By Jessica Brothers, LPC
“I just want you to know that my sister is a good person. Growing up, she was very active, people always liked being around her, she was beautiful, and she was so smart. While I had to study pretty hard to make the grades that I did, she could do well, even without the same effort. We were raised in church, and our parents mostly treated us the same. My sister is also an addict.” This is part of many stories I hear from families that bring their mothers, daughters, sisters, and loved ones to treatment.
One of the things families often stress to me is, “this is a good person.” Society makes it easy to assume that alcoholics and drug addicts are bad people. Easy, that is, until it happens to you and your family. You start to realize that there is more to addiction than the stereotype. It isn’t that those who struggle with addiction are bad – it is that the good person underneath the addiction is struggling to be seen.
Why am I saying this? Why does it matter? Because we love them. So, while you might think, “I didn’t sign up for this, “ you will often fight for them because you love them. You want them back, free of all the chaos addiction creates, because you love and care for them, and want a relationship with them.
Relationships matter because people are created to connect with one another. In fact, the argument could be made that being in relationships is one of life’s primary goals. How does this happen, though? As we develop, we go through a process of child-like dependence on mom and dad, to being an adult that is fully capable of being independent. The goal is for an individual to become self-sufficient, differentiated, and autonomous before being able to search for intimacy with someone else. Ultimately, being in relationships matter to the maturation process.
In the journey to addiction, an individual’s life becomes more and more about the substance they are using, and the behaviors of getting that substance. Because women are more likely to be motivated by connection, they often use alcohol or drugs to make or keep connections. As people, whether men or women, begin to use more and more, becoming dependent on the substance to feel like they can still function, their lives actually begin to constrict around them. Their world narrows until the only relationship they care about is with their substance. By the time they have reached “the bottom”, most individuals verbalize that they don’t even recognize themselves anymore – thereby losing that final relationship with one’s self.
Addiction treatment helps individuals begin to recognize not just how narrow their world has become, but to identify ways to connect with themselves and others again, and “the good person” in them begins to come out. This connection between physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual processes of recovery from their substance allows the person’s life to expand again.