If my loved one stops doing X and starts doing Y, all will be well

by Teresa McBean

#MythBustingMondays – Watching someone die a slow death as a result of an unremitting and cruel condition like untreated Substance Use Disorder is the WORST.  It is frustrating, frightening, and trauma inducing. 

All sorts of pro-addictive and anti-recovery thoughts will enter into the mind of loved ones. This is normal and expected but it cannot go unaddressed without serious consequences for all involved.

“If only she/he would stop using!” is an example of pro-addictive thinking that creates a certain mythology around how to deal with the disease.  The myth is this:  If my loved one stops doing X and starts doing Y all will be well.  Usually it sounds something like this,

“If she would just stop smoking weed and get a job, her life will get back on track.”

OR

 “If he would just stop drinking and finish that application to law school, he will get on with his life.” 

This is an understandable stance to take as a loved one

BIG problems are associated with the onset of discovering our loved one is using.  Were they the only problems?  The first problems?  Probably not. 

Maybe there was a learning disability. But we were handling that, weren’t we?

Maybe a traumatic event like a divorce or death of a loved one. But kids are resilient, aren’t they?

Or perhaps we remember as a child that this kid was running with a fully wide open throttle, taking crazy risks and was loved by all for being a charming but “hand full.” But isn’t that how kids act? 

And of course, many people with learning disabilities, trauma backgrounds and lively personalities do NOT grow up and have a Substance Use Disorder! 

We also desperately want to believe our loved one when they tell us that they are not addicted to anything. They can stop whenever they want; we are overreacting; everybody is doing it.  We want to believe this because to accept that our precious loved one might have a Substance Use Disorder is absolutely the last thing we want to hear. 

After a long road of confused diagnoses, unpleasant events and a bucket load of tears – we realize, oh my gosh, they have a Substance Use Disorder!  The natural next thought is – great, now that we know they need to stop that nonsense and all will be well.  But that is a myth.  All will not be well if the ONLY thing that happens is abstinence.

As Executive Director of the National Association for Christian Recovery, I have the grand privilege of listening to and sometimes capturing people’s recovery stories for the purpose of sharing. 

Here is a quote from one of those recordings: “I think a lot of people, especially newer people to recovery come into it thinking if heroin is my problem, the absence of heroin is the solution and they find that in the absence of heroin they are as bad off and maybe even worse than they are taking the drug.”[1]

When someone is in the midst of a Substance Use Disorder, it is a problem but it is not the only problem.  Sobriety is an obvious early step in the recovery and life reconstruction process.  Other issues will need to be acknowledged and addressed.  Issues like – dual diagnoses and co-occurring disorders, depression, anxiety, lack of coping skills, legal issues, broken relationships and financial hardships. 

Is all of this the result of using?

Using certainly hasn’t helped – at least from the perspective the ones trying to get them to stop.

But this is not the perspective of the user.  They believe that their using is helping them cope with their problems.  Maybe they realize that many of their problems are related to their using, but their distorted thinking cannot envision a life without their substance of choice.

A comprehensive treatment approach makes more sense when we realize that we have a multi-faceted problem to address.  Sobriety is a key component but it is not the solution.  What is the answer?  There is no one answer; this is a chronic, complicated condition.

What can we hope for? 

Recovery!  Recovery is possible.  Getting sober, building a support network, dealing with other mental health issues, building resiliency, and learning how to live life on life’s terms.  Will it take time to build a recovering life?  Yes.  I appreciate the advice given to me by someone in recovery, “It is important to go into this thing with an open mind.  We are really going to take all the ideas that we have about spirituality, religion, about God, about a whole bunch of stuff and just set them aside, forget them for a while”[2]

What can we hope for?  Recovery!  Recovery is possible.  Getting sober, building a support network, dealing with other mental health issues, building resiliency, and learning how to live life on life’s terms.  Will it take time to build a recovering life?  Yes.  I appreciate the advice given to me by someone in recovery, “It is important to go into this thing with an open mind.  We are really going to take all the ideas that we have about spirituality, religion, about God, about a whole bunch of stuff and just set them aside, forget them for a while”[2]

[1] [2] For this entire interview and others like it click here


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Teresa McBean

Teresa is co-pastor of Northstar Community, a church that exists to serve those struggling in various ways with issues associated with substance use disorder and its various associations - trauma, mental health issues, etc.  She also serves as Executive Director of the National Association for Christian Recovery, an organization created to support other faith communities around the country provide more effective care and support for recovery in their local community.  She has authored several books, including:  Bridges to Grace, Transformational Steps for Ordinary People and Forgiving in a World that Loves to Hate. Blog: http://www.northstarcommunity.com/devotionals/

2 thoughts on “If my loved one stops doing X and starts doing Y, all will be well”

  1. I love everything about this article. When I came forward and finally admitted that I needed help, I had to surrender. None of my countless degrees, education, experience in the field could help. I had to surrender and believe that a power greater than myself (whom I choose to call God) can restore my life back to sanity. I had to ooen myself to suggestion, allow myself to be broken and learn to build up. The greatest part of my recovery is my network. And learning that the only way I will stay in recovery, is by giving back what was so lovingly and freely given to me. There are so many parts to recovery and when you become truly willing… the result is beautiful #146days

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