The addict within lies to us about many things, but most of all it lies to us about what we are doing to other people. That is why when we get sober we may find ourselves surrounded by people who are not quite ready to forgive us.
Some of us are lucky enough to have a wise friend or family member who can give us the understanding and support we need. More often we will find our close loved ones blaming us for being addicts, cutting us out of their lives, or withdrawing sympathy.
If we want to recover, we will have to understand that while we should not victimize ourselves further by blaming ourselves for having an addiction, we have to accept that this is what addiction creates. It devastates bonds of love and relationship.
It is also wise to be aware that people who love us are entangled with our illness in a way that can result in some very dysfunctional behavior. When there is an addiction present in a family or other kind of love relationship, the loved ones are sick too, with a co-occurring condition called codependency.
Codependency is what happens when a family or partnership becomes fused and mixed up psychologically so that no one is sure whose feelings are whose. Controlling, scapegoating, denial, and enabling are typical dysfunctional behaviors where codependency is present.
Addicts tend to exist in families and relationships that are enmeshed psychologically. When enmeshed, people are not fully free to be healthy and whole, nor do they get to experience a balance of individuality with belonging, but rather share a mashed-up group psyche.
Such a condition of fusion tends to co-exist with the presence of unhealed traumas and their corresponding trauma-bonds. Trauma bonds are fused, unhealthy interpersonal attachments formed during overwhelming experiences.
Just like people with addiction, people with codependency can come back to wholeness, but it takes time and work for them too. The upshot of recovery for loved ones is that everyone must learn to care for themselves, which takes self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and a willingness to experience feelings and vulnerability in the light of conscious awareness.
Each person will have to learn to take responsibility for their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. All must end the cycle of perceiving one’s inner experience to be caused by, therefore only be cured by, what other people do. (The victimized state has to be healed). This means trauma work, which helps develop an understanding that the fused state was an adaptation to unhealed trauma.
Family and/or couples therapy can be extremely helpful and supportive for a family who is sincere about helping the addict to recover. That means the family is ready to look at the ways they have benefited, not only suffered, from having one member be addicted. This means honestly investigating if they have in any way supported or cooperated to keep their family member sick. Education about what does and does not heal a person from addiction is helpful too.
Funnily enough, the addict who gets into recovery often finds herself in an unexpected position. As the person who has committed to healing, she is now a family leader, someone who will gently pull the family forward to evolve out of the state of pain they have been in this whole time.
Through developing more self-awareness (a requirement for sobriety), she becomes someone who can help the family recover from its deep state of trauma-caused enmeshment, and the corresponding avoidance of feelings and truth.
However, it’s also important to grasp the paradox that even though this is her role now, the addicted person can’t actually do recovery for anyone but herself. Rather, to understand that by devoting herself to healing, she is palpably helping the whole family to do the same someday.
In other words, once you free yourself to a good-enough degree, you may be able to assist others. Not by pulling them out, but rather by coaching them through the process of self-disentanglement.
Once disentangled, the individual members of a family can now love each other in a new and healthy way, which will support sobriety and happiness all around.
Most of all, I want you to hear that families and loved ones that want to can heal, with work, patience, and surrender. It is not rocket science, but it does take time and courage, and the reward is limitless. I send you and your loved ones every encouragement to find out for yourselves, how different life can be with loving relationships at its core.