The disease of addiction is devastating on families. Everyone related to the addict often struggles immensely to live with and try to help the person they love dearly and desire more than anything to help.
However, many times with our attempt to help our loved one we inadvertently push him or her further away. We may continue to try and fix, manage, and control the situation, unwilling to accept our own helplessness. Or, with real concern that the addiction might take our loved one’s life, we remain frozen by fear and guilt about seemingly not doing enough for them. And this can enable our loved one’s addictive behavior to continue without accountability or responsibility.
Members of the family may feel like they are constantly waiting for another round of turmoil and chaos to rear its head. Because of this, it’s easy to stumble into the trap of not taking care of ourselves when the focus is solely on that of our loved one’s disease and the insanity that accompanies it.
Once these unhealthy patterns are set in place with all members of the family, the family becomes very sick. What inevitably follows are many sleepless nights, a loss of trust, loneliness, and even arguments that can lead to violence. A complete breakdown and loss of respect ensues as each family member copes unhealthily in his or her own way with the suffering brought about by a loved one’s addiction.
It’s like the entire family is on a merry-go-round, linked together in hopeless denial, pain, and negative consequences that seem to go on for every in the same predictable pattern.
The Necessity of Seeking God’s Family to Find Healing and Acceptance
Addiction is often referred to as a family disease because of the pain it can wreak on so many. Therefore, as a family disease, healing and acceptance must be found in the wider family of God. When each family member surrenders their will and life to God and His almighty power and grace, then and only then will the long process of healing and transformation begin.
Concretely, this means that it’s critical to seek the support, encouragement, and guidance of others who have had similar experiences or who are knowledgeable about the difficulties of addiction. It’s important to seek this familial support by seeking out local Al-Anon meetings, ministries at your parish, or Catholic in Recovery groups. You can also seek private counseling. Catholic Charities, for example, has trained professionals who are happy to help.
Change is hard and scary, but without it nothing changes. As you become honest, open, and willing to share in the company of others you may discover some hard truths about yourself. It’s important to listen and learn from others as they share about their experience, strength, and hope on how they remain sane in spite of their loved one’s addiction.
Your journey toward personal healing cannot and should not be contingent on whether your family member is sober or not. And it is by being in the company of others who can help you come to accept this truth. In time, you may light the path for them toward their own recovery.
But this is not guaranteed, and in some cases they may turn from you in defiance and frustration when they see that you are no longer falling victim to their old tactics of manipulation and codependency. Yet, either way, you will have turned your life over to God, knowing that whatever happens God will continue to strive after your loved one with his perfect and eternal love.
Placing Our Ultimate Hope in Jesus and His Church
Psalm 46:1 reads, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” God has heard your cry and is here to comfort you and give you strength. If you have admitted complete defeat in the face of your loved one’s addiction, you are now ready to turn to God: the God who loves you and all members of your family. And you can pray that He will care for your loved one and you, leaving it all in His hands.
It can be extremely difficult to set new and healthy boundaries with your loved one and take accountability for your own actions (or inactions), but practiced each day in combination with regular personal inventory, the making of amends, and prayer and meditation, you can find the strength to move forward.
Rely on the gifts of mother Church, an ever-present source of help, strength, and renewal. Going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly can help you to see your own sinfulness and shortcomings, allowing you to better love your loved one with his or her own shortcomings.
And as Catholics, we are incredibly blessed to have recourse to the gift of Jesus himself in the Body and Blood of the Eucharist, which can empower us to become His agents of love and forgiveness for our family. Visit Jesus in Eucharistic adoration and pour out your heart to Him; He longs to hear your voice. Oh how He desires for His children to visit Him!
And remember that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—the most holy family of all time—endured many trials and tribulations, but their love for each other prevailed and endured. Unite with them in prayer and thanksgiving at all times, no matter what is happening in your family. With acceptance and trust in God, He can and will make all things new!
Kathleen Ann, by God’s grace, has been clean and sober since June 1, 2006. She is an active member of AA, CIR, and works part-time as the Project Rachel Coordinator in the Life office at the Diocese of Rockford, where she helps gently and confidentially guide those wounded by abortion to hope and healing in Christ Jesus. On most days you can find her at daily Mass, the gym, or caring for the needs of her family, young and old alike.