We have come a long ways since the 1950’s when the prevailing thinking was that if you still had a wrist watch and an overcoat it was too soon for you to enter recovery because you had not “hit your bottom” as yet. Fortunately, for this writer, this attitude had begun to change by the middle 1970’s. I most likely would have died before losing my wrist watch and overcoat.
Families often struggle in quiet desperation over what to do with or how they might help their loved one who struggles with an addiction. Then some well-meaning although uninformed friend offers “they have to hit bottom before they can be helped” and another all-time favorite “they have to want help before they can be helped”. These brilliant, shot from the hip insights have likely killed as many addicts as alcohol and drugs themselves have.
First of all, let’s understand the trip to bottom can be a very dangerous one indeed involving death however it need not be this way. Bottoms can be raised, not by giving in and giving the addict what they want or allowing them to do it their way often at tremendous financial and emotional cost to the family. Two actions often play a most powerful role in motivating the addict to ultimately be willing to accept the help they need.
They are “Accountability” and “Responsibility” for one’s actions. Just what is meant by these two words and how can they be applied to the actions of the addicted individual. We all have the right to go into any restaurant and order anything that we may like from the menu. I happen to really enjoy Filet Menon and Lobster tail and if I could count on someone else picking up the tab on a regular basis I would probably order this meal far more often than I do. So, what holds me back? Simply the fact that I know I must pay my own way and the enjoyment of my favorite meal is not sufficient to offset the pain of the exceedingly high dinner bill. I am both accountable for what I order off the menu and responsible for payment of my bill.
This simple concept of accountability and responsibility for one’s actions has often been long lost upon many addicts, especially when they have an intact family unit which can be counted upon to rush in and pick up the tab for the actions of the addict.
Families need to embark upon a new journey. A journey that often requires the use of a one word sentence, that sentence being the word “No”. You want me to call into work and tell them you are sick and can’t come to work. The answer is “No”. You need me to come down to the jail and post bail for you at three AM in the morning. The answer is “No”. If I have time in the afternoon to stop by I ‘might” or I “might not”. There are hundreds of examples that can be used here and you most likely have a few of your own you could fill in here.
This new approach will not be an easy undertaking in the beginning for it clearly takes family members out of their comfort zones, actions that are contrary to how they have always handled crisis in the past. This new approach is not designed to make the crisis go away but rather to manage the crisis in a way that it can be turned into a “crisis of opportunity”. A crisis that properly managed makes the addict accountable and responsible for their choices. To move the family from a position of reactive to proactive in the formulation of a response that moves the addict to a willingness to accept the help they need. To let the addict start “picking up the tab”This is not a magic formula for success. It may well take some time for the addict to be sufficiently motivated. To finally understand that you are “serious” about this new approach. One thing that will be immediate is the beginning of relief and healing for the family unit as you move from a place of unproductive enabling to a place of healing, recovery, and ultimately peace.