In my work as an addiction counselor, many of the people I counsel are not themselves addicted to substances, but are instead a parent, spouse, or adult child of someone who is. They come to me incredibly torn about what to do, having been encouraged by many well-meaning people to cut off the relationship completely because continued contact will only cause them pain and further enable the addict.
However, for many this feels too severe and absolute. They are looking for a way to continue offering love and support, fearing that if they cut off ties completely, they will lose their only channel to encourage their loved one to seek help, face the issue and get better. Many let me know that they want to learn how to navigate the relationship with their addicted loved one from a safe and healthy distance, offering support and connection without becoming overly involved. Finding this balance is a challenge for many people who love someone with an addiction.
This New York Times opinion piece is from a courageous woman who speaks about her husband’s death due to alcoholism. She candidly describes what I hear from my clients – addiction is a heart wrenching disease, made all the more difficult by the shame and isolation that accompany it. In her piece, Paula Ganzi Licata describes the heart wrenching guilt and shame that complicates her grief. She reveals what it was like living with a high functioning alcoholic – a person who, despite his compulsive drinking, was able to carry on the artifices of a functional life. He kept a high status job, maintained the mirage of a happy marriage and attended social events; in other words, pretended that everything was okay. Unwilling to leave and yet tortured by staying, Licata exposes the secrets, cover ups, detective work, isolation, and loneliness.
Addiction is a complex and chronic condition. Opinions vary about how much a loved one can actually do to intervene. But one thing is certain: for each person with an addiction, there are at least five people walking through their lives with aching hearts. Yet, loved ones don’t have to struggle alone. JFS is starting a support group for families and friends of those with addiction, and existing resources include CRAFT, AL-Anon, Nar-Anon and Smart Recovery for Family and Friends. Together we can support each other and lift the veil of secrecy, shame and isolation.
If you are interested in attending a support group for people who love someone with an addiction, please contact Laura Kramer, (206) 861-8782.
By Laura Kramer
Laura Kramer is an Addiction and Mental Health Counselor at Jewish Family Service. She holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Antioch University in Seattle. Her specialties of study include trauma therapy and addiction counseling.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen.