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Addiction is a family condition

Hello. My name is Greg Bufkin. I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, and I celebrate recovery from an addiction to prescription pain medication. That is how we open our celebrate recovery meetings. I tell you who I am, who my higher power (the only real higher power) is, and what I struggled with. I go to Celebrate Recovery every Thursday night at Mosaic church in Ocean Springs, MS. But I do not go alone. My oldest daughter goes to a group for teenagers (she goes for support for dealing with my addiction), my wife goes to a group called FAST (Family Addiction Support Team) which is for the families of people who deal with addiction. There is not a group for younger kids, yet, but my younger kids love to go as well. I know one of the reasons they go is for cookies, but they also love the people. They have a much greater understanding of what addiction and recovery are than most kids do, simply because they have been immersed in recovery, after having been immersed in my addiction.

Why am I telling you this?

I am telling you this because recovery from addiction is something that is intended to be fought within a group, not alone. So, being painfully transparent and open, this week one of my Home of Grace brothers died from a drug overdose. My heart is broken as I type this post. I know that hundreds of others are hurting and broken as well. But in the midst of this deep sorrow, I am reminded that addiction is not something we fight alone. Is it possible to “white-knuckle” our way through addiction, alone? Yes. But why make a difficult fight so much harder than it already is? Why make somebody face this difficult path alone, when, as a family (whether related by blood or not) we are so much stronger?

Recovery is not something to be ashamed of

I met a girl this week who recently celebrated a year of sobriety. Her significant other does not allow her to go to meetings. He doesn’t even allow her to talk about her addiction or her recovery. His mindset is to pretend it never happened because it is so shameful. This mindset is such a great offense to me that I could barely keep my mouth shut. I was angry. This belief is straight from the pit of hell. It is a thought designed by satan with the intention of isolating an addict, so she has to fight this battle alone, in silence. The only goal of a mindset like this is to create a scenario with the greatest possible odds of an addict relapsing. Can you imagine if we treated breast cancer (or any other type of cancer) survivors like this? “Hey Laura, look, just between us, I know how hard you fought cancer. I know you were sick from chemo, and you lost all of your hair because of radiation treatments. I know the double mastectomy was painful and difficult. I know you are a year removed from all of that. I know your hair has grown back and your health has improved. I know you survived that hell. But look. Nobody wants to hear you talk about any of that. It makes people uncomfortable. And please don’t go to your cancer awareness support groups. I mean, what if somebody saw you? That might affect how people see this family.” Good grief. Can you see how utterly ridiculous that is? Why do we treat people in recovery like that? Walking in recovery from drug addiction is something we should shout from the rooftops. It is something we should brag about. It is something we should praise every chance we get if, for no other reason, we should do this because every day we want them to hear their cheerleaders pushing them onward in recovery, giving them the encouragement to keep fighting.

In contrast, there is an administrator at my daughter’s school that is in recovery from alcohol. She loves him. She can’t wait to see him at school or church. They are good friends. At ten years of age though she is starting to put pieces together. She asked the other day, “Why does Mr. Smith (not his real name) go to Celebrate Recovery? They wouldn’t let him work at the school if he was an addict, would they?” We told her it wasn’t our story to tell. We encouraged her to ask him. We did give him a heads up, however. The next time we were at Celebrate Recovery, he took her aside and briefly explained to her his past and his recovery now. He told his story of being sober for the last four years. Can you just imagine what that did for her heart? She rejoiced with her friend for the victory he had achieved in a fight she didn’t even know he was in. I’m sure it helped establish in her mind the idea that addiction should be brought into the light, not hidden away in dark places. It helped to diminish the shame and stigma that are often associated with addiction. What a powerful witness that was for my little girl.

Families can help or hurt recovery efforts—there is no neutral

My family has made the choice to go to Celebrate Recovery with me. They go to alumni night meetings with me. They go to the annual Home of Grace HOG ride with me. They celebrated every single chip I’ve received along the way. In fact, the chips were a bonding opportunity for my daughters and me. I have four daughters, ages, 7, 9, 10, and 15. One of their greatest joys in life is polishing my toenails. They redid my nails every month to match the color of the sobriety chip I received that month. They have made sacrifices to walk beside me in recovery because they value my sobriety as much as I do. Could I have remained sober without their support? Probably. But walking this path would have been much harder without them by my side. My recovery/sobriety is not their responsibility. They don’t keep me clean. But they make sacrifices to be able to pour out their love and support in this battle, so I have as much ammunition as possible. They deserve a great deal of credit for my sobriety. If families withhold that love and support, they leave the recovering addict isolated, and isolation is one of our greatest weaknesses. Left alone in this battle, the odds of our relapse increase dramatically. After all, my very best efforts (alone) got me into rehab in the first place.

Families can choose to be stumbling blocks as well

I went to rehab with a guy that had already been to several rehabs in his life. After his graduation, he and I stayed in contact to be a support for one another. He struggled hard. He told me about a fishing trip he took with his older brother when he got out. His brother had an ice chest full of beer and kept drinking in front of him and making comments about why he wouldn’t drink. He told me about a 4th of July party his parents guilted him into attending (he wasn’t going to go, but they got angry when he said he didn’t want to go) where everybody was drinking, except him. They went out to eat as a family once a week, and everybody ordered alcoholic drinks except him. After about two months of that, he stopped coming to Celebrate Recovery, and he no longer responds to my communications, or any other alumni he was friends with.

Another guy I knew that battled alcoholism had two months sober. On his way home after work one night, his wife called and said they were having a cookout with friends and they wanted some beer. They asked him to pick it up on the way home. If that wasn’t bad enough, once he got there, all of his friends and his wife were drinking. They eventually talked him into “just one beer won’t hurt.” The problem is that an addict can’t stop at just one. One is too much. After one, we can’t turn down 2,3,4,10,20 and so on. I cannot possibly fathom why any family member who cares for the sobriety of the recovering addict would ever willingly, intentionally, put stumbling blocks in their way. After this party, they were shocked, surprised, and angry when he was arrested twice over the next few months for DUI, and back to drinking regularly after two months of sobriety. I cannot understand why they can’t see they have a very big hand in his relapse.

Some people do get it, though. I have some dear friends that we go out to eat with occasionally. They are absolute experts in microbrewery beer. They know all the ins and outs of it. I don’t like alcohol, and I don’t like beer. But I would order one when we went out so I could taste it and have a better understanding of what they were talking about when discussing the specific beer we were drinking. After graduating The Home of Grace, we all went out, and they ordered water and soft drinks. They chose not to order alcohol because they didn’t want to run the risk of impeding my recovery, even a small bit.

The benefits far outweigh the sacrifices

I have other friends whose wives enjoyed drinking, in moderation, but they won’t touch alcohol anymore. They have chosen to walk this path of sobriety with their husband. My mother had surgery recently, and before I came over, she made sure her pain pills weren’t even in the house. People go above and beyond to walk this path with the addict in recovery because they value their sobriety as well. No more wondering when he will come home. No more fearing receiving a call that your husband has overdosed and blacked out while driving again. No more locking up valuables because they’re afraid the addict will steal them. No more being dominated by fear, anxiety, doubt, and mistrust. If making those small sacrifices earns you peace and security, why on Earth would you not want to walk this path with them?

So what can the family do?

In short, everything possible. Yes, it is a complete change of lifestyle. Go to meetings with them. Go to counseling with them. Listen. Learn. Adjust. Find out what triggers them and help them (you don’t do it FOR them) figure out ways to reduce or even remove those people, places, and things that cause them to want to use. Learn the signs of relapse. All addicts have small behaviors that act as tells, signaling when we are in a place considering using, or actually using. Learn what those tells are (an addict in recovery may be self-aware enough even to tell you what they are if you will ask). Be watchful and be vigilant. I can assure you that if you do remain active, engaged, and on guard, the best days are yet to come. God Bless you all.

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1 Comment

  1. Your articles are so full of information and tools to help those we love. Knowledge is power. Thank you!

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