It’s a family dis-ease

I have seen some examples recently that remind me how much families are affected by mental illness and addiction.  The family intentionally or unintentionally does a dance around the mental illness sufferer or addict.  This is often labeled as enabling, but I have found it to be exacerbated by the lack of education, intervention, support and resources for the family members.

In some cases, the “identified patient” (IP) , the addict or severely mentally ill person has declined treatment, or will not comply with treatment recommendation such as AA, abstinence, therapy and/or medications.  Many families do not know what to do that this point, where to turn, who to ask. Families of addicts are told to attend Al-anon or Nar-anon and “work on themselves.” This is a very good recommendation, but they often need more: education, options, resources, coaching. Sometimes, they just want to ask questions like what can the addicted person expect in treatment? In AA or NA? What will change for them and us if our “IP”  takes medication, or gets sober or whatever.  A professional if better prepared to answer these questions more objectively and help the family develop a game plan, goals and initiate self-care whether or not the IP is getting treatment.

Even when the “IP” is getting treatment, family members feel left out or that they are walking on eggshells. They do not know if they can ask questions, let alone what questions to ask and how to ask them. They are reluctant to express their own concern and feelings, even optimism.  This is especially true of families with young adults who still live at home. They may understandably want to limit the family’s ability to “butt” in by not signing releases of information. At the very time the family can help, the young adult, addict or mentally ill, will decide to exert their independence.  I’m not talking about crashing boundaries here, but understanding how to communicate and realizing how all family members are affected. In fact, it is often a time to establish or reestablish boundaries, and redefine private vs. secret. It’s a time to visualize mental illness into mental wellness.

Yes, family members do need to do things to take care of themselves, but they often desperately want to know how to help the IP, and don’t want to be told to” butt out, it’s their problem. ” If they can learn healthy ways to help and support the IP while taking care of themselves, the process is less painful.

In response to this need, I will be launching my Recovery Coaching products and services over the next few months. In short, the goal is to teach families how to recover from the impact of addiction or mental illness in their family. How to return to or create equilibrium. How to set goals as a family and as individuals that promote health and a peaceful spirit.

Additionally,  many recovering addicts/alcoholics get to a point in their recovery when they no longer need therapy, but need help to envision the next step in their life journey. They may need to work on certain areas within their recovery that do not get addressed in 12-step meetings, such as mindfulness, nutrition, “secondary” addictive behaviors such as food or love.

So what can you do today? Well, you just did something by reading this post.

What else? Talk to the “IP” in your family, and simply remind them “I love you and I care about you.”

How about telling yourself: “I love you and I care about you.”

Start to learn about mindfulness: Take a few moments to sit quietly and focus on where you are in the moment. Notice where you are sitting, what is around you. Observe or witness your thoughts: who are you thinking about and how does that change when you sit quietly and simply breathe. Close your eyes, count 5-4-3-2-1 slowly, then open your eyes.  You may be surprised and delighted how centering and refreshing a mini-mind-vacation can be.

To your mental wellness!

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