When someone you love is an addict

By Esther Lewis Time of article published Mar 4, 2013

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Cape Town - For decades, families have been battling the scourge of drugs. The focus would almost always be on the addict, often leaving family members reeling in the ensuing chaos.

Many families that have been through the Nar-Anon programme say they didn’t realise that, like the addict, they needed help and a recovery programme.

For *Alice, 38, her daughter is the addict in her life. Eight years ago, the then 12-year-old started using dagga. Alice couldn’t identify the problem, but she knew something was amiss. She took her child to a psychologist to discover the problem. Two years ago, her daughter went to rehab. This was when Alice was advised to seek a support group.

“I thought I didn’t need help, that I was fine. There was nothing wrong with me. But when I found the group, everything changed and made sense,” says Alice.

Since joining the group, she’s realised she isn’t alone. She was given guidance and the tools to make positive changes.

“It helped me realise that this was about me, and not the addict. I came to realise that I didn’t have to fix anything, I just needed to find peace.”

This doesn’t mean she rejected her daughter. She still loves her, but she’s gained a sense of serenity.

Alice has learned every individual is responsible for their own life. The programme helped her step out of the chaos brought about by her daughter’s addiction, and focus on her recovery.

*Mika, 26, lived with her tik-addicted boyfriend for five years. She discovered three months after they moved in together that he was using tik. Money disappeared from the house. He borrowed money, and she repaid it. He couldn’t hold down a job, and Mika paid all the bills.

Meanwhile, she isolated herself from her friends and family, knowing they would realise something was wrong.

“I tried to control the situation for four years,” she says.

Eventually, he stopped using tik but replaced it with alcohol. “I thought it was better because it was socially acceptable. But it was worse.”

She joined Nar-anon meetings.

“I had reached rock bottom. It wasn’t about him any more, it was about me. I was just surviving for six years. It was a very lonely life. For six years I was a robot. That’s when I started changing,” says Mika.

She started going out with friends again and stopped giving him money. Last year she broke up with him. Thanks to her support group, she has forged relationships with people who understand her.

“I have found a new family. Now I can share my experience, strength and hope,” says Mika.

(* Names have been changed to protect identities)

* Nar-Anon Family Groups SA can be contacted at 088 129 6791 or via naranon.org.za.

Addiction affects the whole family

Lydia McClure’s daughter is the addict in her life. For 11 years, she has been in and out of rehab.

When her daughter was 13, McClure noticed something was happening, but couldn’t accept it.

One New Year’s Eve, she got an anonymous phone call. The person at the other end told McClure that her daughter, nearly 15, was using heroin.

“I phoned a nurse and asked her what it does. She explained and I collapsed,” says McClure. She sent her daughter to rehab for a year. “It’s been going on every year. This is the 11th year,” she says.

She bought her daughter toiletries, and allowed her to live with her, but was told she was enabling her child.

Eventually, she gave her daughter an ultimatum: go back to rehab for a month or leave.

“She decided to leave. She lived on the street and slept behind garages and under cars,” says McClure.

Like many other parents of addicts, she came close to breaking point. “I came to a point where I had to let this child go.”

McClure sought help from a 12-step programme for the families of addicts. It took a while for her to understand what she was dealing with.

With time, McClure has come to realise that the addicts are not the only people who need help.

“You become addicted to the behaviour, to helping them. You enable them. And of course that’s wrong,” she says.

Loved ones need help in breaking the cycle

The common thread in families who live with addicts is that they try to control and fix the situation.

Shanet Regal, director of the Enez Foundation, has counselled countless families in the grips of addiction.

“Someone in the grips of addiction will take you down with them,” says Regal, pictured. This is why it is important for families to get help.

The most important thing families can do is to find a support programme that understands addiction, and treats it as an illness, she says.

Family members must remember that enabling includes condemning addiction verbally, but not through their actions. Although they condemn the addict’s drug use, they give them money.

Loved ones also fear that if they don’t intervene, the addict will die. So they save the addicts from the consequences of their actions by bailing them out of jail or finding jobs for them. The families do for the addicts what the addicts should be doing for themselves.

Regal says the “rock-bottom” stage can be brought forward by changing these patterns.

“To go into a space of recovery, you have to step out of the dance with addiction.”

* Shanet Regal of the Enez Foundation can be contacted at 084 555 0965. - Cape Argus

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