My Daughter Had The Addiction, But I Needed Recovery Help Too! Guest Post by Jamie Edwards

 

 

My Daughter had the addiction, but I needed recovery help too!

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Family members and loved ones of addicts often feel like they are going insane.  The chaos, worry, regret, fear, anger, confusion and more that comes with caring for someone who is in active drug addiction or alcoholism is too much for most.  The insanity is not imagined, but rather all too real.

For most people, it seems reasonable to believe that if the alcoholic/addict would just stop drinking or drugging, everything would return to normal.

The truth is, once addiction has bloomed into fruition, the whole family is affected and infected therefore, everyone will have a part to play in restoring the family system to a healthy state.

Over the years, it has been well documented that addiction causes chemical changes in the brain of the addict.  New research studies indicate that these same types of chemical changes happen in the brain of family members and loved ones of alcoholics and addicts as well.

“What? I’m not the crazy one! The addict in my life is the only one going crazy, not me!”

 

I understand.  I said the same thing when I was first told to seek recovery for myself.  I was furious and

offended that the treatment center counselor would even suggest such a thing.  How dare her!  Hadn’t

she heard me in the family sessions, when I told her about my daughter’s behaviors?  My daughter was

the one with the problem!  My behavior was normal; I was simply fearful, angry, and resentful.  All

typical feelings given the circumstances.  My conduct was justified…

 

Today, I know without a doubt that my daughter’s addiction was affecting and infecting me just as surely as it was her.  I now realize that her treatment counselor had understood addiction while I had not.  She hadn’t been implying I had something wrong with me.  She was simply trying to offer me help for what she knew would come.  And come it did.

To say my understanding of addiction was limited when my daughter entered her first treatment center, is an understatement.  All I knew is she was “broken” and she needed help.  She needed to be “fixed.”  I trusted the doctors, clinicians, counselors, and staff at the rehab she and her dad had chosen.  It was expensive.  It was lovely.  It was composed of lush grounds with beautiful vistas overlooking the surrounding hill country its acreage resting near the beautiful Comal and Guadalupe rivers.  The center’s personnel consisted of a renowned addiction specialists and two doctors well-known for their work in the field of addictionology, giving it an excellent reputation in success rates for its clientele.  In addition, it had a large and active alumnus, offered a multitude of treatment modalities, and encouraged family participation.  I never imagined that they wouldn’t “fix” her; that they would return her “broken.”

recoveryWhen I realized, she had been returned to me still “damaged,” I was shocked.  Looking back now, I realize I had likened the concept of rehab to that of an automotive garage, with my daughter being the car.  I bring my car to the garage, they work on it, they fix it, they return it good as new, ready to drive again.  This “garage” had kept my daughter for a month.  They had run her through a full and compete series of diagnostic testing and declared her good to go.  So why when she came home was she not “working.” I was furious.  At them.  At her.  At the “condition” that had ahold of my daughter and would not let her go.

As furious as I was, I was also desperate.  So, desperate in fact, that remembering the words of her rehab counselor, I sought help.  Begrudgingly, I set about to learn about the disease of addiction.  And the more I learned, the more I realized that in fact what the counselor had recommended was true, I needed help; urgently.

As my daughter continued her downward spiral of addiction, I found myself engulfed in the whirlwind of chaos, confusion, resentment, anger, and fear that the malady of addiction creates.  My daughter’s addiction was like a tornado roaring her way through our family’s life destroying everything in its path, including me and my sanity.  I was rendered useless to do anything but watch it annihilate all hopes I had of stopping it.

I had a hard time understanding and accepting the concept that addiction was anything other than an absence of moral fortitude and self-will when I began this journey.  I had an even harder time comprehending why it was called a “family disease.”  Here is what I have learned.

The chemical changes which occur in the brain of a loved one or family member are crucial to know and understand as they play a significant role in the process of the family units recovery.  FAMILY RECOVERY IS CRITICAL because it can be one of the primary factors in successful, long-term recovery.  https://youtu.be/eNhEbulIeuY

 

Please note that I am not implying or promoting the idea that an addict’s success or failure lies solely on the willingness and active participation of the family and their involvement in a recovery program. Nor am I proposing or suggesting that a family or individual who practices recovery can be guaranteed that their addicted loved one will want, seek, or practice recovery of their own.  

However, what I can guarantee a family member or loved one who seeks their own personal recovery is: personal relief; ability to cope whether your loved one seeks recovery or not; a pathway back to sanity; and an ability to restore the love that may have been lost along the way for your addict.  

Numerous studies show that families who seek recovery as a unit have a greater chance of long-term recovery than those in which only the addict works a recovery program.  I cannot confirm or deny these studies so I will just mention that they exist and allow you to explore those on your own.

Chemical changes occur in the brain of family members and loved ones of addicts, similar to the way they do in the addict themselves.  This change in brain chemistry is one reason why experts refer to addiction as a “brain disease.”  When someone is in a constant state of stress, fear, anxiety and anger the person’s brain responses are “hijacked” causing their brain to become hyper-responsive.  This “hijacking” of responses is significant enough that it is often accompanied by withdrawal symptoms; mimicking those that an addict experiences when denied their substance of choice or when they stop using.

The portion of the brain that is “hijacked” is the amygdala.  This is significant because this small, almond-shaped sector of the brain serves as the integrative center for our emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation.

The amygdala is the store-house of our emotional memory. Thus, prolonged fear responses, common in the lives of family members and loved ones of addicts, “hijack” this region of the brain, producing a continual hyper-reactive state in the affected person’s emotions, behaviors, and reasoning.  The insanity, chaos, drama, and fear associated with our loved one’s addiction causes repetitive occurrences of this “hijacking” of the amygdala.  Without intervention, these repeated instances of emotional trauma produce an alteration in brain chemistry.  When this happens, the amygdala signals the nervous system to panic.  The repetitive panicking then results in a continuous altered physical and mental state.  Panic becomes the normalized state, commandeering a person’s ability to, return to or respond from, a normal emotional state.  The newly normalized emotional panic state is called traumatization.  Family members and loved ones are traumatized, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually by the behaviors, consequences, fallouts, and struggles that arise when addiction occurs in a fellow family member or loved one.

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Traumatization is defined as a “lasting shock resulting from an emotionally disturbing experience or physical injury.” In this chronic state of panic and alarm a person will begin to experience an imperative, irrational, and uncontrollable need for action; any action.  These actions/responses are usually impulsive and reactionary.  It is a way of self-medicating without medicine.

This compulsion to act is triggered by our brains inability to tolerate the continuous, constant, and chaotic stimulation it is receiving; often day after day – a result of loving and living with an addict and their addictive behaviors.  In an attempt to protect itself the brain will take aggressive action to regain homeostasis (balance).

Human emotions such as panic, anxiety, stress, or fear can cause our bodies to go into an overreactive state.  Our bodies respond to this overactive state with rapid heartbeat, cortisol and adrenaline production, and increased respiration and blood pressure.  When this overactive state continually persists, it weakens our bodies.

Our cognitive effectiveness declines, as does our brains ability regulate impulse control, and our ability to discern and perceive accurate responses to danger.  At this point we have become conditioned to view emotional threats, of any sort, as dangerous and will thus take whatever precautions necessary to avoid this danger.  This is the point at which our compulsions to stop the addict from using match the addict’s compulsion to use.  They are addicted to the substance and we are addicted to them.  We are as lost in the malady of addiction as they are.  Addiction has become the master of everyone; the family is affected and infected.   The proof of this is in our behavior, attitudes, and actions.  The addict will cheat, lie, steal, manipulate to get the drink or the drug, and we will cheat, lie, steal, and manipulate to keep it from them.

Dr. Vincent, leading psychiatrist in the field of addiction and author of Diagnosing and Treating Addictions: An Integrated Approach to Substance Use Disorders and Concurrent Disorders, says, “There is absolutely no question in my mind that family members are traumatized through their intimate relationship with an addicted family member.

The trauma that Dr. Vincent and other doctor’s, psychologist, neurologist and trauma experts refer to is wide-ranging.  A short list may include physical abuse, verbal abuse, observing suicide attempts and/or accidental overdoses, various extreme forms of intimidation and emotional abuse, experiencing of extra marital affairs, awareness of participation in gangs, involvement in prostitution, or other illegal or illicit activities. The list is extensive.

When a loved one is in a constant state of worry and fear, the brain first experiences stimulation. It feels imperative for the loved one to take action, sometimes desperate action, in an attempt to remedy the fearful and/or dangerous situation. If this stimulation continues day after day, the brain cannot tolerate it.  As a result of this constant overstimulation, the brain, realizing it cannot handle the new stress load, will begin taking action, attempting to restore itself to a normal state of homeostasis (balance).

This is when the insanity of being a loved one really takes off.

At this point the loved one is no longer chemically balanced. Things that used to signal danger no longer feel so dangerous. As Lori Pate says, “There simply aren’t enough “danger” chemicals or receptors to accurately convey the appropriate feelings. This is when family members, friends, and loved ones of the addict will begin to accept dangerous and harmful situations as OK. For example, they may feel it is a good idea to track down a loved one at a dealer’s house, or accept a loved one who is violent and abusive in their home. They may make a choice to allow a dangerous person to be around their children. This is not because the loved one just isn’t making good choices. More accurately it is because their brain chemistry has been altered by the constant chaos, and they no longer have the right feelings that would initiate safe choices. Unacceptable behavior doesn’t feel as truly dangerous as it is.”

Of course, there will be exceptions, some loved ones will go in the opposite direction and simply refuse to engage the addict.  Those who have engaged in dangerous or irrational behaviors regarding their addict may experience a “close call” or have a situation arise that jars them into consciousness regarding the insanity of their behavior.  If this happens and they stop engaging in these dangerous situations it may fracture the relationship with the addict.  When this happens a whole new problem is created. Withdrawal.

Drawing again from Lori Pate’s article, “withdrawal occurs when the brain is accustomed to a particular level of chemical activity, and that level is suddenly reduced.”   Again, the same “hijacking” of responses that occur in the addict can occur in the family members brain, just like the addict experiences withdrawal from the substance, so will the family member or loved one experience withdrawal from the addict.  For the family member, their drug is the addict.

As the “brain disease” of the family member progresses a “chaotic state of being” becomes their new “normal” and the tramautization increases.  Their brain chemicals have changed as a result of the constant stimulation from fear, worry, anger, concern, resentment and all that accompanies living with and being in relationship with an addict/alcoholic.  Like the addict who finds themselves frantic, disturbed, irritable, restless, and desperate without a fix, so too are the loved ones without their fix; the addict and the confusion, chaos, and worry that accompany them.  Loved ones can no longer achieve or maintain a sense of peace and balance in safe, serene, and calm environments.  Again, like the addict their bodies will crave the higher levels (bigger doses) of adrenaline and they will do what it takes to get it; re-engage the addict; the chaos, the stress that accompanies that relationship.  Without that engagement, their bodies go into withdrawal and craving.  Just like the alcoholic/addict who is denied the drink or the drug.  And just like the addict, the family member, whose brain chemistry has changed, will require more and more of the chaos and confusion to get the chemical dump needed to maintain this altered condition; their new “normal.”

For family member’s withdrawal symptoms manifest in similar ways to that of the addict/alcoholic.  Depression, physical and mental uncomfortableness, agitation, general feelings of uncomfortableness.  Problems with sleep patterns, shame, anger, self-pity, and self-loathing. These feelings will create a craving, a desire to re-engage the addict.  In doing so they are trying to self-regulate; stop the pain and angst.  They will have strong cravings and desires to contact, engage, or check-up on their addict; their drug. When they do, the game is on and the adrenaline they crave is released.  They might as well have loaded a syringe, swallowed a pill, taken a swig.  It is the exact same cycle that an active drug addict goes through:

If you are reading this and identify as a traumatized family member or believe you may be suffering from “addictive” co-dependency with a family member or loved one know that you may indeed be experiencing the effects of the chemical changes I have described.  Your relationship with addiction and the influence it has had in your family may have lowered the normal adrenaline activity in your brain, creating craving sensations.  Here are a few that you might recognize or identify with:

Feel an overwhelming desire to check up on the addict; where they are, what they are doing, who they are with, search their pockets/purse, drawers, rooms, etc.

Feel an uncontrollable urge to call your addict even when you know that the phone call will cause you anxiety and possible grief.

Feel compelled to answer the phone if the addict calls; unable to let the phone ring without being answered or feel extreme panic if you miss their call.

The urgency to engage the addict is so great that you will attempt to have a rational conversation with your addict even though you know they are under the influence of a mind-altering substance.

The uncomfortableness is so intense when you cannot locate or contact them you will get in your car and drive around aimlessly hoping to find them or you will call repetitively, over and over, when they do not answer.

The desperation to be heard is so consuming that you will repeat the same phrase, wish, or desire over and over hoping that “this time” they will hear and understand/agree/accept/acknowledge you.

The compulsion to engage the addict is more powerful than the fear and angst that you experience when engaged.

The need to know is so powerful that it overrides the pain or danger that you escaped the last time you were with or around the addict.

 

These are signs that you have been affected and infected by the family disease of addiction.  They are signs that you are as sick as your addict.  Addiction has manifested as a dependence on a substance or behavior for your loved one.  It has manifested as a dependence on a person for you.  They are compelled to control their surroundings so that they can acquire, obtain, and use their substance or engage their process.  You are compelled to control them so that you can acquire, obtain, and use the person for your own self-regulation.  You are both victims of a chronic brain disease that is progressive.  It can be arrested.  Repair can be made.  But it will take intervention, work, and a willingness to pursue and commit to a healthy lifestyle.  There are vital changes that must be made in order for you to recover, rebuild, and be restored. Are they easy no? No!  The process can be agonizingly slow and mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually painful.  But the results are priceless.

My hope is that you will allow the content of this article to settle into your heart, mind, and soul.  That you will take seriously what doctors, scientists, and other experts in the fields of psychology, neurology, trauma, and addictionology are saying about what it means to be in relationship with addiction.  Whether you marry it, give birth to it, were conceived by it, or succumb to it yourself, however addiction was written into your story, it has left an indelible imprint on your brain as well as your heart, mind, and soul.  An imprint that cannot be erased, but rather reshaped, reformed, and rewired.

The concluding chapter of your story with addiction is left for you to write.  The final inscription of addiction on your life can be one that is signed with the pen strokes of hope, healing and restoration.  The choice is yours.   I pray that you may choice wisely; that you will choose YOU!

 

Jamie Edwards 

Jamie has a B.S. in Education and an M.A. in Christian Leadership with an emphasis in Family Addiction Ministry. Jamie is a pastoral counselor and she is nationally certified as a Recovery Coach, Family Recovery Coach, and a Christian Life Coach. Her purpose and passion is recovery and she believes in the holistic healing of every member of the family.  No one is left unaffected when there is addiction in the family.

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