Ex­am­in­ing the dy­nam­ics of the trau­ma­tized fam­ily

Cecil Whig - - & - L ORRI I RRGANG

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.

— Other than get­ting di­vorced, ad­dic­tion is a true cat­a­lyst for tear­ing a fam­ily apart. Each mem­ber sur­round­ing the ad­dicted loved one falls into a dif­fer­ent range of ev­ery­day func­tion­ing. Some in­ter­nal­ize these dif­fer­ences and some


ex­hibit them in how they go about their rou­tines.

No one liv­ing with an ad­dicted loved one can elude his or her in­di­vid­ual bal­ance be­ing al­tered. This leads to per­sonal changes that may not be un­der­stood with any sem­blance of com­pas­sion by those who do not have a per­sonal con­nec­tion to sub­stance use dis­or­der. The truth is be­cause the ad­dict is fluc­tu­at­ing be­tween rou­tine be­hav­iors and may­hem them­selves, so are the peo­ple who love them.

As fam­ily mem­bers are on the roller coaster ride, be­ing over­whelmed be­comes a nat­u­ral part of ev­ery­day life. The high in­ten­sity of emo­tions that I en­coun­tered were al­ter­nated with want­ing to with­draw and iso­late. When I would reach shut­down mode, I was pro­tected like a cir­cuit breaker that flips when the wattage is too great for the ca­pac­ity of the cir­cuit. Dis­so­ci­at­ing al­lowed me to avoid the po­ten­tial for more emo­tional up­set. This was my trauma re­sponse. These op­po­site re­ac­tions to the stress I was liv­ing pre­sented like Jekyll and Hyde and re­quired ex­tra ef­fort on my part to reg­u­late these emo­tions. Med­i­ta­tion, yoga, mas­sage, tak­ing a long walk, sit­ting by the wa­ter or breath­ing ex­er­cises were, and still are, ways that help to quiet my mind and soul.

An ad­di­tional way the op­er­a­tional style of the fam­ily mem­ber changes is some mem­bers dis­en­gage from the sit­u­a­tion com­pletely. This is a way to avoid the pain they are feel­ing. At times my daugh­ter stopped me in my tracks with com­ments like, “I don’t want to talk about that any­more.” She would in­vite friends over or be­come en­gaged in marathon watch­ing of new tele­vi­sion se­ries.

Other mem­bers will en­mesh them­selves into the chaos. I found be­com­ing in­ter­twined with the tur­moil is what helped my ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers to feel like they were help­ing in some way. When the choice is made to en­mesh, there is less op­por­tu­nity for feel­ings of aban­don­ment for the non­ad­dict. Con­tra­dic­tory, how­ever, is the de­vel­op­ment of co-de­pen­dence.

Co-de­pen­dency is present when some­one emo­tion­ally or be­hav­iorally sup­ports an­other per­son by ex­cus­ing, deny­ing or con­ceal­ing their ad­dic­tion. (You will learn more about co-de­pen­dency in a fu­ture col­umn.) Both dis­en­gage­ment and en­mesh­ment lack bound­aries. No one wants to “rock the boat” or en­gage in dis­agree­ments, they just want to pro­tect them­selves. There is a fear that do­ing noth­ing could be con­strued as not be­ing loyal to the spouse, child or sib­ling that is ac­tively us­ing. If a non-ad­dict is bal­anced, they will nei­ther with­draw nor fuse with an­other per­son, how­ever, this is a mighty task when the one you love is suf­fer­ing with this disease.

Due to the im­bal­ance of the fam­ily dy­nam­ics, some fam­ily mem­bers will over­func­tion in or­der to make up for the fam­ily mem­bers who are un­der-func­tion­ing. Older chil­dren will par­ent their younger sib­lings when their par­ent(s) can’t get out of bed. Chil­dren will try to “be ex­tra good” in or­der to gain pos­i­tive praise. My daugh­ter over­achieved aca­dem­i­cally in school. Ad­versely, some mem­bers freeze like a deer in the head­lights. They sim­ply can’t get them­selves to­gether in or­der to re­sume daily rou­tines or ad­here to obli­ga­tions. An ex­am­ple of this is when par­ents can­not get to work, can­not meet their quo­tas at work, don’t cook din­ner for the fam­ily or clean the house. A learned help­less­ness de­vel­ops as a re­sponse to feel­ing like there is noth­ing that can be done to stop the in­san­ity of ad­dic­tion, so why do any­thing at all?

My next three col­umns will “Shift the Fo­cus” from the fam­ily as a unit to the adults/par­ents liv­ing with ad­dicted loved ones. Specif­i­cally, the top­ics cov­ered will in­clude the char­ac­ter­is­tics that par­ents of drug abusers pos­sess, what can hap­pen phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally if the trauma of par­ent­ing a sub­stance user is ig­nored, and sug­ges­tions to start your per­sonal heal­ing process.

If you would like to reach out about some­thing you have read in “Shift the Fo­cus,” or if you feel per­sonal con­sult­ing would help you to sur­vive your jour­ney whether your loved one is ac­tively us­ing or in re­cov­ery, please feel free to reach me through my web­site at www. adafam­i­ly­trauma.net, on FB at www.face­book.com/adafam­i­ly­trauma/ or by email at lfry@adafam­i­ly­trauma.net.

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