Acceptance: Regaining Trust and Rebuilding the Family Unit

With our emotional wound still open, our entire family, including my addicted stepdaughter Katherine, began the process of building back the trust we once shared.  This proved to be both rewarding as well as exceptionally painful.

Sitting, circular fashion in a room with at least 10 other families, we openly disclosed our feelings of anger, fear, loneliness, distrust, and resentment.  “Family Week” had begun and there would be no holding back as we were guided through various discussions with our loved ones.  The building blocks to fostering a new cohesive, trusting and loving family were being tossed around the room while we slowly and painstakingly examined the cracks that were created, their affects, and how to seal them and move on.

The dynamics within the family are key to opening the doors to change.  When an addiction is present, it is vital to focus on new ways of coping and “non-enabling” behaviors.  Both patients and family members often rationalize behaviors which eventually creates an environment that hangs around like a thick fog. It perpetuates feelings of inadequacies and creates the dysfunctional cycle that is extremely hard to break.

There were at least four general areas of focus that our family concentrated on, which I will elaborate on below. Keep in mind, although I went through the recovery process with my stepdaughter, I am not a certified authority. I was just a family member trying to recapture and rebuild what was lost.  Every family’s issues will be different, yet similar in many ways.  Issues will surface and may compound as you work on restructuring your family -– it’s not easy.  But having experts who allowed us to express our emotions and feelings in a controlled, safe, and healthy environment, was incredibly instrumental.

1. BLAMING:  DO WE BLAME OURSELVES OR OUR CHILD?

It almost goes without saying that when an addiction is present, family members will find that the blame game is alive and well.  We had elements of blaming ourselves as parents and role models, believing that the reason Katherine defied everything we believed in was an attempt to “get back” at us for our wrongdoings.

At Family Week, we opened up the floodgates, allowing ourselves to examine with minute detail (on both sides) where our thinking had been misguided.  We allowed ourselves to express pent up anger, directed not just at Katherine, but at each other and the system that we felt had let us down.  We explored every possible scenario, listened, argued, and confronted in a constructive manner, the possibilities that we could be right or wrong thereby opening up to a possible change in thinking.

When an addiction is present, there is never one easy answer as to why this disease affects a loved one or family.  Blaming you or a loved one for the disease, situation, or place that you and they are in tends to exacerbate the control it has on the potential for recovery.  Getting beyond the trauma and drama starts with letting go of self-sabotaging, blaming, and feelings of anger so you can move into the stages of acceptance and change.

2. RESCUING (BECAUSE WE FEEL GUILTY)

There were varying degrees in which my husband and I tried to intervene to “save” Katherine from herself and the extremely dangerous situation she was in.  What we had to explore was how those actions were not liberating but actually perpetuating the very deep-rooted dysfunctional dependency with which Katherine was struggling.  We worked through how “Daddy” was always there to pick up the pieces, how everything was done for her and how that affected her sense of entitlement.  The ultimate lesson we took away from this was that well-meaning intentions are often at times misguided.

My husband’s sense of guilt for his divorce, being a part-time dad, etc., gave way to overindulgence and over compensation.  This sheltering mechanism slowly dismantled Katherine’s sense of self-worth.  At some point, her ability to believe in herself and what she was capable of, eroded into an emotionally dependent individual.  We learned to understand and adopt the philosophy that “We seldom help people when we do for them what they should be doing for themselves.”

3. JUDGING

One of the most difficult issues for me to move beyond was judgment.  I had difficulty judging, not only Katherine’s actions, but also everyone and everything I perceived contributed to the downfall.  I needed to learn to look at the emotional scars that had built up, break them down and re-examine the possibility that all was not exactly as it seemed.  The disease of addiction is insidious.  In a very subtle way, it begins to slowly erode the individual suffering as well as those connected with her.

I vacillated between believing Katherine knew exactly what she was doing to herself/her family to the idea that the disease had taken complete control.  Both were true.  Katherine did make a choice. The choice was to experiment with drugs.  Once under the influence, however, her sensibility became so skewed that rational thinking (as a sober individual) was non-existent.  I needed to find the place where I could accept and understand the difference.  I needed to go beyond my limited knowledge of how the disease of addiction worked and into a world of exploration and learning.  By gaining this understanding I was ultimately able to open my eyes, begin my own healing and move into forgiveness.

4. EXAMINING MULTI-GENERATIONAL DYSFUNCTION

Another piece to the puzzle that we, as a family, never considered was the role that multi-generational dysfunction could and would play.  We needed to explore the possibility that how we were raised and ways in which we now interacted, were directly related to our own upbringing.  This was not to release or create excuses for the situation we found ourselves in, but to gain a better understanding of why we possibly could not move forward.

I believe that there is an element of dysfunction present in every family. However, because we are products of our environments and upbringings, the likelihood of this dysfunction spilling over is great.  We needed to explore exactly what part any generational dysfunction could or would have played — and to what degree.

Again, it was a learning process, not to place blame, but to understand the dynamics of how and why we parented the way we did.  When encouraged to look closely and examine our individual roles, it was amazing how clearly a new way of thinking emerged.

Taking a very long, hard look at us while working toward recovery, proved to be a very cathartic experience.  It is only when we become brutally honest that we can move closer toward understanding and acceptance.

13 Principles of Effective Treatment

Everyone is unique and everyone needs unique treatment. Learn about how to choose the most effective substance use treatment for your child.

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    Patti Herndon

    May 1, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    I can’t help but wonder, “Another step mom”, if there was anything else you might have gleaned from the incredible, learning opportunity Linda offered to us all in the truth-making sharing of her family journey in addiction. Like, those crucial things important to consider, in addition to “judgment”, “guilt” and “enabling”….”denial”? Say…Maybe, the applied hope-part of the journey? Or, the “what it is that “I” might can build on, and learn to apply as the parent/family member/CSO that will support change and the recovery/well being of my addicted loved one and the family system”?

    What to “do”, in-deed,that will help “the adult/child addict”, AND ourselves, find our way from “lost” to where it is we want to be -deserve, to be…

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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    Another Stepmom

    January 27, 2010 at 2:13 AM

    Linda, I too, am a stepmom. I can totally relate to your story of judgment, guilt and enabling. My step daughter; however, is not a teen. She is 23. She is an accomplished, beautiful, talented, and educated woman/child. Long story but ended this way: She went to twenty eight days of treatment, played the role to perfection and with what she thought was only one week left, used on the premises, humiliated – she left. She went right back to the life she had prior to entering trmt. for – all the while quoting “The Big Book”, etc. She is in such denial – she thinks we can’t tell, but continues daily using. What to do with an adult/child addict – we are lost.

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    Linda Quirk

    October 16, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    Debi,

    I am glad that my words could help you in some small way. You will be able to regain, not in exactly the same way, the trust and relationship from before. This will however, become a much healither and better relationship. My hope is that you too will spread this message so that others struggling will not feel so alone. Together we can begin to break down the barriers that have kept so many of us silent far to long. Take care,
    Linda

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    Debi

    October 16, 2009 at 2:43 AM

    Linda,
    First time on this site, something i really needed to read. I can relate to SOO much of what you have been through, i too have been ther with my son, Tay, now 18 1/2. The last 3 yrs have been like hell & back, I have not been able to put it all into words or my story yet. What struck me though is the “judgement’ you talked about. My son blames me of this alot & I do admit, i find it so difficult to get past the past & let go. If I could, it might even help to regain some sort of relationship that we always had before the “addiction” took over. So thank you for sharing & being there for us, it does help to know that others do understand.
    Debi

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    Taylor

    October 8, 2009 at 7:41 PM

    Linda,
    This is such a compelling story of what your family is going through. I admire your honesty and courage to share it with others.

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