Editor's note: The following column is part of an occasional series by Melissa Perrell, patient advocacy officer and vice president of patient services at Novant Health. See links to all installments below.
When I first shared my story with Novant Health team members, my heart ached as I read their comments, emails and text messages in response to my article, "Loving someone with addiction: Part 1." Unfortunately, Jackson's story is not unique and there is brokenness all around. Many of them have shared with me their personal tragedies of losing someone they love to overdose. Every time I hear of another death resulting from addiction, I am filled with sorrow. It also makes me all the more grateful for Jackson's recovery and is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about doing something to help those who are suffering – addicts and those who love them.
The importance of taking care of yourself
The best advice I can give to anyone who loves an addict is take care of yourself. You can't change an addict; the only person you can change is you. Start by going to Al-anon or another 12-step meeting (Note: There are 12-step meetings for loved ones of almost any type of addiction. These meetings are free and you can find them in almost any city).
Some of you may be wondering why do we need recovery if we aren't the one with the addiction? I needed recovery because I was greatly impacted by someone else's addiction. For a long time, I spent so much time and effort focusing on "what was best" for the addict that I lost sight of my own needs, desires and feelings. I neglected my physical and emotional health and felt like I was on a roller coaster depending on how well the addict seemed at any given time.
When I stopped focusing so much on him and turned my attention to the only person I can control — me — I began to experience peace and healing.
Their addiction is not your fault
One of the first things I learned about addiction is the "3 Cs": I didn't cause it. I can't control it. I can't cure it. Many of our team members wrote to me sharing that they felt like a bad parent because of their child's actions. To anyone who has felt the same way, please hear me: Your parenting did not cause your child to become an addict. Nothing that you did caused this. Addiction is a disease. It is really not your fault! You aren't responsible for someone else's addiction. This is true regardless of the type of addiction and regardless of your relationship to the addict. If you are an adult child of an alcoholic and somehow believe that your parent's addiction is because of something you did, please let that go. If your husband or wife is addicted to sex or pornography, it is imperative that you understand that it has nothing to do with you. You are an amazing and beautiful person!
For a long time, I held on to the illusion of control. If I drug tested him regularly or took away his phone, I believed I could control Jackson's drug use. I now understand that there is nothing I can do to control an addict's behavior.
I also cannot cure the addiction. My attempts to analyze the behavior so that I could understand it (and stop it) were not helpful because addiction is not logical. It took me a long time to realize that it is not possible to make sense of crazy behavior. Addiction thrives in secrecy and lies, so no matter what I thought I knew about the situation, it was never the whole story. Many, many times, I was manipulated into focusing on one aspect of the problem to keep me from discovering the whole truth.
I also thought that if I could just find the right treatment approach, everything would be okay. I learned that there is no counselor, psychiatrist, medication, treatment program or other intervention (and no amount of begging, pleading, crying or raging) that can make an addict change. The only person who can change an addict is the addict. Any efforts to "help" an addict who is not ready to change will fail. Because most of Jackson's treatment was not covered by insurance, we spent thousands of dollars out of pocket getting the best help available. None of our efforts cured his addiction. Jackson became willing to change only when he hit his rock bottom in the Forsyth County Jail.
There is hope
As I shared in the last article, Jackson is doing great. He is sober and living an active recovery lifestyle. I hope and pray that he chooses recovery every day for however many days he has on this earth. But regardless of whether Jackson stays sober or not, I have the tools and confidence that I need to do great as well. My serenity is no longer dependent on him or anyone else. Please know that you also can experience the gifts of recovery — peace, serenity and freedom — regardless of your circumstances and whether the addict in your life chooses recovery or not. There is hope and healing. It begins with you.
In the next article, I will share some practical tips for relating to someone in addiction.
Loving someone with addiction:
Freedom in focusing on myself: Part 2
Practical guidance on self-care: Part 3
Are you helping or enabling? : Part 4
go: Part 5