You may have to say the words out loud before change can begin.
Most of us believe that our families-of-origin were a little dysfunctional; it seems that there really is no true “normal” for how a family should look or behave, beyond “more normal” than your own. The only true measure of a family’s functionality, though, usually is revealed once the children grow up and begin having families of their own.
One truth is certain, however. A family in which an alcoholic, or other addict, is actively engaged in chasing the substance of choice almost always fall into the authentically dysfunctional category no matter what the measurement tool might be.
Dr. Suzanne Degges-White is a counselor who specializes in working with individuals and families who are facing transitions. She is a professor and chair of the Counseling, Adult and Higher Education department at the Northern Illinois University. Her research work explores areas such as development over the lifespan along with the developmental transitions in women. She currently serves as the president of the Association for Adult Development and Aging, which is a division of the American Counseling Association.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
Addictions are like illicit love affairs. A person often knows that what she is doing is wrong. She may try to hide the evidence of her trysts – receipts from the liquor store instead of the motel; empty bottles instead of sexy lingerie and new perfume; or dilated eyes and flushed cheeks instead of smudged lipstick or love bites on her neck.
Just like the illicit love affair, active addictions take on a life of their own. Addicts find reasons to get out of the house, to arrange time on their own, and become practiced and sometimes not-so-skilled liars who make up excuses and denials, even if the evidence is every bit as clear as finding them naked in the bed with a lover.
When Does the Addict decide it’s Time to Seek Help?
There is no timeline that is universally applicable to any addict’s recovery. Some addicts seek help when their significant other threatens to leave or actually chooses to leave. Some addicts seek help when their parents kick them out. Some addicts seek help when they are too drunk to stay conscious during their children’s recital or soccer game. Some addicts get help when they are fired from their jobs. Some addicts get help when they realize they can either afford food or their substance-of-choice and they realize that it is no longer a toss-up on what their choice will be. Some addicts get help when they end up comatose on the sidewalk and wake up in a hospital bed and no clue how they ended up there. Some addicts get help when they wake up in a crashed car on the side of the road and have no idea how they got there and no idea how they lived. Some addicts get help when they wake up in a jail cell and don’t have a single family member who cares enough to bail them out.
Some addicts never decide that it’s time to seek help and choose to continue their illicit love affair unabated regardless of the damage they are doing to the people who truly care about their futures.