Home » Expert Q & A » Addiction Treatment » Addiction Treatment: John O'Neal

Family Recovery: Self Care and Selfishness

  • coco Asks ...

    My adult daughter has just entered a treatment facility this week for drug addiction. Our family is well aware we have been enablers for many years and allowed the addict to control our lives in many ways, but we are now attempting to get educated about dealing with this disease and how not to enable her further, as well as support her recovery. The facility is 3 hours away from our home and they allow visitation every Saturday. An extended family Christmas get together for my husband's side of the family has been planned for this Saturday and we made plans to attend prior to our daughter's admission so we explained to her we would not be visiting this first Saturday. The following Saturday is Christmas Eve and traditionally we have had my family members in our home for a celebration on Christmas Eve. My husband, mother, and brother have no problem changing our get together to Christmas night so we may visit our daughter in treatment on Christmas Eve, however my other daughter (sibling of the addict) thinks we are changing our tradition to revolve around the addict, which she believes is something we should not do. Rather than viewing this as letting her disease control us, I see changing our normal Christmas plans in order to visit as a way to show support for her recovery. Can you offer your opinion on this matter?

  • Delisted Expert Says ...

    Dear Parent:

    For me to clearly understand, I numbered and identified your family dynamics as you explained and as I understood them:

    1. Daughter started treatment for drug addiction (new behavior and direction for her and her family)
    2. Family has enablers her to progress in her disease (new information and guilt???)
    3. Getting education about how “not” to enable others (new information and behavior)
    4. Supports daughter’s recovery (means family changes its behavior as well as daughter)
    5. Facility is 3 hours away and has only Saturday visitations (new rules and structure)
    6. Father’s extended family’s Xmas get together is on a Saturday (constant variable without deviation)
    7. Xmas Eve, the next Saturday, is usually spend with wife’s family (old rule and structure)
    8. Mother’s family is flexible and will spend Xmas eve night with Mother, Father and other daughter (healthy and adaptable behavior by mother’s family)
    9. Other daughter has the problem: She thinks family is changing their tradition to revolve around the addict and wants to influence their decision and/or control them)
    10. Other daughter is against their visitation with her recovering sister because she thinks parents are enabling addicted sister (resentment??)
    11. Parents do not agree that addicted daughter is continuing to control them via her drug addiction (old behavior) and now recovery.
    12. Parents believe a visitation with their hospitalized daughter is showing or offering support for their daughter’s early recovery from substance abuse. (new belief and behavior by supporting recovery rather than supporting continued substance abuse).

    I normally don’t breakdown family dynamics, structurally, in my writings but I thought this might be a useful tool for your family and you in understanding the current changes, new beliefs, attitudes and behaviors which have resulted since your addicted daughter and your family beginning making changes for early recovery. Because I don’t know how you are learning about addiction and recovery, I assume you may be involved in some family education, outside reading or other materials, or attending Al-Anon and/or Nar-Anon. If you have, you would know that addiction is a family disease because it doesn’t affect only an individual family member but everyone is affected by the destructiveness of the addiction.

    The most prominent feature of your situation is your other daughter’s demand that you please her rather than please yourselves or your recovering daughter. I don’t know how much resentment your other daughter has about your enabling role with your addicted daughter, but this needs to be addressed in your decision-making.

    One of the primary ways that family members enable other family member is people pleasing. Also, is your non-addicted daughter learning about addiction as a family disease and how families need to recover together? Is this daughter blaming you for your addicted daughter progressing in her addiction by your enabling behaviors? What is it YOU want? In recovery, people start separating their needs from their wants. Do you need to be with your daughter in treatment? Or you want to be with her? What matters is clarity in your actions and what you need/want to accomplish. I would strongly recommend that you not allow anyone to demand or manipulate anything from you. How is this demanding daughter supporting her own and her family’s recovery? Has she not been affected too? One of the predominant features of addicted families is anger. How is anger expressing itself in this situation, if at all?

    You asked for my opinion. My opinion is for you to start making decisions based on what you want instead of what others want; including both of your daughters. People who live their lives for other people are sometimes called codependents. Untreated codependents can only enable and are unable to help other recover. If you believe differently from your other daughter that your action to visit on Christmas Eve furthers your addicted daughter and family in recovery, then I would support this decision. If your other daughter is right, and you are only continuing in your enabling behavior, I would let my recovering daughter know that the family has holiday traditions of being together, and you are sorry she won’t be there this time. Your daughter in treatment probably knows that she is experiencing the cost of her addiction on many levels, and not being with her family as usual is one of them. Have you asked your recovering daughter what her thoughts are about this?

    I would encourage you to contact the family therapistor counselor at your daughter’s treatment facility and find out how they can help your family. Also, you may want to find out how other families are approaching this dilemma with their family members in treatment. In recovery, people learn to work a selfish program in contrast to the previous “self-centered” program.

    My hope is that I answered your question as you needed. May your family have a love and wonder-filled holiday as you begin your new adventure: family recovery from addiction. Happy Holidays! 

    John W. O’Neal, Ed.S, MSW, MA, LPC, NCC

Featured Experts