You’ve just told a secret. You feel better about getting it off your chest. You actually feel relieved.
“Hey, can we just keep this between the two of us? I mean, the whole family doesn’t need to know.”
Have you ever heard this? Have you ever said this? Let’s be honest. Of course we have.
We all do it. Tiny secrets that we tell a family member – personal things that we don’t want blasted to the whole family.
“Mom and Dad don’t have to know. And my God, if Grandma knew, it would kill her.”
Our reasoning actually sounds noble in a way. We’re protecting the innocent, right?
Except, we’re not. Not really.
The Open Secret
You’re having fun, you’re partying, you’re experimenting. Then you lock in on one substance that really does it for you. You know those initial stages when you feel like you have things under control, but a couple of instances have happened where you need a family member to cover for you? Now that person you confided in is carrying a burden, facing a moral dilemma every day.
“I swear, it won’t happen again.”
“I can trust you, right?”
But it keeps happening, again and again.
At this point, your family member is enabling. And when the burden gets too great, that person must talk to someone, or multiple “someones.” The burden is just too huge to carry. And it’s not even their burden. Very soon the entire family knows.
When we’re on substances, it’s way more obvious to the people who know us the best – our family. Love them or hate them, they know us. Really know us. We may think we’re sliding by “unnoticed,” but we’re not.
“I have to tell you something. It’s a secret, okay? I’m noticing that …”
If your family is noticing, then it’s a problem. For everyone.
In a sea of lies, one of the biggest of them all is that certain family members can be insulated from addiction. But no one is immune from the addiction cloud. Everyone in the family is affected by it, if not completely under it.
Even Better than Hugging it Out
Sometimes we hug it out. And that feels good. For about an hour. Then the swirl of thoughts start whipping around our heads again.
“I told you this was just between us.”
“Why did you rat me out?”
“I can’t trust anybody in this family.”
So what’s better than hugging it out? Talking it out. Saying the words that need to be said to the people who need to hear them.
- Communicating about addiction is healthy.
- Sharing our thoughts about it is cathartic.
- Hearing other family members talking about it is healing.
If you’re struggling with addiction and you are the matriarch or the patriarch of the family (parent or grandparent), you’ve probably made this comment:
“The children don’t know anything. They’re just kids.”
When we say this, we’re drawing a sort of line by saying, “No knowledge below this point.” Like it’s a ride at Disneyland. We think if the kids are too little to ride, then they’re too little to know.
But deep down, we know it doesn’t work this way.
Chances are, they know. Why? Because kids know when something is wrong. They may not know exactly what it is, but they know that something is very off. They don’t understand it, so they ask another family member. And they keep asking.
Why We Listen
A relative told me that she was at a point during Covid when she knew that she was drinking too much. She was more irritable, more frustrated, less patient, felt claustrophobic, and quarreled more with her husband. The arguments gradually got more heated on a regular basis than just on occasion. He said she didn’t like the person she was becoming. But she still didn’t stop drinking.
Until something happened. Something small but profound.
What made her stop? Her 6-year-old son walked past her in the hallway one day and said, without even turning…
“Gosh, Mommy. You have a glass of wine in your hand all the time.”
That comment may seem like a mere observation. But was it more? What else was this 6-year-old seeing?
This is a cycle. Picture it as a Ferris wheel that starts turning, ever so slightly, when someone becomes addicted. And as the news circulates throughout the family, the wheel turns faster. As alliances and cover-ups continue, it leads to more mistrusts and blow ups. If the issues aren’t discussed and dealt with, the Ferris wheel spins out of control. And people start getting tossed out right and left.
“My God. How did our family end up like this?”
- Fact: This scenario plays out in millions of families.
- Fact: Every family dynamic is different and unique.
- Fact: Every family has the opportunity to heal
A family that is dealing with an addiction issue with even one member is experiencing numerous emotions, almost all of which are uncomfortable. Many of these emotions and resentments may be occurring under the surface. Some family members may be unaware. We may feel that it’s much easier to not deal with it, or “talk about it later.”
The goal is to go into this endeavor with our eyes and our ears open.
The Good News
“I have no idea what to do. It’s hopeless.”
No, it’s not. And here’s why.
There is more than likely a family history of substance abuse that stretches far more deeply than you can imagine. Hired Power has a very experienced and empathetic staff which offers family training that is immensely powerful, simply by conveying historical information.
You mean like a history lesson?
Yes. The most important one of your life.
The family assembles in an informal setting, for example, in a living room. Lunch is served, and everyone is comfortably sitting on sofas and chairs. The therapist draws out a family tree, called a genogram, which traces the history going back several generations.
Beginning with the great-great grandparents, obviously long deceased, the first question asked is about each family member’s relationship with drugs and alcohol – was it healthy or unhealthy? The second question asked is about each family member’s mental health condition – was it healthy or unhealthy?
As the family tree is filled out, a multi-generational overview emerges. And it can be mind-blowing. Each person can now see the big picture. Each person realizes that the problems they may be facing right now are the same problems each generation has faced.
The family members in the room, who might have been pointing fingers at each other for years, come to an understanding of “how we got here.”
“Oh. I had no idea.”
It is a very unifying realization. Everyone can literally see why they are very much “all in this together.” It is the moment when everyone realizes that addiction is a family disease.
Next, the people assembled are asked the same questions, but they feel empowered to answer earnestly, giving an honest assessment of their relationship with drugs and alcohol, and their mental health condition. What this brings about is an opportunity to end the addiction cycle now – with this generation.
“It ends with us.”
So we end up sharing a common purpose, a challenge to pull together, communicate, and heal our relationships so that we can create a healthy life and future for ourselves and our children. By communicating and being open with our family members about addiction, we take ownership of the situation and become active and healthy participants in creating healing.
At Hired Power, we help individuals navigate the early years of addiction recovery, with a variety of support services that build the vital bridge to long-term sobriety. To learn more about what we offer, contact us today at (800) 910-9299.