Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Threats Don't Work! Try this instead... - Part Two

So, since our last get together, you made your list of all the delightful and horrible traits, behaviors and memories you remember and have of your active addict. And, if you're really serious about your family's recovery from the family disease of addiction you've attended or are planning to attend a meeting or two of one of the family support groups (naranon, alanon, or s-anon to name a few). So, now that you're consciously aware of the many wrongs your addict has committed over the years, and of the fact that you may have been making empty threats with no teeth, what do you do now?

The first thing is to look at that list, the one with all of the uncomfortable stuff on it and then  look at the list of the good memories. Next, take a deep breath and make a commitment to do something really difficult: Be a mirror to your addict. Being a mirror to your addict is another way of saying, sit down, with him or her and tell them what you know, what you see, what you are aware of about his or her behavior, without judgment, without spite, without anger, without bitterness. In other words, like a mirror, just reflect back the behaviors and attitudes you are seeing your addict exhibit and how you feel about it. If you have never done this before in a non-judgmental way, it may be the most difficult thing you have ever done. But, once you learn how to do it, you will be able to stay current with your addict and with other people in your life and just tell it like you see it, describing what you see, like a mirror.

For instance, "Gerry, you know I really love you and I've been thinking a lot about what I've been seeing in you lately and I want to share it with you.  I'm not doing this for arguments' sake, but rather, just to let you know what I'm seeing, so you will be able to see your behavior through someone else's eyes. So, there is no need for you to defend yourself. Just listen and then do with the information what you will. I decided it would not be honest or loving for me to see all of these things and not let you know, so I'm letting you know what I see because I really care about you."

Then, just list them. Tell him about the times he came in at 4 am with lipstick on his shirt and a body that reaked of alcohol. Tell her about the way she looks lately, the bags under her eyes and the torn up clothing. Let him know that you are aware of all of his lies about where his money is going and be as specific as possible. Tell her that you know about the drug addicts she has been hanging around with at school and that you found that marijuana in the car the other day. If possible, show it to her. Tell him about the calls from work asking where he was and how when you asked him about it, he told youhe was there, they just couldn't find him and that when he told you that lie, the twitch he always gets when he lies showed up.  Tell her about the calls that have been coming to the house and how whoever was on the other end hung up as soon as you answered. Tell him how many days he has slept in and missed work. Tell her how many times you've seen her running to the bathroom right after dinner and heard her throwing up through the bathroom door. Tell him how much money is missing from the account, how many necklaces or other jewels are missing from your collection. Be clear, concise, concrete, dispassionate, objective. You are not judging or looking down on your friend or relative. You are simply describing behaviors and consequences as if you were describing something you had noticed and found interesting, but did not particularly affect you either way.

The value of doing this confronting objectively, without emotion, is that by doing so, you are allowing the addict to experience the effect of hearing the actual behaviors as if seeing them for him or herself, without your bias or judgement. This allows it to sink in better and to not be deflected back to you. If he or she interrupts or tries to justify or tell you that things are really like that, remind them that you are not accusing or judging, rather, you are simply describing what you are seeing. If they see something different, so be it. But right now, it is your turn to share your perspective with them and you are not really interested in hearing their thoughts on the incidents at this time. Instead, you just want to ask them to sit and listen.

At the end, you might thank them for listening and let them know how much you care about them and are concerned for their wellbeing and that you really want your husband, wife, son, or daughter back. Then, if you feel so inclined, give them a kiss on the cheek or forehead, stand up and walk away.

It is crucial that you do this without judgment, anger or cynicism or they will not be able to hear you. It will be difficult to do so, so you may want to rehearse a few times or have a copy of the list in front of you when you share it. Keep breathing deeply as you share it in order to keep yourself calm.

Interestingly enough, you may not get through all of it in one sitting. You may have several opportunities to share parts of it...These could come on the tail end of other behaviors that come up along the way (after the addict has sobered up or come down from a high of course).  Each will provide you with an opportunity to simply tell the addict what you see as it is happening, again, without judgment or anger. And, if you are calm enough, you can add, 'this concerns me because it reminds of the time you..." and there you have another opportunity to feed back some of what you are seeing with some of what you have seen in the past, again, dispassionately, so the addict can hear what you are saying rather than get caught up in HOW you are saying it.

For some addicts/alcoholics, etc., it will be necessary to hear these things several times, each time a little differently, always in a thoughtful tone, as if you are simply reflecting on their behavior, and willing to be a mirror, not a judge of what is going on with them. Always remember, in the back of your mind, all of the things you love about your family member (remember list one?). If you can keep that list in mind as you speak of their challenging behaviors, it will help you to stay calm.

If you find they will not let you do this sharing, for whatever reason, or that, even after repeating things several times it does not seem to be sinking in, or that you are not able to share this information quietly and calmly, as the process requires, you may want to put it into a letter instead. If you choose at some point to write a letter, the sandwich method often works well:
Part one (bread): write about why you are writing the letter: I love you so much and I have concerns about how you are living your life these days and I want my husband/wife/daughter/son back. In this part, talk about all the things you love about him/her and how much they mean to you.
Part two (the meat): write your list of all the things you have seen them doing/saying/being over the last several weeks/months/years that are of concern to you. Again describe these factually, without judgment, anger or condemnation.
Part three (bread): reiterate how much you care and how you want your family member back and what needs to happen in order for that to happen (whether it is them going into treatment or getting some other form of help).

While there are no guarantees that this will turn the corner, it has done so for some addicts who say that seeing all of their behaviors in writing broke through their denial enough for them to see that they needed help.

Of course, it is crucial that you actually intend to and are willing to and strong enough to follow up on any boundaries or ultimatums you set up in your letter. This is easier said than done, and it is often helpful to have a support group, sponsor, and/or coach to help you do so. You do not have to go it alone. Many have gone before you and support abounds. You just have to be willing to ask. It can be a long road to family healing, but when family members start working the support programs of alanon, naranon, s-anon, gamanon, etc., they are giving their addicts a greater chance of recovery. This is because they are learning skills for being in relationship with an addict while no longer contributing to the disease. Having a coach, therapist, or spiritual director who understands addiction, codependency and recovery can also be extremely helpful and for many co-addicts, is essential.

These tips are just the 'tip' of the iceberg of what you will learn as you walk your recovery journey. And their effective implementation will be much easier, the more you have worked on yourself, kept the focus on your own recovery and gotten to know your own strengths and limitations in terms of what you will and won't live with in your relationships. A life of sanity for YOU is STILL possible whether the alcoholic/addict is still behaving insanely or not. Just KEEP THE FOCUS ON YOU!, get to a meeting on the phone or in person, and join me again next week for another entry of Focus on You!

Have a great week!

With love and recovery,

Recovery Coach Bev
786 859 4050

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Threats Don't Work! Try this instead... - Part One

Has the addict in your life ever done something over the top? Something that has led you to feel worse than before about his or her using, to feel less able to to go on with things as they have been?

If so, what was your next reaction? A threat? An ultimatum? And then what? Did you follow through? Did you move out or get them to?

Or, did they threaten back and intimidate you? Did you  back down, doubt your own interpretation of reality and let things go back to the way they were?

Living with and/or loving a person in active addiction can be one of life's greatest challenges. The person you once knew is now being run by a compulsion to use or act in ways that supersede their desire to please you, to be with you, to love you. And that shows up in how they put their pill, fix, drink, food, or behavior first, before you..almost all the time.

It can happen slowly or quickly, but either way, the growth of addiction in a loved one takes a great toll on the people in the addict's life. After awhile, being treated like second best grates on you; being disregarded, disrespected, taken for granted, and as time goes on, being stolen from, lied to, abused and often ignored, can even become unbearable.

So that takes us back to the question: When things get unbearable for you, how do you react? Do you threaten to leave? And if so, do you follow through?

There is nothing wrong with being fed up or wanting out of a difficult situation. In fact, that sounds pretty normal. Being abused or neglected due to someone's addiction can be unbearable.

But, what is your goal? Is it to get out or to make things better? And most importantly, what are you REALLY willing to do about it (not what do you fantasize about doing, but what are you totally committed to doing about it to make things better for yourself and/or your family)?

It's important to explore your real intentions and your degree of inner strength to follow through at this point because if you don't, you may find yourself making empty threats over and over again while things at home go from bad to worse.

And 'there's nothing wrong with that', to coin a Seinfeld phrase, unless, of course, you want things to get better...

If you do want things to get better, consider ending the constant stream of threats. Instead, here is part one of  a few tips you might try instead:

1. Take out a pad of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle.
  • On the left side, write everything you love about your addict. All of the wonderful things you know about him or her, even if you hardly ever see those things showing up in his or her life anymore. Don't hold back, even if you are angry now. Scour your memory banks. Find the funny little smile, the random acts of kindness, the brilliance emerging before the drug or fix took over... list as many traits, memories, characteristics as you can remember. Try not to leave anything out! This exercise will help you remember why you really love the person behind the addiction, what brought you here in the first place either as parent, lover, spouse, or friend.
  • Then, on the other side, list everything the addict has said or done that has made you forget their wonderful traits; every lie, every unkindness, every inconsistency, every abusive behavior, every missing dollar, every broken appointment, every tear they caused. List the ways in which they neglected you and your family, the people they let down, the strange things they said to cover up the inconsistent behaviors, the objects you found in your home that didn't belong there, the people you ran into who told you strange stories, etc. Try to remember everything - every hurt, every pain, every double-take. What you are doing right now is putting a sword through the denial that has allowed you to live in this alternate reality of active addiction without completely going mad. The irony of denial is that all of us reach a certain point where, if we don't break through the denial, it will drive us mad...So, this exercise helps us break through and face what is really going on in our lives, consciously. It will be painful, but also cathartic, and potentially very helpful in making things better. So, go for it.
2. Once you have your lists, look them over and decide which reality, which person, so to speak, you would rather live with, which person you want in your life.(Don't use the answer 'obvious' to keep you from making the actual lists. If you haven't done that yet, go back and do them. It's crucial to your recovery and to the addict's chances of getting well, too.)  Then, make a decision as to whether or not you want that person enough to fight for them, for their healing, for your relationship.

3. If the answer is yes, it's time to start figuring out what you are going to do to attempt to get the husband, wife, son, daughter, significant other, or friend who you remember, the one you knew before their addiction took over, back into your life.

This process is a delicate one, and truth be told, there are no promises that whatever you do will give you the results you want. But, making a list is a start. It lets you know what you are missing, breaks through the denial that has the family in its bind, and, if nothing else, advances your own recovery from the family disease of addiction.

In our next issue of Focus on You, we will talk about what you can do next to help your family recover from this family disease. In the meantime, have you considered trying one of the family support group meetings? Alanon (, Naranon ( S-anon ( Each of these groups is filled with people like you, working through the challenges of living, loving, and/or working with a person addicted to something that is destroying the fabric of their life and that of their family and friends.

Alanon is for familis of alcoholics (but many people go whose addicts are addicted to all kinds of things, from food, to gambling, to drugs)
Naranon is for families of drug addicts (alcohol is included as a drug)
S-anon is for families of sex and love addicts.

Coaching can help a great deal as well as you try to sort out the feelings, lies, and realities of the disease. To learn more about how coaching might help you cope with the addiction of someone you love, go to

See you next time  when we Focus on You will focus on next steps that you can take instead of the empty threats that haven't gotten the addict to stop so far!
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Monday, October 12, 2009

First Things First

Have you ever found, when things seem overwhelming, that your mind is racing?

Random thoughts that have been wandering through your mind have taken over, gotten the power to control your feelings, and helped you to forget who you really are and what your life is really all about. Suddenly, you are allowing your thoughts to terrorize you with 'what ifs' and 'yeah buts' that could drive anyone crazy.

At those times, it helps to take a slow, deep breath, and then watch yourself exhale that breath, repeating the awareness of in and out several times, with as much focus as you can calmly muster.

Once the breath has calmed down a bit, see if you can watch the thoughts that are running rampant in your mind with a sense of non-judgment and pure objectivity. Imagine that each one is encased in a cloud just traveling by, rather than taking root in your heart, mind, and belief system. When you take the time to see your thoughts through this distant, detached lens, you may find your thoughts  losing their power to frighten you as powerfully as they have been.

Make a practice of watching your mind, and you will find that as your mind slows down, your thoughts will become less threatening, and your breath will deepen and relax in your chest. Suddenly, especially with practice, the overwhelm will disappear and in its place will be a sense of deep calm, a feeling of being 'in the moment'.

In that moment, ask yourself, what is the next right thing in front of me to do? And then, with a mind rooted in the moment, do it; continuing to maintain a consciousness of your breath and a detached, downright skeptical view of the thoughts that are telling you "it's all too much, I just can't take it, it's killing me," etc., etc., etc.

Because the fact is that life happens moment by moment, and when we simply live each moment as it comes, instead of worrying about the moments that haven't yet come, we CAN handle the most important things in front of us, one at a time, First Things First!
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