Definition: ABUSE – using anything in a way it was not intended, consuming enough that your physical being is altered (even one time), consuming too much regularly thus changing your personality and behavior, endangering others, breaking laws pertaining to substances, obtaining substances under perjury (fake ID), introducing substances to others, supplying substances to others (whether money is exchanged or not)
We’re going to talk about two things here: families of abusers, and families with an abuser. Is this a bereavement topic? Most definitely.
A substance abuser (SA) who refuses to get clean and/or sober always ends up alone. Unfortunately, in the early stages of the disease, the SA manages to get and find others involved. Many SAs mistake another’s addiction for love. They are/stay together because of a mutual dependency, not because they are capable of caring for or about another person. If an SA couple decides to get clean, they must be counseled on how to build and maintain a healthy relationship. They must be sponsored to learn whether or not they are replacing one addiction with another. They must deal with the biochemical, emotional and hereditary reasons for their addiction in the first place. Many make it through such programs successfully. Many more do not. Failure means a relationship has died, creating more emotional turmoil that will add to the justification for abuse. The cycle of grief begins, but is never processed, leading to a lifetime of inappropriate feelings.
While this SA couple is together, their main priority is to satisfy base instincts, without care or caution. Children are born to this couple. The children are denied basic needs, and grow up thinking this is the way of life. They know nothing else. Unless a caring adult intervenes, the children are doomed. Another generation of a family ‘dies’.
Problems arise if the ‘caring adult’ is one who enabled the SA parent in the first place. This is not the place for psychological discussions of ramifications. Know only that this is how abusing families are born. This is how the cycle is perpetuated. This is how the grief never gets resolved. The ripple effect is far reaching and destructive. Hopeless? Never. But those involved rarely see a way out. They all think this is how life is. Because they have survived, they think everything is okay. Anything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault, anyway, so they see no need for change to suit anyone but themselves.
SA families may appear to be close. In reality, it is merely a circling of the wagons. Protect the secret at all costs. Keep friends close, and enemies closer. An enemy is anyone who will upset the apple cart: boss, teacher, minister, government. Make sure everything appears fine, so no one will start asking questions.
One SA family has a profound effect on society at large. Sadly, the number of SA families is astronomical. Sadder, there’s not much to be done until the SA is ready to do it.
Where the tide can be changed is in a family with an SA. The non-abusers can try to help the SA. Interventions directed by professionals can help immensely. While the SA is in rehab, ALL members of the family MUST get counseling. Find out why the abuse started. Learn where the responsibility for it actually lies. Get to a support group to learn how others coped with it.
If the SA won’t change, the SA is dead to the family. The person they knew no longer exists. The family has to accept this, and grieve it. Psychologists recommend that in such a family, the SA must be excluded, to stop any further family trauma. This is not something a parent is readily willing to do. Just as a gangrenous leg must be amputated to save the person, the SA must be amputated for the health and well being of the family. Harsh, yes. Needed, yes. The family can heal. Part of that healing is making sure the pattern doesn’t repeat itself. Note that nothing in this article says it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be a heart-wrenching, life changing event.
Educate yourself on this topic. Much is available on the internet. But keeping to yourself in this quest can be dangerous. It can bury you. Get out and talk to people.
In the case of substance abuse, there are many emotional, spiritual, psychological, and financial deaths. But the only things that get buried are feelings.
Addiction is a disease. How can you get mad at someone who is sick?
Whether it’s Alzheimers, cancer, infection or abuse, the life changes can make you angry. YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID. Your head says it’s wrong to feel this way, yet your heart breaks, your stomach is in knots and you can’t sleep. Express those feelings in a safe place, with people who’ve been there, who know you’re not crazy. This step is critical to your healing. Keep those feelings buried, and you are no better off than the SA! Anger is an early stage in the grief process. If you don’t work through it, you stay stuck there, and life tends to be more difficult the longer it goes on. The stress of that can send you to an early grave, while the SA lives a long life. The SA no longer has feelings. You have to deal with yours. Now.
Oh, the bargaining! With the SA, with God, with counselors, with yourself. This is an exercise in futility, and the sooner you realize it and move on, the better for you.
It’s a seemingly sad day when you accept things for how they are. Yet, it is at this point that you regain control. You take your life back, and begin to feel alive again. The SA no longer has power over you. The SA is only the center of the SA’s universe, not yours. You can rekindle relationships, be nurtured, love and feel loved back. No, the SA doesn’t go away. But now the SA can’t kill you. Now there can be an emotionally stable family, whose holidays won’t be ruined.
Will you be criticized for shunning the SA, and leaving them to their own devices? Yes. You will be criticized by people who a) have no idea what hell it is, and b) by people still overpowered by an SA. Pray for these people, wish them a good day, and walk away. Breathe deeply.
Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
It ain’t easy, but we CAN attain
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