Nowadays, surviving a family member’s addiction isn’t special.
We hear of more tragic deaths every week in the news. Of course, we don’t always feel lucky, but we are if our loved ones have survived addiction and somehow make it into recovery.
Call it a mixed blessing.
The journey of surviving any family’s addiction can be a blessing in many ways. No one wishes to be a survivor, but the lessons can make us stronger people in a million different ways. And wouldn’t we rather learn from the experience than wallow in self-pity?
Here are a few ways we can make lemonade out of the lemons life has thrown our way:
We Can Not Only Survive But Thrive
There is nothing that compares to the sheer horror we feel when our family’s lives are in danger. It’s the kind of panic where we can’t breathe. It’s the kind of horror that takes over our entire life and covers everything we do in a shroud of mist. And it doesn’t go away.
Yet, we can’t live at DEFCON 1 for very long.
When our family member’s addiction invades our lives, we get really good at living with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. According to Pinelands Recovery Center, the long and short term effects of opioid abuse include:
Any of these is enough to impact our daily lives. Yet, somehow we keep juggling the chaos and simply carry it with us everywhere. Sometimes it feels paralyzing and we fall to the floor crying. And sometimes we chuckle at some stupid goat video on Facebook.
Basically, life goes on. And if we can survive this, just think about how strong we truly are.
Our Priorities Are Forever Changed
We want our children to be doctors, lawyers, or astronauts. To take the world by storm and make their mark. After living through the nightmare of addiction, we just want them to be safe, alive and moderately stable.
There’s nothing like death and the possibility of long-term incarceration to clear up what’s important in our lives. We understand what’s a real problem and what are champagne problems, which Urban Dictionary calls:
“A problem or dilemma that, when compared to issues of poverty, national disasters and war, are not all that big of a deal, but nonetheless provide individuals with issues that must be dealt with.”
So we no longer want what our pre-addiction selves wanted from life. We’re not the same people we once were. We don’t care about wealth or status. Material things are nonsense when fighting for our family’s continued existence. For example, we chuckle when a new mom stresses over their kid biting someone at school.
Like it’s the end of the world!
We no longer care about champagne problems. We just want our family to be healthy and safe. And safe and healthy are evolving terms. Are they relatively safe? Are they moderately healthy?
Well, consider that a good day.
We Can't Fix Anyone Else's Problems
The biggest lesson we can learn from any family’s addiction experience is that it’s not our addiction. It’s never been our addiction. Al-Anon Family Group's Three C's explain this perfectly:
"I didn't cause it, I can't control it and I can't cure it”
However, when our family member’s lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life, it’s easy to feel like we failed. Like if we tried harder everything would be different…
But none of this is our fault and it’s not our addiction. It very easy for us to take all of the pain, frustration and chaos addiction causes and feel that it’s our obligation to fix it. But instead of internalizing someone else’s health issues, we need to take care of ourselves first.
Because it’s not our job to fix anyone else. And in the long run, that’s one of the most important life lessons we can ever learn.
Survival is a Beautiful Thing
Recovery is such a beautiful thing to witness and we should all be grateful if we have family members in recovery. We can even be grateful for surviving this nightmare if our family members are not in recovery yet.
Because surviving the chaos, pain and stress of a family’s addiction is just as beautiful.
We can learn how to live with the unthinkable and evolved into a survivor. Of course, we still wish none of this ever happened. But we can be stronger people than we ever thought possible. We can be more empathetic to others and kinder to ourselves. We have may have permanent scars, but those make us grateful for the smallest victories. We know exactly how to survive in our new, broken, and amazing world.
And that is a beautiful thing.
She’s the author of Killing Rapunzel: Learning How to Save Yourself Through Determination, Grit, and Self-Employment (her mother hates the title – but it’s a metaphor mom!). She talks freelancing adventures at Microbusiness Essentials.