By Jerry Law D.Min, MDAAC, CIP, Program Director of Family Education and Leadership Training for Meadows Behavioral Healthcare
Dave and Sue were immediately hit with that sinking feeling in the gut having received a call that their son was arrested for solicitation of a sex worker.
Tammy found a suspicious e-mail that led her on a search of the family laptop only to find evidence of thousands of porn downloads for which her husband was responsible.
Sarah woke up and found herself in the bed of a man she barely knew and had just met at a sales conference last night and was terrified that her fiancé would find out.
Tom was just fired from a job he has held for the past ten years due to his use of a company credit card to hire an escort while on a business trip and now faced the dread of breaking the news to his family.
These and thousands of other stories are all too familiar for family members lost in a cloud of confusion over the deception and betrayal they experience when the truth of sex and love addictions come to light. What are family members to do when confronted by such realities?
The good news is that effective treatment is available for individuals whose lives have become entangled in these damaging and debilitating disorders. All too often, however, they are unwilling to reach out for help.
The purpose of this article is to offer guidance to family members who want their loved one to accept help, but truly don’t know where to begin.
One of the realities of addictive behaviors is that those affected quickly master “the art of deception.” They become good at hiding their behavior, masked behind denial, half-truths, and covering their tracks. They preserve the false assumptions others have about them. Honesty and integrity are the first casualties of an addiction. From a neurological perspective, the addict is impaired. The ability, to be honest, has been hijacked by the desires inherent in the disorder.
Therefore, attempts to have a rational, reasonable, logical conversation are greatly diminished and the ensuing arguments lead to great frustration on the part of the family members and often also lead to more acting out behaviors on the part of the addict.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the do’s and don’ts of dealing with someone caught up in love addiction or sex addiction.
The Do’s Of Supporting An Addicted Loved One
Do support recovery.
This must be your primary task. While that may have little meaning to you early on, it truly is the foundation upon which everything else must be built. The message you need to send to your addicted loved one, as well as the other members of your family and close friends impacted by this news, is that you will support recovery no matter what it takes.
Do educate yourself.
The amount of education on addiction available to you is remarkable. A simple Google Search of the phrase “addiction” brings up more than forty-nine million sites, and that number is growing every day. Unfortunately, not all of the information is consistent and some are downright bad. As a discerning consumer of education, you will need to be diligent in determining what information is sound and what is speculation or personal opinion.
Do ask your addicted loved one what you can do to help.
You may be surprised at what he or she will tell you.
Do listen with an open heart and mind.
This may be very difficult, especially when everything inside you wants to scream, “Have you lost your mind?”
Do be patient and practice non-judgmental communication.
Remember that well over 90 percent of all communication is non-verbal. Your body language, posture, and tone of voice speak at a much higher volume than does your voice. Remember, these behaviors are not only impairing your loved one’s judgment, it is likely that his or her cognitive abilities are impacted as well. In other words, your loved one may not be able to process information as quickly or thoroughly as in times past.
Do listen, but don’t fix.
Be patient, be open, but be honest.
Do recommend professional help.
Be discerning in how you suggest such help. Accusatory statements such as, “Man, you need help! Don’t you see it?” are likely to be met with great resistance. Your addicted loved one is living in two diametrically opposed worlds simultaneously. The person is desperate for help and at the same time will do whatever it takes to protect the disease. No, it does not make sense, but you are not dealing with a rational disease. If your loved one is willing to get help, offer to go along for support. If your addicted loved one refuses to get help, by all means, consider a professionally facilitated Intervention.
Do show love, care, and concern.
Your addicted loved one is living a world that is largely based on lies, deceit, and manipulation. As terrible is it may be, you have been deceived. The loved one you thought you knew so well has lied to you and perhaps stolen your trust as well as your possessions in order to support their habit. Be honest with your loved one. Practice rigorous honesty that takes into consideration the well-being of your loved one rather than brutal honesty that is based in “what’s best for me” or worse yet a desire to punish.
Do understand that recovery takes time.
The recovering individual most likely did not become an addict overnight. The associated behaviors may be deeply ingrained. Just because he or she is sober does not mean the problems go away easily.
Do recognize that recovery work must be done by the addict.
While the family surely has a role and each member may need to work their own program, you cannot work a program of recovery for someone else. Codependency is a disorder that can be as damaging as addiction.
The Don’ts Of Supporting An Addicted Loved One
The list of what to do in supporting an addicted loved one began with the simple recommendation to support recovery. In a similar manner, the don’ts of supporting your addicted loved one must begin with…
Don’t support the disease.
A significant number of the behaviors displayed by those closest to the addict are based on attempts to protect the addict from the consequences of his or her own choices. While such actions are generally rooted in love, they seldom lead to recovery and nearly always support the disease. The rotten truth is that anything you do to protect your loved one from the impact of his or her own choices is a form of support for the disease.
Don’t enable your loved one.
Enabling behaviors allow your loved one to continue in his or her disease. You are not helping when you do these things. You are enabling your loved one to continue down this destructive path. You are simply delaying the inevitable. Don’t enable!
Don’t lay guilt or shame on your loved one.
As much as you believe you are justified in pointing out how wrong your loved one may be or how he or she has been raised to know better, don’t give in to the temptation to blame. You will hand your loved one the very ammunition he or she is looking for to rationalize the continuation of the behavior.
Don’t make threats.
Remember, you are not dealing with a rational disease.
Don’t make promises that you cannot keep.
This goes both ways. Don’t promise to enforce consequences that you will not honor and don’t promise to support recovery in ways that are beyond your control.
Don’t use scare tactics, as they are generally futile.
Don’t offer more help than you are qualified to give.
Call on professionals in the treatment field. You will find them quite willing to help.
Don’t take it personally.
You may be called names or blamed for things you have nothing to do with. It is the disease talking, and you will need to remind yourself of this fact often. No, it is not fair that you have to deal with all of the issues that are inherent in addiction. This is the reality you are facing, however, and the sooner you recognize that the disease has a life of its own and the enemy is the disorder, not your loved one, the better.
Get Help For Yourself Too
You are in for some difficult times ahead. Accept that fact. Acceptance is not approval—it is acknowledgment. The sooner you accept what lies ahead of you the sooner you will be able to reach out for the help needed. Recovery from addiction rarely, if ever, just happens. It is the result of the consistent, daily application of the tools of recovery. Recovery is real, available, and wonderful!
Good sex addiction and love addiction treatment programs, like those at Gentle Path at The Meadows for men, and the new Willow House at The Meadows program for women, include a Family Week component. This provides families who have loved ones undergoing treatment, an opportunity to obtain cutting-edge information on recovery and to interact with the treatment professionals working there.
If you have any questions at all about The Meadows’ Family Week programs, getting help for a loved one, or getting help for yourself, please don’t hesitate to call us at 800-244-4949 or send us an email.