It is not only an addict who becomes sick through addiction. Close family members are also affected and can exhibit signs of being deeply traumatised by the addict's disease. Often, relatives may jeopardise their own well-being, morals or financial stability to try to help the addict or alcoholic. However, the tragedy is that they are enabling the addict to continue abusing substances, and are destroying themselves in the process.
A wife's experience of life with an addict
Mary, the wife of a recovering addict at Oasis Counselling Centre in South Africa, recalls the choices she was forced to make when facing her husband's addiction:
"When my husband was using crack cocaine, I did everything I could to help him. I would go to dangerous neighbourhoods in the night to make sure he was safe. I'd pay off dealers with my salary, and didn't throw him out for selling my belongings or lying to me. I nursed him after he had binged for weeks and was ill."
"I missed work, lied to cover up his addiction, couldn't eat or sleep, ignored my friends who told me I should leave, and let him use me over and over to get out of trouble. The worst thing was that I knew deep down that as long as I kept helping him, he would keep using. But I just couldn't stop. He was my only purpose in my life; the only thing I had. I had lost everything else."
"I'll never forget the day he went into rehab. After he had gone, I stood in my lounge, a complete wreck, and thought, 'What now?' For years, my sole purpose in life was looking after him. My life was truly empty and I realised I needed help."
A new start through family counselling
After seeking help at Oasis, where her husband was a client, Mary learned of the toll addiction takes on family members. She also learned the importance of self- preservation in dealing with an addict, for her sake and her husband's.
"It took a long time to rebuild my self-esteem. But after counselling, I began to piece my life back together, and to live for myself. Through doing that, I was not only happier, but when my husband came home, I had support and was able to maintain a healthy environment for both of us."
Affected family members need to be healthy and self-respecting in order to make self-respecting choices. This in turn aids the addict in their recovery, and encourages them to take responsibility for their lives. Enabling addicts can keep them using for years. Once the addict is clean the family can be supportive, by recognising that addiction is not a moral failing, but an illness. Long-standing family dysfunction can also be addressed, making the home environment constructive and focused on recovery.
Oasis Counselling Centre
Tel: 044 533 1752