There seem to be a multitude of challenges in recovery for the family that add to the difficulties for recovery and marital and family healing. A notable paradox is the family is incredibly invested in the individuals healthy and healing, but they want to keep it a secret, often even within the family, which contributes to addictions becoming a generational disease (or perpetuating one).
Also, even though they are the victims, family members (especially spouses) wonder what did they do wrong, why weren’t they enough, why couldn’t the addict come to them? And yet, the compulsive behaviors in predominant cases have little to do with family and are most often driven by unresolved childhood wounds, the addict’s inability to sit in emotional discomfort, almost complete lack of childhood emotional development that leads to an inability to connect and place the emotions of the betrayed partner before their own ("Going Deeper", Dr. Eddie Capparucci).
What is also confounding is that shame is a significant contributor to the development of the addiction (“Healing the Shame that Binds You”, Bradshaw), and the seeming unstoppable need for escape and medication through the unhealthy behaviors result in even more shame. Thus, creating a reinforcing dynamic of shame begets shame, adding to the difficulty of breaking the hold the behavior has on the addict.
Another common dilemma is the addict is their selfishness recovery putting their recovery in front of everything and everyone. Going to meetings, working on the 12 steps, counseling, fellowship, supporting others all take time away from a family that has been devastated by the revelations and addicts’ behaviors. After monumentally painful revelations about the addictive behavior the family is asked to be patient, supportive and compassionate as they sift through a great deal of their own remorse and healing.
The unhealthy and destructive behaviors are easy to see (eating, drinking, sexing, drugging, gambling, gaming, social media), and for many easy to suggest “just stop it”. Yet the underlying cocktail of chemical, neurological and emotional distress (that are the root of the problem) are infinitely complex, difficult to explain in simple laymen’s terms, and are impossible to see. So, the effort is often put into stopping the behaviors and (spouses especially) watching for telltale signs of relapse instead of focusing on the core issues described above.
One last challenging dynamic is that addicts develop a dual persona. They have such a profound need to be seen as ‘a good person’ due to self-loathing they create a very positive loving, giving outward persona to mask the underlying adonizing pain they are shackles them. Loved ones and friends are often incredibly shocked by the revelations, “He is such an amazing guy, that’s so hard to believe”, is often the comment.
This is not meant to give the addict a pass on their behaviors. At the end of the day, the addict is responsible for their adult behaviors and choices. But it hopefully adds some light into the darkness of the complexity and pain and inherent complexities when dealing with your family members who are trying to climb out of the pit of despair.