I asked Tom, “What are you REALLY willing to do in order to get your daughter off of heroin?”
In some cases, when I ask this simple question of the family enabler, I get “I don’t know. You tell me.”
That’s when I explain a few of the ways I can help people start down a new path. The changes they make as a result of our work together often lead clients to see a change in their loved one’s behavior as well. Of course, getting there takes commitment on the part of the family member. First, it is a willingness to start down the new path, but of course there’s more. I’ll talk about the other behavior, which can make the difference between whether a loved one keeps using or gets sober, next week.
Sometimes, members of the family say, “Well, I will do whatever it takes!” and then I never see them again. They are not available. They are too busy. They don’t like the approach. Another family member ends up leading the way in their family (if the addict is a child, it’s often the mom leading the way. If a spouse, then, their spouse or one of the adult children or a sibling)
At this point, I’d like to ask you, are you Millie, the once timid now determined boundary setter, or Tom, the active enabler, in your family? And if you have been Tom, are you ready to stop enabling and find a new way to relate to your loved ones?
Or are you Sally, the enabling grandma who just won’t stop. As you can see, it is a family affair, whether you choose to participate or not. In Sally’s case, her enabling almost destroyed all of the work Tom and Millie began to do, but more about Sally later.
Now back to Tom. Tom really thought through what he said and was ready, really ready to become a part of his own “change journey”. His daughter getting arrested for heroin charges blew his “everything’s going great” cover so there was no use keeping that lie going.
Then it happened. Tom committed to his own recovery and taking responsibility. We started, just as I described last week in the story about Millie, with observation. That went well. He came back the following week with an understanding of how out of control his giving was. He noticed that he didn’t want his kids to suffer and he saw himself as singularly able to stop that suffering by giving of himself: his money, his advice, his gifts, whatever they wanted and even more than that.
“I found that I just feel better when I’m giving to my kids,” he said. It’s like a burden not to give, and it fills me with a sense of fear that they will go without or worse, that they will reject me.”
“When I noticed the fleeting thought of holding back, I found myself actually starting to panic inside and, I started to break out in a sweat,” he admitted. At that point, Tom just gave in to the need to give and did it anyway. And that’s when we moved on to the next tip. I mentioned I would discuss this tip when I told you about Millie. It is a powerful, simple tip to get you through hard moments.
Frustrated Family Member Tip #5: Breathe through each transition. When you find yourself about to do an old behavior that you now know won’t help, pause for a moment and breathe.
(Might sound simple or even silly, but for many of the people I work with, this simple step is a life saver. And there are so many ways to introduce this technique of Breathe through each moment into your life. The work I do with my clients includes finding the way that works for them)
For our purposes here, I’ll share what worked for Tom. First, we just started with transitional breathing:
Every time you move from one activity to another, pause for a moment, take a deep soft breath in, take action, and then breathe out. For instance, when picking up the phone:
1. The phone rings
3. Take a breath
4. Reach for the phone
5. Breathe out
6. Say hello
7. Have your conversation
8. Say good bye
10. Breathe in
11. Hang up the phone
12. Breathe out.
Transitional breaths get you in the habit of slowing down and being more purposeful in each action. You can do them before opening a door, when walking from one room to another, when getting into the car, etc. The idea is to simply slow down and be conscious of each moment as you are living it. Hence, the name of the tip: Breathe through each moment.
Tom practiced this one and a light bulb went off in his head.
“Wow,” he said. “I did this before my daughter called and the terror I often feel when the phone rings became clear to me and even subsided a bit.I was able to think a bit more clearly on the phone with her and when she asked me for money, I paused, took a breath, and told her I’d think about it. I couldn’t say no yet, but at least I didn’t say yes.”
(Progress in recovery doesn’t always come in huge gulps. Tom’s ability to see his behavior and pause is powerful. How could this tip help you?)
Once he put this transitional habit into practice, we began to talk about other ways to “Breathe Through Each Moment”.
Frustrated Family Member Tip #6: Focus on the Task at Hand. When the world seems to be spinning out of control, calm down by narrowing the scope of your attention and putting every drop of your mental energy on whatever task you are engaged in at the moment.
For instance, if you are driving the car, become aware of your hands on the steering wheel, your eyes on the road, your feet on the pedals, and your rear end on the seat.
Speak the words of what you are doing out loud as you do it in order to keep your attention focused on what you are doing and off of whatever your mind had been obsessing on up until that point.
The mind can only focus on one thing at a time, yet we try to multi-task ceaselessly and often get quite flustered in the process. When we truly focus on the task we are involved with, the extraneous thoughts of past, future, and ‘what if’ fade away and are replaced by peaceful concentration. We become free in that moment of anything but that moment.
Tom liked this one. He found himself combining it with “Breathing through Transitions” in that he would breathe before turning his focus to the task at hand and would use his breath to bring him back to focusing on the task before him anytime his mind started wandering back to whatever he was obsessing about.
“It was amazing,” he said. “One moment I was freaking out about where my daughter was, how she was and how could I possibly help her and the next, I was completely involved in whatever I was doing and had completely let go of the obsession.”
Next, we looked at developing a practice that would give Tom grounding in the silence he was starting to experience through his first two breathing techniques.
Frustrated Family Member Tip #7: Spend 5 minutes each morning, noon and night focusing on your breath mindfully. During that time, any time an extraneous thought comes up and you become aware of it, simply notice it, label it “thought” and return to watching your breath.
Tip #7 was kind of hard for Tom at first. Three 5 minute sessions of sitting and watching his breath each day?
“Are you kidding?” he asked.
But I wasn’t and he wanted the inner stability that would allow him to relate more healthfully to his family. So he committed to trying it.
It took a few weeks to make it a habit even once a day. Then, once that clicked, he went for twice. Eventually, he found himself looking forward to the three periods of time, and sometimes extending them to 10 or even 15 minutes each time.
“I feel so much calmer,” he said, “and much less likely to be pulled into old behaviors. I’m more able now to stay present to what I’ve learned and how I want to relate to my wife and family going forward.”
Now, Tom and Millie get a lot out of our family sessions. But, these sessions don’t work for all families. I have found that other programs that my company offers provides a better match for other families – It depends on the pace and intensity a family is interested in. We can talk about those ways later. Just know that when you practice tips like “Breathing Through Transitions”, and “Focus on the Task at Hand” your changed behavior can change the trajectory of your loved one’s addiction, as well
We now have two family members on board, but what about Grandma Sally, and what about the daughter? Is any of this working? Is she even clean?
You may have missed parts of Millie’s story. If you’d like to read more about Millie, her family members and the techniques I mentioned earlier, you can go to the upper right hand side of this page and add your best email address to receive a free guide to being in relationship with a loved one who is dealing with addiction. It tells you a bit more about “Being a Loving Mirror”. You’ll also be able to follow stories like Millie’s through regular emails delivered to your inbox.
One more thing. Do you know a Millie or a Tom? Share these stories with them.