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There’s a proverb that many people say is cruel: “If you save a person’s life one time, you become responsible for it forever.” But this is the truth in families with addiction.
Many times I’ve seen parents and loved ones circle the family wagons to rescue an addicted member. They funnel finances and emotional support into the addict, only to find the addict becoming more and more dependent on them. This creates a recurring cycle of crisis followed by wagon circling.
The most loving efforts of the family are met with increasingly more negative outcomes in the addict. At some point, there are no more funds. Many family members become unable or refuse to circle their empty wagons. The emotionally exhausted family begins a fractured collapse.
In previous columns, I’ve written about the upside-down inside-out universe of addiction. This is the place where time and space are warped and compressed to produce inverse results. A loving hand offered to help an addict gets anger and resentment in response. Gifting money to pay debts or fines results in more debt and more legal trouble.
The reality of addiction is that promises are betrayals and lies are truths. Every day, thousands of families find themselves entrenched in the same chaos from which they’ve pledged to rescue their loved one.
As in the solution of the Chinese Finger Puzzle, a person must stop fighting to become extricated. The greater the resistance to the puzzle, the more strongly ensnared a person becomes.
Our culture promotes taking action to produce returns, and taking positive action produces positive returns. But this belief is diametrically opposed to the reality of the addiction puzzle: the “bestest” of intentions lead to the “worstest” of outcomes.
In other words, the more a person tries to do right, the worse things get.
The solution is only two little words, but families really hate them. Families fuss, and cry, and steep themselves in a soup of depression and anxiety to avoid the solution. They deny, and bargain, and plead, and rage at the solution.
They slam the phone down. They call me names and threaten to make a formal complaint about me. They’re terrified of those words. Numerous loved ones have told to me that they fear the solution more than their own death.
What words could hold such enormous energy for families?
“Stop” and “Al-Anon”: stop rescuing and start breathing new air in Al-Anon.
Families must learn to surrender to the puzzle by letting go, allowing the puzzle to release them. They can lose their life trying to rescue or “make” an addict change.
Instead, they can reach out to a community of caring people. Members who’ve experienced what families go through, supporting and sustaining them as they move from suffering to a hope-filled life.
The local hotline is 352-697-0497 (see list of meetings, below). The hotline can refer anyone to a meeting close to them. Kindness and strength are found from people like Jo Anne at St. Benedict’s meeting. She is one of the miracles of Al-Anon. Her energy is infectious and grasp of reality has wisdom.
The addict must learn to rescue him/herself. The family can’t do it for them. The family can’t start or own their recovery for them. But, loved ones can be happy and whole for themselves, ready to embrace an addict when they choose recovery. Or they can continue to join their addict in the sickness and death of active addiction. Two little words, so much impact!
Yvonne Hess is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP) with an International Certification as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) who works for the Citrus County Health Department’s Phoenix Program. She can be reached at 352-527-0068, ext. 251, or email@example.com.
LOCAL AL-ANON GROUPS
Al-Anon groups meet regularly in Citrus County. Call 352-697-0497.
Inverness AFG: 8 p.m. Mondays, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, 550 S. U.S. 41.
Crystal River AFG: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, St. Benedict Catholic Church, 455 S. Suncoast Blvd.
Last Resort AFG: 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays, First United Methodist Church, 3896 S. Pleasant Grove Road, Inverness.
Lecanto AFG: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Unity Church of Citrus County, 2628 W. Woodview Lane, Lecanto.
Crystal River AFG: 11:30 a.m. Thursdays at YANA Club, 147 Seventh St. (off Citrus Avenue), Crystal River.
Awareness Lunch Bunch AFG: 12:30 p.m. Fridays, St. Margaret Episcopal Church, 114 N. Osceola Ave., Inverness.
Beginners Al-Anon: 10 a.m. Saturdays at Yana Club, 147 Seventh St. (off Citrus Avenue), Crystal River.
Tuesday Morning Serenity: 10 a.m. Tuesday at Unity Church, 2628 W. Woodview Lane, Lecanto.