Family and Friends

What Did Adam Lanza Have In Common With Us Addicts?

Family secrets.

Family secrets are those things that everyone close to a person or situation knows or suspects, but never talks about. Often the thoughts aren’t even put into words. When they are, they come with adjurations: “It’s no one else’s business!” “What would people think?” “We don’t want people sticking their noses into…!” “It would ruin his (life) (career) (reputation)!” “We don’t talk about that!” “How dare you say that about your uncle!” And so forth.

Frequently such secrets involve substance abuse. Just as often, they hide other sorts of abuse, addiction, and other unhealthy behavior from child molestation to spousal abuse, bingeing and anorexia to cluttering. In every case, this pervasive form of denial prevents individuals and families from getting the help they need.  And all too often it “protects” people with mental illnesses. Failure of a variety of people to look at the facts and deal with unpleasant issues prevented Adam Lanza from receiving the evaluation and treatment that he needed.

If Adam Lanza’s mother had sought help when she noticed his peculiar behavior, instead of convincing herself that he was merely suffering from a mild form of Aspergers Syndrome (which does not involve the same sorts of behaviors at all), things may have been completely different. If the other folks in his life, from family members to teachers, guidance counselors and other professionals with whom he crossed paths over the years had not failed to take the extra steps necessary to bring attention to his problems, things may have been completely different. If his mother had not had a perverse streak that caused her to keep firearms in a home with a troubled family member…. If… If… If…

My point here is not to defend Adam Lanza. What I’m trying to do is point out that keeping secrets does not enhance other people’s lives. People with self-destructive behaviors — whether they are using drugs, mentally unstable, or otherwise functioning outside the boundaries of a healthy life — are the business of the people around them. The havoc wreaked every day by people who are having difficulty controlling their lives and impulses affects us all, in one way or another.

And then there was Adam Lanza, and the others.

Hosting An Addict At A Holiday Party

If you're wondering how to deal with a loved one's addiction issues while still making them welcome at a holiday party, this previous post by blogger Bill W. may provide some help and assurance.

Folks in the addiction and alcoholism treatment fields are often asked about how a host should handle a holiday party attended by recovering friends. Social occasions that involve people in recovery, especially those in early recovery — can pose some perplexing problems for a host.

On one hand, a host who is aware of a guest’s need to avoid mood-altering substances may wish to do what is possible to keep from exposing them to temptation. On the other hand, social drinking is a part of everyday American culture. Most social gatherings involve some drinking by some of the guests, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, for some of us, it might not be the healthiest of environments, and a host may be at a loss as to how she ought to deal with guests who are in recovery. Here are some pointers on how to handle this delicate situation while, at the same time, being fair to all.

Read more:

Happy Thanksgiving To Our Alumni And Staff!

Sunrise Detox is about people, so we'd like to mention a few that we're thankful for this holiday season.

We're thankful for our dedicated people at Sunrise Detox in Lake Worth and New Jersey.  We're thankful for the professionals who worked to get Sunrise Detox Ft. Lauderdale up and running, and who helped us successfully pass our Joint Commission inspection last week.  We're thankful for our marketers and the folks who are busy preparing for our planned facilities elsewhere, especially the leaders who work so hard to help Sunrise grow and maintain its professional standards.  We're thankful for our housekeepers, maintenance, techs, nursing staff, therapists and office support personnel.  Sunrise wouldn't exist without you.

And  we're thankful for our clients.  You are not only our reason for being, you are the measure of our success.  We operate an unusual business, measured by the customers who don't return.  Each of you who walks out our doors carries our heartfelt wish that you succeed.  Some of you go on to treatment and the 12-step rooms, and others choose different paths.  Our hopes go with you all.  We're thankful, too, for those who do return to us — thankful that you made it back, that the disease of addiction was cheated one more time, and that you'll have another chance.

So this holiday season, and especially on Thanksgiving, we have a lot to be grateful for.  If we did a gratitude list, it would be far too long, so we simply say to all of you…


Newly-Recovering People Need TLC At Holiday Time

During the Thanksgiving holidays, families come together and appreciate each other while giving thanks for the blessings of the past year.  They are loaded with emotion, and can be particularly stressful for families with members who are attending clean and sober for the first time.  There may be old wounds that have not healed, others in the family may still be drinking or using other drugs, and the emotions and memories of other holidays may make it difficult for everyone to remain calm.

Family gatherings are not the time to discuss old hurts, examine old scars, or hold people accountable for their past.  This is equally true of the non-addict members.  It is difficult to be thankful for your blessings if someone is starting an argument — or worse — at the dinner table.

We need to look at these things ahead of time.  Certainly the one thing that no one wants is for their addict to relapse, and everyone needs to remember that stress is a primary cause of relapse.  It is good if all family members are aware of this, and determine to keep the gathering calm and under control.  Also, be aware that some members may have hidden agendas with regard to the newly-sober person.  They may miss their drinking or drugging buddy, and put pressure on him or her to join them in one last fling.  Try to intervene without being obvious, changing the subject and removing the addict from the line of fire if possible.

As far as the recovering person goes, make them aware that you know they may be ill at ease, but that they should remember that they are loved.  Encourage them to bring a sober friend who can offer support.  Be sure that they have a beverage that does not contain alcohol.  If they have empty hands, someone is likely to offer them something to drink that may not be good for them.  Make sure that they have transportation, if they are not staying at home, and that they can be assured privacy if they are.  Let them know that you understand that they may have to step away from the party for a few minutes, or even leave early, and that it is fine if they do so.

Thanksgiving means homecoming.  In many ways, this will be your addict or alcoholic’s first homecoming in years.  If there are to be others, it is a good idea to make this one as pleasant as possible.

Take Especially Good Care of Yourself After the Storm

Winter Storm Athena has again slammed the Northeast with snow, ice, power outages, freezing temperatures and the hardships that go with them. Coming so soon on the heels of Sandy, this added stress will be hard on people in recovery, especially on folks just out of detox or treatment.

Experts tell us that Sandy and similar disasters rank extremely high on the stress scale, even for people whe are not themselves severely affected. Stress is one of the primary relapse triggers. People in recovery need to make extra efforts in their programs during such times, and travel and communications difficulties may make this hard.

Sunrise suggests that folks faced with these additional pressures on their recovery should avail themselves of whatever resources they can. For those completely cut off from contact with other recovering people, we recommend not isolating. Try to remain in the company of others. Distract yourself with chores or reading — especially reading about recovery. If you have recovery tapes or MP3's, listen to a few. Journal. Write down your feelings about what you are experiencing, and things that you are learning about yourself.

If you have Internet access (as you almost certainly do if you're reading this), search for “online recovery groups” and reach out to them. Someone on the other end may need support, too, and there is nothing like another recovering person to help us weather storms, of whatever kind. If you are able, reach out by phone to members of your own support group, especially sponsors. If possible, get to a meeting. Perhaps an impromptu meeting could be arranged among a few recovering friends. You don't need a meeting hall.

Those close to recovering people need to understand that the stress could be dangerous to their loved one or friend. Without clinging or being annoying, try to include them in anything that may be going on to distract them. Helping with cooking, playing cards, board games, sing-alongs and other communal activities can raise the spirits of all involved.  Many have found that periods without distractions, such as TV and the other factors of our busy lives, have brought them closer to their loved ones and neighbors.

We also recommend that you get to a meeting as soon as you can. The other folks who have been impacted by the storm need your support just as much as you need theirs. Take care of yourself. Nothing…nothing…is worth adding the tragedy of relapse onto problems caused by the weather.

Support Groups For Families And Friends

In the previous installment of this series on recovery programs, I discussed some of the reasons why family members, friends and even employers of folks addicted to drugs (including alcohol) may need to seek some support for themselves.  In this one, we'll talk about support groups.

These issues can all be lumped under the term “codependency.” However, the word has become so over-used, both inside and outside the recovery community, that many people tend to blow off discussions about it. That’s a shame, because addiction to alcohol and other drugs affects practically everyone in our society in one way or another. From time to time we all need to deal with an addict “up close and personal,” and most of us have no idea how to go about it. That lack of understanding can do considerable damage, to the addict and ourselves.

I’ve written about enabling several times on this blog, and you can find some of those articles here. The bottom line, however, is simply that “helping” an addict in any way that makes it easier for her to live her life while continuing her addiction is enabling the continuation of the addiction. We addicts are experts at using charm, lies, guilt and anger to influence the people around us. Unless those folks come to understand the way we operate, and the truly effective ways of helping us, they are only helping us down the road to jails, institutions and death.

Effective intervention with an addict or substance abuser, if indicated, requires the help of a professional as a sort of referee, and to assist us in making plans. However, the best guidance for families and others dealing with addicts often comes from other folks who have gone through the same process of learning about their own denial and how to work through it and other codependency issues.

How many times have you tried to open up with a friend, only to get a lot of unwanted advice from a person who clearly has no idea what you’re going through? Or, how many times have you wanted someone to talk to — someone who can understand — and not known where to find one. The support groups for families and friends are a safe source of understanding and useful information about subjects that are often family secrets, unspoken by anyone.

The first such support group was Al-Anon, founded by Lois Wilson and Anne Smith, wives of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Now formally known as Al-Anon Family Groups, and made up of the original Ala-Anon plus Alateen (for kids of alcoholics), it is still the largest and widest-spread fellowship of its kind. Over the 50+ years of its existence, the collective wisdom of the fellowship in how to remain sane while loving a drunk has become enormous — and invaluable.

Other groups, no less important, that have sprouted off of Al-Anon include

  • Nar-Anon for those affected by people addicted to drugs other than alcohol
  • Gam-Anon for people close to compulsive gamblers
  • Codependents Anonymous (CODA), dedicated to developing healthy relationships of all kinds
  • COSA, a recovery program for men and women whose lives have been affected by someone else's compulsive sexual behavior
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), for adults dealing with family of origin issues

and several dozen others. The list above is for purposes of illustration, and not to imply endorsement of any one program over another.

These groups, along with many others, are easily available by searching for “family+support+(your+issue+here)”. Example: family+support+sex+addict gives us a huge selection of support groups, resources, and even online meetings for people dealing with someone else’s sexual behavior.

By no means should we ignore online supports. Often we are unable to find an appropriate meeting, embarrassed to open up in front of others, or perhaps we are even ashamed to be seen entering one. There are literally hundreds of online support groups for every sort of addiction and families of addicts. Two minutes of searching can turn up the one we need to get started on the road to emotional help, and to the skills needed to deal with our addicted loved ones.  We ought always to keep in mind, however, that sometimes there is nothing like talking face to face, or a warm hug, from someone who truly understands.

Our first responsibility is to ourselves.  We need to find ourselves in order to live our own lives.  We can't help anyone until we face that truth and act on it.    We can make changes only in ourselves.  We may, or may not, be able to influence our addict, but we need to admit to ourselves that the problem is partially ours, let go of our useless attempts to control, and learn to detach with love.

For our own sakes, and theirs.

My thanks to Michele O. Webb CAP, ICADC for her assistance.


Families Need Support Too

We always encourage family members to seek counseling, because active addicts, along with inactive ones who are not in recovery (dry drunks), make everyone around them a little bit crazy.  The uncertainty, disappointments, emotional and — often — physical mistreatment, and the other aspects of loving an addict are not the ingredients of good emotional and physical health.  And then there’s the anger.

Anger is a perfectly normal emotion with an essential purpose: it keeps us from becoming incapacitated by fear.  Along with denial, it gives us the energy to work our way past the obstacles that we run across in life.  If we believed every negative thing that was said about us, or if we allowed ourselves to be stymied by the many obstacles that crop up in our day to day existence, we’d never get anything done.  

These things hinder us not only because they’re in our way, but because they bring fear along with them — fear of failure, fear that we’ll look bad, fear that we won’t measure up to our own self-image or the expectations of others, and fear of economic, social, or physical injury.  Anger and its little sisters indignation and annoyance give us the energy to overcome those fears, big and small, real or imagined, and to move onward.  To put it another way, no one functions well when they feel powerless or vulnerable, and anger helps us feel powerful.

Of course when anger gets out of control (rage), or we allow it to become habitual (resentments), it causes problems.  This can happen because we enjoy the feeling of power, or — because one of the characteristics of anger is tunnel-vision — it can help us overlook our own part in things, and make it easier to shift blame to the other party.  Anger depersonalizes our adversaries and makes it easier for us to justify our own behavior toward them.  All of these things have their uses, but they can obviously be seriously misused, as well.  Furthermore, over time, these ways of thinking about individuals and the world can become ingrained, and extremely difficult to change when they are no longer of use.  

Finally — but by no means least important — the physical changes that are produced by unresolved anger (undischarged energy) can be long-lasting and can create physical problems that are often fatal.  Stress-related diseases such as cardiovascular complications, eating disorders, other addictive disorders, diabetes, depression, frequent illness, and non-specific pain issues such as chronic head, neck and back pain can all be results of unresolved anger.

Anger doesn’t go away by itself.  If it isn’t discharged by physical and/or emotional release, or if it isn’t dug out, examined, and allowed to run its course, it will continue to produce stress and make life difficult.  This is especially difficult for family members of alcoholics and other addicts, because it isn’t “nice” to be angry in our culture, especially at family members, and practically never at authority figures lest they discharge some of their own anger issues in our direction.  Children are required to respect older people, for example, even when they have irrevocably proven themselves unworthy.  Talk about powerless…

So, families of addicts almost always have anger issues to address.  There are probably other things as well.  Children, in particular, have a tendency to blame their parents' problems on themselves, and those things need to be addressed.  Emotionally abused family members can add self-esteem issues to their anger, and everyone has resentments: birthdays missed, money misspent, obligations unmet…and on, and on.

It’s imperative that these things be put to rights.  Whether or not the alcoholic/addict stays clean, whether or not the family stays together, every one of the members have their lives irrevocably changed.  Unless the damage of those changes is dealt with, none of them will have the lives they deserve.  In the next article, we’ll discuss some options.