Cara O’Neill, MS., RMHCI | Director of Alumni Services
We often hear that addiction is a family disease. I have encountered many people that have a hard time accepting this. People with substance use disorders (SUDs) tend to believe that addiction recovery is all about them staying sober. I have heard patients say things like “I will do this on my own” or “this doesn’t involve my mom.” This kind of thinking occurs in the mind of the family member too. They say things like “if my son would get clean, then everything will be okay” or “he is the problem, not me.” What we have come to understand is that this type of thinking is skewed. Addiction is a family disease, and addiction affects everyone that comes in contact with it. When working with alumni and patients, I try to describe it in a simple way.
I ask people to look up at the air vent in their home or in the room they are in and imagine that addiction was flowing through that vent. It touches everyone in the room.
I have done extensive work with family members over my career at Origins, and I can tell you the stories are very similar. Family members have told me they have done all sorts of things to “help” the addicted person in their lives. As they begin to work on themselves, they see that their “help” was really enabling. This is a huge turning point for family members. This is the time they can step back and work on themselves and their own behaviors. I have seen family members with extreme anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and all sorts of other issues that have dissipated as they continue on their own journey to recovery. This journey typically begins when their loved one enters treatment or a 12 Step program. Origins provides all families with a chance to come to the Family Program. Much needed education is provided. If the patient is willing and ready, family members will have the opportunity to do clinical work with their loved one. This provides what I like to call a launching pad for family members to do more work on themselves.
There are resources out there for family members such as residential treatment, workshops, individual therapy, support groups, or 12 Step programs. All of these resources can meet the need of families facing the scourge of addiction.
Family work is a huge part of the overall work we do at Origins. I was a patient in 2005, and my mother participated in the family program. This program gave her the tools necessary to move forward on her personal journey, which continued long after I left treatment. She no longer needed to control my journey. She was able to step back and live her own life. How freeing is that?! Over the years, I have watched families unite and reunite, and it has been a blessing. Our relationships with our families don’t heal overnight, but when we put in the effort, we do see results. Maybe the person with a substance use disorder in your life keeps using – and maybe he doesn’t. The fact is that when family members recover themselves, what the addicted person is or isn’t doing no longer affects how they feel about themselves. Letting go and giving up control is the key to freedom. With this newfound freedom, family members will finally experience the peace they have been searching for.
Helping families is a critical part of our mission. We offer support resources for family members while their loved one is in treatment, and we also provide ongoing support once your loved one moves to the next phase of their recovery. If you are the family member of an alum, please feel free to join our family app by texting ORIGINS to 30678.