Making Peace with an Unsupportive Family
Coping with addiction within a family can be tough on each and every member. Children get forgotten and act out or withdraw. Spouses feel cheated. The person they fell in love with is gone. Parents often feel tremendous guilt coupled with anger and frustration. Regardless of who the addict is, everyone in the family suffers. In spite of all the hurt and bad feelings, the support of family is a crucial aspect of a successful recovery. When the addict does not have this, the uphill battle becomes steeper and making peace later is never easy.
How the Family Hurts
When a person is addicted, their behaviors change, their priorities change, and often, their personality changes. This can be very difficult for the family members to accept and process. They see a beloved family member changing into someone they no longer recognize. Besides the changes in personality and priorities, there are some common behaviors that the family can expect to see in the addict:
- Lying. Addicts lie frequently in order to get what they want and to keep their substance abuse a secret for as long as possible. They lie about how much they are using, where they are going, where they have been, and often about the fact that they intend to stop using. The continual lying slowly erodes trust, even in the most loving relationship.
- Stealing. Most addictions require money and addicts usually get to a low point at which they can no longer function at work. Without money coming in and a habit to feed, they will steal to get what they need. This is yet another behavior that destroys trust in a family.
- Absence. For children of an addict, absence is the hardest pill to swallow. An addicted parent has priorities that come before their children and they may disappear for hours to days to feed their addiction.
- Violence. Not all addicts resort to violence, but it is not uncommon. Addiction has devastating effects on brain chemistry and can turn an otherwise peaceful person into a ball of rage and violence. This is often the last straw for family members.
With all the problems that a family member’s addiction causes, it is little wonder that many families stop supporting them. Support comes in many different forms. An addict will typically have an enabler. This is someone who continually makes excuses for them and even gives them money when they need it. Enabling is an unhealthy and unproductive type of support. It does not bring the addict any closer to recovery.
When an addict admits to the problem and is ready to become sober, whether through an inpatient treatment program or a support or twelve-step group or hopefully both, emotional support from family is very important. Unfortunately, in many instances, the addict has created so much turbulence, unhappiness, and distrust that the family may not be prepared to help with recovery. In fact, they may have cut off this family member completely and may be unwilling to see them at all.
Making Amends and Making Peace
One of the most important steps in the twelve-step recovery program is number eight: "Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all." For an addict who hopes to make peace with an estranged family, this step is crucial. It may take time, patience, and plenty of waiting for forgiveness, but apologizing and making up for the wrongs is necessary before peace can be made with family.
If the addict is you, build up the courage to take this step seriously. Your family is hurting and they miss the person you used to be. They will need to see that you are in recovery and staying sober before they can even begin to trust you again. Be prepared to be patient with them and do what is needed to regain that trust. If not, you run the risk of never getting your family back.
While this process is tough for your family to accept, it can also be very difficult for you as the addict. You may also be experiencing hurt feelings. Addicts often feel abandoned by an unsupportive family. To overcome this feeling and make peace with your family, you need to understand the magnitude of your actions against them. Imagine yourself in their shoes and being treated the way you treated them for so long. Once you are able to put these feelings aside, you are ready to make the first steps towards reconciliation.