I don’t want this to be a sad blog post. This is a post to share truths about addiction and hopefully open up the dialogue a little bit. I’m a child who grew up in an alcoholic home, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. Addiction is an awful disease and it breaks my heart to watch people I love struggle in the ways that they do, but I don’t love them any less.
Addiction runs deep in my family. Alcoholism to be specific. I grew up around it, went to family parties where drinking was the norm and to be honest never gave it much thought until I got older and my brother started struggling with addiction. That’s when my eyes were really opened. Maybe because I knew my brother before his addiction and the rest of my family members, well, I’d never known them any different. I’m not really sure. Addiction changes everything. It not only changes that person but it changes you. It changed me. The older I got & the more I learned about addiction, the more I realized and understood how it affected me. I used to think it didn’t affect me at all because I didn’t struggle in that way but I was definitely wrong. I became a control freak, a huge people pleaser, a girl who could not say “no”, I struggled (still do) with anxiety and fear that people would leave me and I was absolutely terrified to drink alcohol. I thought I could save people from addiction. I thought dysfunction was normal. This probably makes no sense to you, but when things were “calm” I was more anxious than when things were in disarray.
My brother made the difficult and courageous decision to go to rehab the beginning of December, woohoo Tommy!! He is now 90 days sober, woohoo again Tommy!! Tommy chose to go to Banyan Treatment Center in Florida and one of the amazing things they offer is a “family weekend” which my mom and I were able to go to a couple weeks ago! It was two full days. Saturday was just for the family members of the addict. They gave us information on the science behind addiction, codependency, healthy boundaries, family support and so much more. It was packed full of amazing information! Sunday was for the families + the family member going through treatment. This day was dedicated to working through possible resentment and bitterness. We all had to write a letter. My mom and I to Tommy, and Tommy to us. The purpose of this was to get out any past hurt, sadness, fear, anger, concern or disappointment. Once it’s out in the open you can hopefully close that chapter and start a new one. A well deserved fresh start. We read our letters out loud with a few other families and with one of the Banyan therapists in the room so they could guide the conversation and help us all work through what needed to be worked through. It was mentally draining but so worth it.
I always struggled (and still do) with the guilt of not understanding why my brother struggles with addiction and I don’t. It never seemed fair. One thing we learned at the conference was you either have an “addictive brain” or you don’t. Tommy does and I don’t. That’s why some people can drink or do drugs once and that’s all it takes, while others can party hard in college and then give it up cold turkey right when they graduate. They taught us addiction is treatable but not curable. Tommy is putting in the hard work to combat his addiction and yes, it will get easier and easier but it’ll be a lifelong battle.
I know it’s still controversial to say addiction is a disease and not a choice, but to be honest, I believe it is a disease. Yes, it’s a choice to take that initial sip, but what happens after that is out of the addict’s control. I’ve watched addiction destroy lives in my family, including their own. I’ve watched addiction consume the addict to the point where they can’t have a logical thought or make a logical decision. To me, that’s a disease. They don’t want to live in that world of torment, nobody would choose that. That’s why getting help is the best route to take if possible. Tommy has had to work through past hurts, find new coping mechanisms, trust God to guide him though this journey and relearn who he is. It is not easy! It’s a long and hard journey but it is possible to overcome! There is always hope.
Now, let me be positive for a second here, prayer works people! I never stopped praying for my brother. I’ve said this before, but I know how heartbreaking it is to watch an addict ruin their lives right in front of you. But remembering God’s promises for them and for you will help you get through the dark days. It took 7 years for Tommy to realize he needed outside help and I have other family members who are still struggling, but I won’t stop praying for them either because our God is a God of miracles!
I’m obviously writing this from the sister side of things. I’ve never struggled with addiction and I’m not trying to sound like I understand what it’s like to be the addict. But I think it’s important for the family member to speak about their experience too because we learn bad habits trying to help too much, by overstepping healthy boundaries, enabling, thinking we can change or fix them and by neglecting our own needs in the process of caring for the addict. Banyan taught us that addiction is a family disease and I believe that to be so true. When you watch someone you love to death hurting, it’s a natural instinct to want to do anything and everything you can to help them and take away their pain. But a lot of times, our ‘good intentions’ can cause more harm than good. Learning healthy boundaries and about codependency has really opened my eyes to what I did wrong and how I hurt Tommy when I thought I was helping. There’s so much that goes along with addiction and I could honestly write about this for hours, but don’t worry I won’t haha.
I hope this post gets a conversation going surrounding addiction. I hope you feel less alone. I hope you feel HOPE. I hope this post reminds you to love yourself and to not forget about you. I hope this post reminds you that nobody is too far gone. I hope you know that darkness doesn’t last forever.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, let’s believe together right this second that God is always working behind the scenes and that healing is coming your way. I pray that you realize you are strong enough to handle these dark times and you will use these heartbreaking trials to help others and use this test and make it part of your testimony. I pray that you never feel hopeless because there is no such thing as a hopeless person or a hopeless situation. We’re in this together! We may not know each other personally but we have more in common than you may think.
Alright, let’s get the conversation going! Love you!