This Is What It's Like to Love Someone With an Addiction
The impact of addiction hits home for millions of Americans. So much, in fact, there is an entire month dedicated to the celebration of those who have found success in long-term recovery.
While every day we are thankful for those who are reaching recovery, National Recovery Month (September) is also the perfect time to highlight the loved ones who supported them along the way.
In America, 21.5 million people struggled with a substance use disorder in 2014. It’s safe to say the number of loved ones impacted by substance use disorders is even higher. Addiction and the recovery process impacts parents, siblings, children, significant others, friends, colleagues, peers… the list goes on and on.
Robbie Gallo, the lead singer of Vokab Kompany, like millions of individuals, has been impacted by a loved one’s addiction. Through his experience, Robbie wrote a song, “It’s Warm in the Light,” dedicated to his brother. He sat down with us at Recovery Brands to share the inspiration for this song and how it helps inspire other individuals impacted by addiction. Robbie opens up about the struggles his family has gone through as a result of his brother’s addiction and the control addiction had on their lives until the process of recovery began.
After learning how much addiction has impacted Robbie and his family, we were curious to learn more about what it’s like for other individuals who love someone who’s struggling with an addiction. Through our site, Recovery.org, this is what we learned:
Jesse, son of a person struggling with addiction: “Frustration is the first word that comes to mind. No matter how many times or how many ways you try to help [someone with an addiction], you realize they can only help themselves.”
Dean, father of a child in recovery: “Being the parent of [someone with an addiction] is incredibly frustrating because as parents we’re programmed to take care of our children and help “fix” them from the time they are born. But addiction isn’t a scrape on the knee or a sore throat. Addiction is something parents can’t fix. So you do the best you can with what you know at the time, and you learn as you go along. And you can never go wrong with love.”
Elizabeth, mother of someone struggling with addiction: “You hope it’s not that bad. You hope it will get better. You prepare yourself. They might not survive. You must strengthen your mind, your heart. You look in on them when they are ‘sleeping.’ You check on their breathing, just like a newborn. You look for a lot of input, calling local rehab centers for any and all possible options. You enlist your local police for strength. You tell your loved one, ‘You are so loved, so valued, so worth every effort, just please don’t die.’ You keep hoping and praying that something grand and magical could happen. I realize that none of us, not even God, can control, manage, fix, stop our loved ones from this possible, terrible final ending. For now, though, my son seems to be safe, inspired and succeeding. His drug use is currently on hold, so maybe he will beat the odds. And, maybe Brian will have a future, with just ‘regular people’ problems. We so hope!”
Rose, mother of a child in recovery: “Loving someone with addiction is heartbreaking. Loving someone in recovery is heartwarming. During addition, it’s heartbreaking to witness a loved one’s positive potential replaced with scary possibilities and horrible realities. Hope helps, but there are so many unknowns … until recovery. During recovery, it’s heartwarming to see the return good health, smart decisions, trust and confidence.”
Jean, mother of a child in recovery: “Love is powerful: I often use the phrase ‘Love them to life.’ This love is not an enabling emotion supporting a loved one’s destructive behavior; it is pure, simple, unconditional love. Loving someone struggling with addiction expands our capability to love, if we allow it. It’s not always easy to work through the frustration, anger and confusion we feel and dig down to find the love we have for someone, but it’s our love they will remember and our love that can bring them back. We have to try to love them home. When my son was struggling, we organized a family intervention. There were 12 of us and we surprised him as most interventions are planned to do. We truly and sincerely expressed our concern and our love and our belief in him. His reaction was one of anger. We were ready for him to change, but he was not; he felt ambushed and betrayed by those of us who had ‘lured’ him to our home and soon after he moved away, stopped communicating and continued on his addictive path. Even when communication opened again and the tension was less, we felt as if we had completely failed at the intervention. We even felt we had made things worse. Several months later, he asked for help. And more than a year later, upon hearing me speak to an audience and share how miserably our intervention had failed, he stood to correct me. My son stood and shared with all of us something I had not understood. He told us that on the morning when he woke up depressed, sick, addicted and alone, he knew he had three choices: one was to take his own life in a violent way, the second was to purposely overdose and the third was to ask for help. I thank God every day he chose to ask for help and made what must have been a very difficult call to his dad and me. My son said he knew our intervention came from a place of love and it included all of the most important people in his life, his family, his friends, everyone who really cared about him. He could feel our love and said if an intervention truly comes from a place of love, it will never fail. It may not happen as hoped on that day and in that place, but it will not be forgotten. Love is powerful. Never let anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment and the other negative emotions we feel bury the love you have for someone struggling with addiction. Love them home. Love them to life.”
Hannah, sister of someone struggling with addiction: “The easiest way I can explain it to others is that addiction is, in fact, a mental illness. Addiction alters the brain which alters the person. Because of that, loving someone with an addiction is like loving someone with a mental illness. You love that person endlessly, but there are good days and there are bad days. You find yourself loving the shell of that person before they were feeding that addiction. You certainly love them on the good days and the bad days, but you find you don’t have to limit yourself or your life on those good days. You talk to them about what it would be like if things were different but in the end, you always know it is that person who has to make the conscious effort and the decision to turn their life around every single day in order to fight addictions. Nevertheless, you never stop loving every single ounce of that person and never stop wishing away the part of them that feeds the addictions.
What often goes unnoticed in addiction treatment is the rest of the family. Many families fall apart when a child is struggling with drug abuse and treatment. Being the sibling of a person addicted to drugs is no cake-walk. I’m sure many other families can attest to this, but my brother’s drug use and recovery became the focus of our household. His addiction hung over our family. On December 23, 2009, my brother Zach was shot and killed by a fellow heroin user. My family was shattered and in the midst of our grief, we had to go through the grueling process of a trial against my brother’s murderer. Zach was only 21 years old.
We often hear about families falling apart after losing a loved one, and while my family has changed, we remain together because that it is what Zach would want. I decided to get involved with the Miss America Organization as a way to share my family’s story. My work helps spread my platform of ‘Reach for Your Dreams, Not Drugs,’ with the focus of inspiring others to choose a path that allows for their dreams to come true and lead healthy lifestyles in order to get there. It is my hope to help people understand that addiction can harm anyone. I continue to share Zach’s story with others in the hope of encouraging families to create an open household where they have consistent discussions about drug use and conversations with their children about how to lead a healthy life.”
Have you been impacted by a loved one’s addiction and recovery process? Share with us what it’s like loving someone who’s struggling with an addiction by using #RBRecoveryMonth or by leaving a comment below.