Monday, December 14, 2009

What if I say or do the wrong thing?

With the holidays here for some and approaching for others, opportunities to interact with  family members may inevitably lead us to to say or do some unhelpful and even unloving things to the addicts we love.

It's not just possible, it's probable. Why? Well, I guess there could be many reasons:
1.Maybe we just don't know the right thing to say or do.
2. Old habits die hard.
3. We are human.
4. Sometimes we do know what is best to say but we are so caught up in the situation we are in with our addict, that we succumb to the feelings of desperation, worry and fear that course through our minds and bodies in the form of negative thought projections.

So what's a family member to do to prevent the problem and to fix it when it happens?

Well, just as addicts have slips, so too do family members. And just as addicts have to get used to watching themselves have and then let go of thoughts of using if they are to stay sober, we too have to get used to watching ourselves have and then let go of thoughts of horrible endings that can lead us to nagging, harranguing, questioning, and verbally taunting our addicts, if we are to abstain from these behaviors and enjoy peaceful loving relationships with those around us.

But, you may say, what if I'm afraid my addict is using or getting him or herself into a situation or lifestyle that is putting him/her on the path to great danger and the thoughts overpower me? Or what if I am being disrespected? Don't I have to say something? To do something?

These are excellent questions. To answer them, let's talk for a moment about a few things: Thoughts, fears, what helps, and what does not.

First, on thoughts:
Thoughts are not facts. They are simply sentences strung together in our minds that move through quickly, making room for the next thoughts coming after them. Think of them as clouds moving through the sky. Left to their own devices they come and they go. Ever sit and watch your thoughts? To do so provides a wonderful experience as it shows us first hand how we are more than our thoughts. We are the one watching the thoughts. Just as the clouds are not the sky, but are in the sky, moving through it; our thoughts are not us, they are simply moving through us. We produce them ad nauseum and can choose which ones to focus on and act on, if we realize this simple idea: Thoughts are usually not important unless and until we give them importance by focusing our energy and attention on them.

So what does this mean in terms of our relationship to our addicts? Being in relationship with an alcoholic or addict of any kind is one of life's great challenges in that it has the potential to send our thoughts flying with questions of 'what if' and 'what then' that can drive even a calm person crazy. Yet, most of these thoughts, though emotion-filled and potentially true, will not help our addict if we use them to ask a million questions, question behaviors, watch them like a hawk, or otherwise harrass or harrangue them.

Instead, all it does to make these thoughts primary in our minds is to make us crazier and crazier, and drive a wedge between us and the addict that makes life harder and harder for us, for them, and for the relationship.

And yet, most people who love addicts find themselves impaired in some way by the experience and dysfunctional in the way they relate to their addict. It is life depleting to watch a person you love hurt themselves (and those around them) and not be able to do anything about it. But there are things you can do about those thoughts you have that are telling you how dire your situation is.

A few of them include:
1. Taking some deep slow breaths and bringing your mind back to the present moment and away from the roller coaster ride of what if's and what then's.
2. Go to a support group meeting (see the list below) where you will find others like you who have found a better way to live their life than being tied up in knots over their addict.
3. Keep in mind the slogans of the 12 step programs such as: 'One Day at a Time', 'Easy Does It', 'Stay in Present Time', 'How Important Is It? Does it Affect Your Breathing? If not, it's not that important.'
4. Remember that thoughts are not facts. Just because you have a scary thought does not mean it is something you need to act on. And even if it is factual, it may not be yours to deal with. It's okay to respect other people's ability to take responsibility for their own life.

Which brings us to the next thing: FEAR. In the 12 step programs, fear is known as:
F - False
E - Expectations
A - Appearing
R - Real

This is particularly important for co-addicts to remember as we can use this understanding to help us keep the fears that run through our minds in perspective. When we let our fears run our minds, they have more of a chance of running our lives. So again, the importance of  remembering that we are not our thoughts, and our thoughts are not reality unless we decide to give them the power to dictate all that we believe and act on. This brings us to our next subject: when it comes to dealing with an addict, what helps and what doesn't?

Well, if you have been reading this blog over the past several months, you may have noticed that most of what helps happens between our two ears. When we admit our powerless over the addict, step one of the 12 steps, we put into motion a whole new perspective on our lives and what we do have power over and that, my friends, is clearly, ourselves.

While we are powerless over people outside of ourselves, we do have the power to change how we view them, how we view our role in our own and their lives, and then to take action based on that new understanding.

For instance, let's talk about observing our thoughts. This is actually a discipline that people literally spend lifetimes practicing, to great benefit. One of the things it is known as is mindfulness meditation. When we meditate mindfully, we are allowing ourselves to observe our breath, our thoughts, the sounds we hear, our bodies, and the world around and within us without judgment. We simply watch, listen, and experience life at each present moment. One can take classes to learn to meditate or use a book or CD to do so. Whatever the vehicle of learning, the practice itself has the effect of calming the mind significantly and allowing the meditator to begin to tell the difference between sanity and insanity in his/her own mind. It is a powerful way to begin each day with benefits that carry over throughout the moments of the day more and more with each day of practice.

As also mentioned above, it is crucial, in this work of 'being there' for ourselves and our addicts, to have others to talk to who understand and will bring us back to our senses when we get off track. For people in the 12 step programs, getting a sponsor who has been there and walked the path you are trying to walk is crucial. Getting a recovery coach can greatly help as well. A coach can ask you questions that will bring you to deeper understandings of yourself in relation to yourself, your addict, and your life.

As one client described it, "When working with my coach, the assignments she gave me helped me to  suddenly remember lots of things that my addict had done that I had somehow forgotten." (As they say, 'Denial is not just a river in Egypt!') By gathering all of these incidents together into a list,  the client was able to work with his coach to develop a plan of how he would speak with his addict in a way that would be helpful rather than harmful. It was the beginning of the end of active addiction in that household.

Finally, what do you do if you have said or done something you know or have since learned was not the best thing to say or do?

As a renowned addiction therapist once said in answer to a client's guilt  and shame about past behaviors in the client's life,  "Some of these things you just have to flush."

And indeed, sometimes we just have to face it. We may cherish or revile our stories of pain, suffering, martyrdom and even guilt so much that we feel we have to think about them over and over again in order to keep the story alive within us. But maybe it is time to flush the guilt, the shame, the pain, the poor me story. Maybe it is time to watch the thoughts that tell us that the sky is falling and give them no more attention than thoughts that say the grass is purple. Maybe it is time to become so grounded in each moment, in each ray of sunshine, each blade of grass, each in and out breath, each step we take on the pavement of life that we no longer have attention to give to thoughts of suffering, self-pity and worry.

This is not to say we forget about our addict or 'the situation' but that we put it in its proper perspective by going to meetings, praying and meditating, sharing what's going on in our lives with other people who understand what it means to live with and love an addict and will listen and give us constructive feedback that will help us grow.

The other day I went to a meeting where the topic hit me below the belt and I shared some fears of the future that I had been allowing to fester within me over the past few days. At that meeting were four wonderful people who I'd been mentoring. One after the other, they shared with me the exact words I needed to hear....'Stay in present time. One day at a time. Stop projecting and live in the moment. Let go and let God.' I needed to be listened to, which they did, and to be put back on track, which they did.

I go to meetings, share with others, sponsor and get sponsored, and get coached not only in order to avoid making the same old mistakes in my relationships with my loved ones, but also to bounce back more quickly when I do. This is how it works. When we are honest, open, and willing to change, we grow. As an old timer I know used to say, it's a matter of 'practice, practice; fall, fall; practice, practice; fall fall..."
And so it goes.

We are called to progress, not to be perfect. And if we are willing, we will change, and we will progress.

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the holiday season one blessed moment at a time.

See you next week!

Recovery Coach Bev

Readers, please note:

These blogs are designed to provide those who love, live and/or work with addicts with ideas to contemplate. They are not designed to replace the wonderful support available to co-addicts in programs like naranon, alanon, gamanon, and s-anon. These 12 step programs offer meetings all over the world, in person, on the phone, and online. You can find their listings on their web sites:
There are people at these meetings who have dealt and continue to deal with the rampage that addiction can bring into the lives of those affected by someone else's using. Feel free to call me to find out more or to check out their websites for more information.

In addition, having a coach can intensify the pace of growth in these areas. If you feel you or someone you love would benefit, I would be happy to speak with you or someone you know who is affected by the addiction of another person. Let’s have a confidential, complimentary consultation to talk about how we might work together to jumpstart your own recovery journey and perhaps even that of those around you.

Beverly A. Buncher, MA, CEC, CLPF
Recovery Coach
Recovery Support Specialist
Helping People in Recovery Find Their Way
786 859 4050 (Focus on You! - for family and friends of addicts) (Life Purpose in Recovery) (Treatment Professionals in Recovery)

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