Addiction is a FATAL disease. Addiction is NOT curable. Addiction IS treatable.
We acknowledge that recovery is hard work – but if we are talking about protecting lives, salvaging relationships, and restoring hope, is it not worth it?
Since this is a family illness, meaning addiction affects all members of a family not just the user, it is important that families engage in recovery work, and where appropriate, work with the professional team assisting the addict.
At The HERO House, we have developed a plan of action for residents that seems to work. Recently, a resident scoffed when Randy Haveson shared at our 5-Year Gala Celebration 80% of our alumni are in recovery today. I know that to be an accurate statement. However, I wanted the resident to really know that this is true. I pulled all the alumni files and calculated who is still in recovery today. Astonishingly, 89% of HERO House Alumni are in recovery!
It is far too often we hear the dissatisfactory statisitics of 1 in 10 people remain in recovery after treatment. Unfortunately, this is true because many do not engage in long-term aftercare plans.
Our program takes on average, 12 months to complete. According to national research and science, after 1 – 3 years of recovery , 66% will make it another year in recovery. This is encouraging! However, our success rates are still higher. We focus upon living a life of recovery – working the 12-Steps with a sponsor, attending classes, engaging in employment or service work, and completely changing their lifestyle. This is a challenging program, but again, the results show it is worth it to complete our program.
This past Friday night, one of our residents graduated from our program. His program of recovery is solid! These are the events that make every challenge we encounter worth it. However, he did not complete our program in the average 12 months. It took this young man 21 months to successfully graduate! He was not ready to graduate any earlier than he did; his family understood this and supported this.
As family members, you play a very significant role, despite the fact we work with a population of adults. Healthy boundaries, expectations and appropriate support will have an impact upon our residents. I will discuss ways to find ways to engage in appropriate roles further on. Sadly, we often work with families who do not understand the disease of addiction, that it is a family disease, and that they play a role in the addiction and recovery of the young adult in our program.
We recently had a young man from a western state depart our program against our advice. This former resident had made progress in the first many months in our program. However, about 2 months before he left our program – behaviors started to change. He no longer kept his room neat and tidy. His participation during group meetings was no longer insightful nor meaningful. His attitude started to turn negative. He departed the end of April without even a conversation with me to share that he was leaving. The family had been in town the previous weekend to help him set up his new apartment. The family did not have a conversation with the staff about their son’s readiness to live on his own.
When I contacted the family, they stated there was nothing they could do; he was going to depart our program. Yet, they co-signed a lease, pay rent, utilities, and tuition. Unfortunately, this young man is no longer in recovery. His return to full-blown addiction has been swift – starting with drinking (the old excuse, alcohol was not my drug of choice, I didn’t have a problem with alcohol, etc.) and he is now using needles to get high. It is my hope that at least we planted the seeds of recovery.
However, I believe if the family had practiced self-care and worked with the professional staff, there is the possibility the son would still be in our program, walking along a path of recovery. Sadly, family members are often resistant to getting involved in their own recovery. It is essential.
Again, I can not stress how important it is for family members to work with the professional team that is working with the addict. Another family chose to disregard our advice that their son was not working a program of recovery, and that he was far from ready to depart our program. Instead, this family chose to be dishonest with our staff, and to play games with a disease that can kill. They pulled their son from our program as soon as he finished a term at school, viewing this as some sort of success measurement. We have notified this family,that the lab results for drugs screens from his final two days in our program came back positive for marijuana and synthetic marijuana. The resident knew he was leaving, and started to engage in active use before he even made it home. Our advice may not always be what you want to hear, but our interest is helping young adults to build a solid foundation for a life of recovery.
Why does this happen? To begin with, addicts are masterful manipulators. This is part of the disease. They lie through omission and comission. It is the addict’s full time job to get what they want. What they want is an easy way out. What we ask them to do is not easy.
Denial is also a participant. Who doesn’t want their child to be normal? It is not easy to accept that a son or daughter has a lifetime illness. For some, it is embarrassing. For others, it requires somebody to be at fault if their child has this disease. While both of these are unhealthy beliefs, they do exist. It also prevents a seamless working relationship with the professionals trying to help the addict.
Most importantly, it is a lack of self-care. Learning new ways to love and support the addict are necessary.
How do we participate in the recovery process?
We believe that addiction is a family disease and families need to recovery as well. Find support for yourself. Family members i.e. spouses, parents, children are susceptible to their own issues as a result of dealing with addiction in the family i.e. isolation, depression, behavior issues in children, work performance, financial impact. You also become a positive role model for others in your family by seeking help. Finding your own source of support will limit the amount of angst and stress you feel when loved one seems to be having difficulties. It is critical that you find ways to set healthy boundaries and to focus upon yourselves.
Suggested avenues of support:
- Mutual support groups: Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Celebrate Recovery
- Individual and family psychotherapy
- Family groups: treatment, religious institution, community counseling centers
- Get a sponsor/mentor: someone you can call, anytime to ‘bounce things around’ with before saying or doing something you may regret!
It is also important to remember when an addict engages in treatment/aftercare you and your loved ones are working with a team of professionals. The addict is engaged in a continuum of care. The care team’s objective is to help the addict, and we have the expertise to do it. Most teams welcome information and are happy to provide direction and feedback for you. But they also appreciate having the ‘space’ to engage and work with your family member. They have training and objectivity that you don’t have. Be appropriately involved – come to events when asked to come. Try not to split with the team (call first if you have a question or concerning before aligning with your family member regarding a grievance) – allow the addict to grow into independence.
We like to compare the work of this professional team to a surgery team – would you try to direct the nurses, doctors, anthesiologists who all have education and experience in doing the work they do, etc; or would you be waiting on the sidelines while they do their jobs? I know families act out of concern for their loved ones – I know these families want the best for the addict; otherwise they would not have supported them through treatment and aftercare. However, you may not know the best way to provide support for the addict This is why it is so critical for the need to find care for themselves first.
It is essential that you understand that Recovery is a Process: It is vital for the newly recovering addict to focus on their individual healing and recovery in the early days of abstinence. During this early period, it is helpful for family members to focus on their own self care and healing in a parallel process. Family healing will eventually develop, but only after a significant period of time and stabilization has transpired. By attending Family Weekends, Al-Anon or other mutual support groups, individual therapy, it can increase the Family’s Recovery process.
With the right amount of support, accountability and hope, our residents can live a life of recovery! While addiction may be a FATAL disease, it IS treatable! In the words shared to us by one of our residents from his program of recovery, “do not give up five minutes before the miracle happens.”