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The Phenomenon of the “New Normal” in Families Dealing with Addiction

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Daniel R. Perzanoski, BS, CSAC – Family Services and IOP Counselor

Over the years that I have worked in addiction treatment, family treatment, and recovery, the biggest question family members have is, “How did we get here?”  The family learns and understands the disease of addiction for their addicted loved one; they even grasp and take solace in the fact that this is a brain-based disorder, and like Al-Anon has told them, “you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.”  But, the hardest concept that perplexes them, that vexes them, is how addiction creates a new family dynamic or the “new normal” within the Family System.

 

What has become the “new normal”, is the crisis centered and chaotic life in which the family has now become accustom. 

 

In this dynamic, crisis and chaos have become “normal” everyday events, and the preoccupation of dealing with an addicted loved one becomes the organizing factor in everyday life.  “Where are they?”  “What are they doing?” “What can I do?”  “How do we fix this?”  It is in this everyday crisis that the “new normal” is born, is fed, is nurtured, and grows.  It grows physically with loss of appetite, stress, and sleepless, nights.  It grows mentally with preoccupation, intrusive thoughts, and pervasive worry.  It grows emotionally with episodic depression, sadness, anger, and resentment.  It grows socially with avoidance of communication, withdrawing from daily activities, and isolation.  It grows vocationally with lack of attention to detail, poor productivity, and increased sick time.  It grows spiritually with questioning of spiritual principles, avoidance of spiritual practice, and feeling alone and without purpose.

 

This evolution happens over a period of time, and most families do not recognize all the things that have changed within the eroded landscape of the family system until a major catalyst event takes place (i.e. legal repercussions, overdose, their client entering into residential treatment).

 

As the family member walks through the doors of our treatment centers, they actively believe they are here to address the identified client’s disease and are here to discuss the disease’s impact on the family without true regard that they also suffer from a disease.  It is here that we educate them on the true impacts, and teach them how to engage in their own recovery and self-care.  It is here that we teach them the three I’s:  Identify the problem, Implement new coping strategies and supports, Integrate these new principles into your life and your own recovery.  It is here that we teach them that enabling is “initiated by love but motivated by fear”.  And, it is here that we provide the hope that in treating the family ALL can recover.

 

The blessing of recovery can truly be had by the whole family, but the family “does not know, what they don’t know.” 

 

There is an old saying in AA:  “You are only as sick as your secrets”.   It is our hope to eliminate the “shame and blame”, to educate and empower, allowing the family to heal and grow in the new direction of openness and family recovery.