Addiction — A true catalyst for family destruction
Editor’s note: Ever since the Whig concluded its “Voices of Recovery” series last fall, many have asked the paper to continue discussing recovery and addiction. As an extension of that focus, we now present “Shift the Focus” an every-other-week column by Lorri Irrgang, a local author, recovery advocate and mother of someone in recovery. Join us as Lorri discusses many topics pertinent to the recovery movement.
— When someone first mentioned to me that living with addiction was a “traumatic” thing to deal with, I was taken aback. I was not the one with the addiction, it was my son. How could it be considered traumatic for me? Because the path of addiction is not
short, this prolonged stress took a toll on my emotional and physical state. I had no tools, nor the confidence, to remove myself from the chaos when my journey began.
In my previous column, I touched upon the importance of expressing one’s feelings. When the pain from addiction is not “talked out”, it will get “acted out.” This can be seen either through impulsive behaviors or opposing demanding, strict behaviors. The impulsive behavior releases the pent up feelings and manages to get attention, even if it is negative. It may be seen through anger, rage, yelling, overspending, underspending, promiscuity or collapsing into helplessness.
The opposite behavior presents as control. Looking back, I realized that I had adopted this behavior because it falsely helped me to feel that things were not falling apart inwardly or outwardly. I developed an inaccurate sense of security that I could somehow yield different results by managing the chaos that had escalated in my world. I initially tightened up on rules and daily routines/schedules for my daughter. My rigidity triggered her to exhibit impulsive behaviors of anger and blame that I had never seen in her. I learned to selfregulate my feelings and actions in order to maintain a positive relationship with the “healthy child” in my family. I also felt it was my responsibility to set an example of a wholesome way to deal with stress. I was discovering that my actions/ reactions could make a difference with my daughter and influence her in a positive way. Whereas anything I was doing for my son was superfluous and disregarded by him.
In addition to becoming more controlling, I realized I deflected my anxiety and pain by attending to my daughter’s needs rather than my own. Not because she asked for more care or because I had a genuine awareness of her needs, but because it was easier. I was incapable of identifying my own needs because I had so many raw feelings. Therefore, I was over-caring for my daughter as I was neglecting what would provide balance and healthy living for myself. Parents who themselves have difficulty functioning each day will neglect the family’s needs while subsequently devoting their time to sleeping, watching TV or obsessing over work. This enables them to avoid “feeling” or “dealing” with life. It also creates an atmosphere of potential neglect for any of the healthy children in the family. Both of these scenarios can manifest into an inability for children to trust the ones they love to be there for them.
As my daughter and I continued to worry and as we tried to refrain from reacting to our fears, I noticed we were each falling into different patterns of behavior. We desperately had a need for a closer bond with each other for a sense of protection. At times we would find ourselves holding each other crying and other times we would just sit in silence in the same room. Then there were times when we were doing the opposite: we were withdrawing from our close relationship, isolating, angry and upset with each other. This was a sort of “trauma bonding” that we developed without even realizing it.
Although the word “bonding” has a positive connotation, trauma bonding in relation to addiction is the contrary. As the mother, I felt stuck as I observed my son’s self-destructive behaviors. I knew there was nothing I could do about it. My daughter’s respect for her brother made it almost impossible to understand why he would choose this path. Her reality became a separate entity from the brother she loved so much. The repetitive discussions, debates and arguments with my son ended in a stalemate each and every time. It was impossible to detach from him even though we knew we could not trust him. Honestly, we didn’t even really like him during this time! It was so difficult to completely disconnect because of the elusive hope that “we” could fix this problem.
Part two of this column, “Dynamics of the Traumatized Family,” will be in print on Oct. 28. It will cover the different roles or characteristics that family members will take on while living with someone with substance use disorder.
Please feel free to reach out through my website at www. adafamilytrauma. net. Share your story or your thoughts. Ask questions and share topics you would like to see covered in upcoming columns. I look forward to hearing from you!