Top 6 (and a half) Resources
for Families of Addicts [and Alcoholics]
(Includes FREE meditation app)
First things first.
The addict or alcoholic is usually the central character in our play. He or she dictates the roles of other players, the friends, the families and the loved ones. It can all seem a bit unfair; the recovery industry is bending over backwards to support the addict. What about the loved ones? Today there are more and more resources to support those affected and infected by other’s addiction. We no longer have to dance around the addict’s often demanding and unreasonable behaviour. We can get help ourselves and claim back our lives. We can finally discern the difference between supporting the addict and supporting the addiction. To get there, we would do well to put ourselves and our own well-being first. For too long we have played a supporting role dictated by others wishes and desires. It is exhausting, often humiliating and frustrating; we have good intentions yet often end up making things worse. If we enable the addict by giving them money, we seem to buy a small amount of time and approval. If we deny them, we risk experiencing the anger, hatred and rejection aimed at ourselves from their projection. We can end up as deeply entrenched as the addict themselves, caught up in a drama that we are certain will end up a tragedy. So if you feel like you’ve had enough of these two things (the addict’s behaviour AND your own reaction), then now is the time to look for support. It is not going to be easy, but there is a solution, and it comes in many forms. Trying to manage alone can feel like hell. Many of us have a tendency to blame ourselves and this makes it all seem worse and a very lonely place indeed. Finding a support group will dilute this loneliness. We see that we are not alone in our suffering. This slight but definite shift can help us move further away from our seemingly helpless position. Further good may arise from the wisdom we seek, yet we must take the first step ourselves. Let’s look at the help available, whilst keeping in mind it’s best to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others. We have no affiliation, financial or otherwise, with any of these organisations but have personally experienced the benefits of direct engagement with all of them. So, in no particular order…
#1 Family constellation
This work, also known as systemic constellation was started by the German-born Bert Hellinger. Whilst the movement has attracted some controversy (and let’s be honest: what movement hasn’t?), we have had personal and anecdotal experience that is positive. The methods used can include choosing ‘strangers’ (others in the group) to represent family members. Scenarios can then be acted out. Unspoken resentment can be voiced. Family members are positioned then re-positioned after some help from the facilitator. Forgotten members can be added. The central character (YOU!) can often see how things unravelled, from a new perspective; from a systemic as opposed to personal perspective. It just feels a little less personal. Hellinger’s constellation work is experiential: as such it is difficult to describe or give concrete examples. We do know that many have changed their perspective by going through the experience so if it attracts you, give it a try. There are costs involved and many practitioners offer reductions or bursaries for the less well-off. Bert Hellinger’s family constellation work is available in many locations around the world. Some of the practitioners are addiction specialists. There is a search facility on the website to locate your nearest resource. Website here… http://www2.hellinger.com/en/home/ The systemic constellations website is here… http://www.systemicconstellations.com
#2 The Work of Byron Katie
A little more accessible than a family constellation, this school involves self-enquiry which is described by some as the ‘direct method’. It differs in many ways from the Indian Guru form of self-enquiry, especially for Westerners. The similarities are there though, and many have gained clarity from going through “The Work”. This method was pioneered by Byron (full name Byron Kathleen Mitchell) after her ‘awakening’ in 1986. In her own words: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment”. “The Work” as it is known includes the use of workshops which encourages seekers to express, explore, and question painful ‘global’ beliefs, that we assume to be true. The workshops do require payment yet there are tons of free resources such as worksheets, available online. An example of the self-enquiry, and in particular the ‘four questions’ may start something like this: Background: Emily is 46 and is in mid-flow through a painful divorce, her second in less than 10 years. Both times she married an abusive alcoholic. Her son from the first marriage became heavily addicted to prescription pain-killers at the age of just 19. He stole money from her and caused her much stress and heartache as he lied all the time. She has had enough of men. She believes that all men are a waste of time. Now we can understand how this belief was created and in fact may have some sympathy for her situation. After all, there is a lot of evidence to support her belief. The deeper Truth is that there is a route out of this mess, simply by getting curious and asking four questions. This is the essence of “The Work”. Yes, it involves work. By work, we mean some undoing, some unravelling. We cannot get to a place of peace simply by wishing for it or attempting some sort of spiritual, emotional, or psychic by-pass. Information is good but it’s not enough: we have to do “The Work”. The ‘four questions’ about ANY belief that seems to cause the suffering can be undone using this method. It may be useful to remember that it is not the thought itself but the investment or belief THAT IT IS TRUE that causes the suffering. We write down the ‘offending’ thought. In Emily’s case, it is “All men are a waste of time”. It attracts other, similar thoughts like “Men only cause me pain” or “Men only take, never give”.
1: Is it true? (Yes or No)
This question can be a game-changer. Ask yourself if the thought you wrote is true. In Emily’s case in seems true, in her personal experience. We start from there. For Emily, it’s a Yes.
2: Can you absolutely know it’s true? (Yes or No)
This is a chance to open the mind and venture into the realm of the unknown. This is where our healing sits; what we think we ‘know’ keeps us trapped. In a broader sense, Emily can recall her kind grandfather who nursed her through a childhood illness, her older brother who always looked out for her, and her Dad, who she loved dearly and died when she was just 11 years old. These were kind men. So, it cannot be absolutely true. For Emily, this is now a No.
3: How do you react internally, when you believe the thought you first wrote down?
This question will identify where the beliefs land in you. There will typically be some form of discomfort ranging from mild irritation to full-blown rage. What do you feel? When you believe that written-down thought, how do you treat yourself? What about the other person or persons? Write it down. Be clear. Be honest with how you actually react, not how you’d like to respond. Emily may withdraw, become uncommunicative, get depressed, or angry. She may overeat or starve herself, spend long hours at work to avoid confrontation. She may isolate and ruminate about all the sick and selfish men in the world.
4: Who would you be without the thought?
Now, imagine yourself, as best you can, in the presence of that person, persons, or situation without believing the thought. What would be different if you didn’t think the stressful thought? How would it be if that thought did not occur to you? How would you feel? Write that down too. Feel it. Let it marinate around your mind and body. How does that feel? Which do you prefer? We can imagine that for Emily her thoughts may be re-directed towards the loving men in her life. She may miss the men she loved and who loved her. The anger is often the cork in the bottle that keeps the sadness trapped. Remember, you are not Emily. We invented her. She is an anagram of My Lie. We are not accusing you or her of being a liar. Yet it is crucial to entertain or consider something we already know at some level: the idea that there is a you, and that there is a mind that lies. You don’t have to swallow this in one lump. In fact, if you try to do so you may choke. The Work breaks it down into bite-size chunks. See how easy it is for us to do her work. There is some therapeutic value doing this but let’s be clear: once we have approached and applied The Work to our own issues, many of our limiting beliefs will simply fall away by themselves. In using Emily’s circumstances, where we insulated from the pain of her personal situation as we don’t know her. It’s like she is an imaginary person. A similar thing happens when we work on ourselves. There is more work to do. We can learn about the turnaround. The four questions is a great place to start. If this appeals, hop over to the website and you can start The Work straight away…http://thework.com/en
12 Step Groups
Many of us have heard about 12 Step support groups for addicts. Remember that alcoholics are addicts: they are addicted to alcohol. (We would not make a sub-division and look at the differences between say, Whisky and Vodka drinkers). And as there is little value in separating substances, we use the term addict. This term is used to describe the behaviour, the manifestations of addiction. It does not describe who they truly are. So we can now extend this all-encompassing term to include behavioural addictions like gambling and over-eating. But what about 12 Step support groups for families? Yes, they do exist and have brought relief to a great many.
Al-Anon is probably the largest of these groups and can really claim a seriously global presence. “There are over 24,000 Al-Anon and nearly 1,800 Alateen groups meetings in 131 countries”. Al-Anon is for family and friends and Alateen for teenagers. Friends and families of drug addicts (other than alcohol) have previously been put off going to these groups, believing it is exclusively for those affected only by alcohol. We have had personal experience that this is not the case and a reading from Al-Anon’s own survey confirms that: “The majority of members who joined due to someone else’s drug use, later discover someone else’s alcoholism was also a factor”. There we have it. Families of drug addicts can use Al-Anon. No excuses! So, is Al-Anon effective? We think it is. Let’s have a look at their membership survey. What do their members say about it? “How has being a member of Al-Anon Family Groups affected your life?”
Base: All respondents (n=8,517) | Source: Al-Anon 2015 Membership Survey
92% responded that their lives have been very positively affected from being a member.
We can’t argue with that…If this draws you forward, find a local group from their website…
#4 Families Anonymous (FA)
Smaller than Al-Anon yet still having a global fellowship, FA’s primary concern is for families and friends of those affected by drugs. If we remember that alcohol is a drug we can be 100% sure that we are equal members when we say we are; there is no hierarchy of drugs, despite what we are told.
FA makes this clear in it’s 1 and only requirement for membership,
(Tradition 3): “Individuals concerned with another’s abuse of drugs or related problems of living when gathered together for mutual aid, may call themselves a Families Anonymous group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation. The only requirement for membership is a concern about the use of mind-altering substances or related behavioural problems of a relative or friend”. (Italics and bold added by bt21)
FA facilitates E-meetings online. This is often a gentle way of introduction to any fellowship and is very useful for those who cannot get to live, face-to-face meetings.
You can go online to check if there is a meeting near you…
#5 Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA)
Many families and loved ones living with those addicted to drugs and alcohol are drawn to Al-Anon and Families Anonymous for support. CoDA attendance is rarely in the thought process. It can, however, prove to be the best move you can make. CoDA does not mention substances but a little investigation will reveal why this support group cuts to the quick of what we are really seeking, despite us holding an idea that we want our loved ones to stop using and drinking. Whilst this thought is understandable, it can lead us astray and leave us feeling frustrated and powerless, whether it is achieved or not.
The clue, as is often the case, is found in CoDA’s one and the only requirement for membership. Tradition 3: “The only requirement for membership in CoDA is a desire for healthy and loving relationships”.
Our guess is that there’s not many of us who do not, underneath all the pain and anger, have this desire. Even and maybe especially the addicts themselves. It is a very inclusive statement.
CoDA Quote: “We found in each of our lives that codependence is a deeply rooted compulsive behaviour born out of our dysfunctional family systems”.
CoDA claim over a thousand meetings in the USA alone and a global presence in nearly 80 countries.
Is there something inside you seeking this?
Find out if these meetings are for you…
International Meetings http://locator.coda.org/world-meetings
USA Meetings http://locator.coda.org/usa-meetings
#6 Smart Recovery
12 Step meetings are great. They have helped so many people, both the addicts and their families and friends. But let’s be honest; they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Smart avoid words like addict and alcoholic; it works for some, but not all. Many have reservations about the ‘powerless’ bit and a real or imagined reservation about a perceived religious affiliation.
The truth is that we will find religious, atheist and agnostic types in the library, in our schools, workplaces and homes. So it makes sense that we will bump into all these types at 12 Step meetings too. If we have decided though that 12 Steps is not for us, all is not lost. In fact, a lot can be gained by attending Smart Recovery Groups.
Smart Recovery uses an evidence/science based model to help addicts and their families. At first glance, it can seem to be at odds with the 12 Step model of a ‘spiritual’ solution. We think otherwise and the key to harmony is to look for the similarities and allow the differences to be. The word ‘spiritual’ comes loaded with different ways for us all. A simple approach is just to think of the word as ‘non-physical’.
Smart Recovery work with thoughts and feelings, using thoughts as the conduit to clarity. We often see the manifestation of thought in the form of behaviour, yet the thought itself is not visible; it is not a physical, measurable commodity. AA’s Big Book points this out by setting out steps to take, to experience a “spiritual awakening” or “psychic change”. In essence, they are one and the same thing. Does it really matter what we call it?
Smart use a tool called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which is a very useful device and is similar in some ways to Byron Katie’s ‘Work’ of self-enquiry. In CBT we are encouraged to write down our actions, beliefs, and consequences, as well as the associated feelings. When we have this down on paper we have a clear view of our own psychology and are therefore better equipped to change.
Another advantage of Smart meetings is that they often allow some time in the meeting itself, to go through this ‘work’ on paper. Smart Recovery claim some 1000 or so meetings. Most are in the USA but they do have a presence in the UK, Australia and elsewhere. Like 12 Step meetings there are no fees to participate but as each group is self-supporting, a contribution for the running costs is encouraged.
So there we have it; our Top 6 resources for Families of Addicts and Alcoholics. Some you’ve heard of, some maybe not. If you feel at the end of your tether, give one or more of them a try. We are sure that one size does not fit all, but all of us fit, somewhere.
#6.5 Oh, and the extra half a resource? Meditation.
Support group or not, as little as 10 minutes a day can work wonders using meditation. It is a really useful tool to get some space between our SELVES and our THOUGHTS. And today it’s a lot simpler and more accessible than ever.
Our favourite is free App called Headspace, you can go to their website, download it, and start meditating straight away. Give yourself just half a chance. It’s okay to have some focus on the addict, but let’s split it 50/50. The chances are, if we give ourselves half a chance, we’ll have something to give the addict.