BY: T. Franklin Murphy | September 1, 2018 (modified January 19, 2023)
When a loved one has succumb to chemical addiction, families easily get lost in the illogical arguments. The addiction becomes family problem stealing everyone's sanity.
The mind of the addict functions differently, coloring outside normal lines. When we use our conceptual norms to understand the logic of an addict, our hopes continually shatter against a reality we don't understand. Our predictable patterns can’t be cast on the mind of the deranged. Simple contracts of agreement, effective with us, do not motivate the junkie. Logical arguments can’t be made with the illogical. Simple truths are debatable and facts are disregarded when used in conversation with an addict.
When chasing highs and in need, the family’s efforts to fastidiously keep their end of a bargain is questioned, the blurred mind misrepresents facts, depicting the past in almost comical reconstructions that twist the known, implying that the helpful are actually cruel, but themselves (the user) is the normal one. The constant remapping of reality, done with such fervor, often leads those with common sense to question their own sanity.
Bargaining Over Sobriety
What does the family gain out of their knightly effort to save? Their driving need for normalcy seeks an escape from the madness of addiction. The loved ones simply desire the wayward child or spouse (or parent) to quit. Period. Ultimately, recovery is not the families choice, and success is beyond their control. The family, particularly parents, willingly exchange money, housing and concessions hoping to secure their abstinence goal—recovery. The user holds the power—it’s their problem, and their recovery.
"Addiction is complex, and it’s okay if you don’t know everything right away. However, taking the time to understand your loved one’s disease and how it affects them is incredibly beneficial to both you and your loved one." ~Jonathan Strum | The Recovery Village
The constant heart ache becomes a bargaining chip; often used to manipulate. “But I’ve been clean,” they say, “and you don’t trust me.” Cutting words fly, doors slam, and meanness permeates. Parents and loved ones aren't stupid. They know things are not right yet. They have been through this cycle too many times. The family timidly reminds of the blatant violations and past broken promises. Forgetting that logic doesn’t live here.
The weapons of honesty and trust are ruthlessly dragged into every conflict. “I’ve been honest, so you must trust.” Somehow the ‘live-in-the-moment’ attitude misses the sacrifice that accompanies virtuous character traits, rewards not given for a single good deed. Even psychopathic liars tell the truth sometimes. One positive act doesn’t trim the choking vines grown from long patterns of disregard.
Demands For Trust
In a baffling volley of insanity, the deceiver expects to be rewarded trust when their honesty is unproven. They are aghast we don’t believe (even when they lie). They expect that a well contrived lie be treated as good as transparency, “if I am clever enough to deceive, then I should be trusted.” We see this same psychopathic expectation from many political leaders.
The past and the future are enemies to the addict. Those chronically intoxicated rely on addictions to escape discomfort. The past reminds of horror. The future spurs hopelessness. So, the addict chooses adaptations that relieve in the present. Lacking coping skills to skillfully navigate through discomfort, they avoid learning from the past or sacrificing for the future. The addict chases tranquility with a narrowness of vision, limited to immediate fulfillment.
"The challenge with addiction is that the addict is not the only one impacted by this disease. Family and friends can have difficulty with the addict’s behavior, financial problems, legal problems and the daily struggle of supporting a loved one." ~Daily Health Wire
However, trust is not an all or nothing state. Family members must be willing to vulnerably offer trust when recovery begins to take whole. Small slivers at first and more as the trust given is honored.
We Can't Force Sobriety
The addict's family’s determination to force sobriety eventually discourages. Unable to combat the craziness with logic, they absorb the onslaught of unsupported accusations; the addict still has the power. Hopeful loved ones know if the addict leaves, he carries with him the hope for change; he (or she) alone controls the next snort, inhale, or injection.
"Everyone is different. Recovery for one person may mean total abstinence from drugs. For another, it could mean cutting back or staying mostly drug-free. Being too rigid in your expectations can lead to disappointment and a sense of failure, even if your loved one finds stability in their life again." ~Lawrence Robinson and Melinda Smith, M.A. | Helpguide.org
Stupefied, the family continues to argue with fact, citing the past as evidence, forgetting that logic doesn’t live here, and facts are irrelevant. The family colors within the lines, while failing to outwit those who have no such constraints.
The cry of lunacy shrieks, “I’m breaking my end of the bargain, you are keeping yours—how come you don’t trust me?” But we submit, buy into the lunacy, sacrifice our logic, in hopes of sobriety—their sobriety and give again; and oddly, in a way, our own sobriety is sacrificed, and the madness of addiction becomes our own.
Changing Destructive Relationship Cycles
How do we withdraw from this painful cycle? How do you support someone with no shared conceptual similarities? We rely on facts, history and hopes to direct behavior but these don't existent in the addict’s decision-making processes.
While we find hope in a long-term plan, the addict is focusing on immediate benefits, oblivious to long-term goals. We ignorantly believe in promises, looking at the week, month or years entwined with a new agreement, while the addict only sees the immediate benefits of a bed and a meal for another night—a momentary fix of human comfort.
"If you want them to change, you will probably have to change too, even if you don’t have an addiction. If you show you are willing to try, your loved one will be more likely to try as well." ~Elizabeth Hartney, MA, PhD | verywellmind
They don’t purposely promise knowing the contract will be broken—at least most don’t. But their weak hold on the future, doesn’t grasp the implications of a commitment. At the time of need, the benefits are more salient, shortly after, the saliency fades, while the sacrifices being paid loom large. Broken commitments are wrongfully considered acceptable if accompanied by an excuse.
We can't force sobriety. We can't mandate recovery. We can, however, carefully move forward, giving opportunity for success and support. It is a difficult path, weighing helpful actions against enabling giving. Sometimes the right choice is to kick a loved one out; other times to invite them home. Arguments don't work. Soft encouragement sometimes does. Exactness in reasonable expectations is essential. When deals are agreed upon, at the beginning, the person struggling with addiction must complete their end of the promise first. The family, above all, must seek support, finding ways to balance their wellbeing during this momentous task that likely will last years.