation), on the faculty of Crossroads Coaching School and a mentor coach for the Institute for Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). You can learn more about her work on her website at www.familyrecoveryresources.com To contact Bev; you may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 786 859 4050.