Carla came back from rehab seven weeks ago for her addiction to GHB, medication, alcohol and speed. After four weeks of intensive aftercare she decided to go back home, but in no time she relapsed into old patterns, isolating herself, hanging out with old friends from her drug-using days and not keeping appointments. She always has a “Yes ... but …” ready: she says she agrees but counters it with excuses and rationalisations. Probably a familiar story for many people who live with an addict.
When the parents come to the family meeting, they are almost at their wits’ end, and sad and despondent. And once again, all the co-dependency patterns are popping up like mushrooms. Her stepmother is figuring out how to manage Carla’s money so that the outstanding fines can still be paid on time, before all the money is spent on drugs again. Her father has already been persuaded to buy a new phone, because Carla’s is ‘broken’. The fact that the new phone has had to be set up, and that this took priority over going to an NA meeting is passed over in silence. Her mother has already filled Carla’s fridge and made her an appointment at the hairdresser’s. The family has tried very hard to do ‘everything’ to keep Carla from going deeper, and tried everything to get her back, all in the hope that she will go back into recovery. Nothing helps. And the family wonders why.
As Carla does less and less for recovery and starts using more, a similar but opposite action is carried out by family members. It accomplishes nothing (at least not the intended goal that Carla would stop using and go back into recovery). When I explain to them that what they are doing is co-dependent behaviour (taking on responsibilities that are Carla’s, ‘taking care’ of her so that she doesn’t suffer negative consequences from her relapse), mum says, “Yes (that’s right), but (if I don’t fill the fridge she just won’t eat!).” And dad adds, “Yes (that’s right), but (if she doesn’t have a phone, she can’t reach us if there’s a problem!).”
All absolutely true, only this doesn’t help or work for someone who is in active addiction. On the contrary, the addict manipulates the family with this, who in turn relapses into co-dependent behaviour.
The process is the same for the addict as it is for the family members: while the addict chases after drugs or alcohol, the family chases after the addict. Both justify their behaviour with “Yes ... but …”
The technical term for this is ‘insanity’: ’doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result‘. Mum asks uncertainly, “So I’m not allowed to buy her any food then?”
It’s not about not being allowed to buy food, it’s about recognising that at that point you aren’t helping the addict get into recovery. It’s about gaining a healthy understanding of when you can take over the addict’s responsibilities or make sure they don’t suffer negative consequences from using or relapsing. That’s a process, and it includes trial and error. It only works if you WORK it