Drug and alcohol abuse only impacts the individual. That is what a person thinks when they are in the midst of addiction. They often don’t see or feel the impact of their actions on others. The community, loved ones, and others experience the impact of their addiction on a deep level.
Spouses, children, and family may look the other way at first until it becomes too difficult to ignore reality, they may not want to see the fullness of the effects it has on everyone. The ripple effect is all too real for families of first responders who need additional support and help as they struggle with addiction.
Focus on Getting Well
Before attending to the needs of the family, the first priority should be oneself. A person cannot take care of everyone else if their cup is half empty or all the way empty. Families also have to care for themselves when a loved one has an addiction. It impacts the ability to function at work and at home. Marriage should come first and be a priority above anything else. Where one person struggles with addiction, the sober spouse is often left to deal with the kids, responsibilities, and everything else. The supporting spouse’s own mental health often suffers. Untreated physical health issues may end up causing a lot of stress. Spouses of first responders must also deal with concerns about addiction and hardships their spouses face every day.
How to Strengthen Relationships
First responders often deal with difficult relationships in many different ways. To rebuild a primary relationship after addiction, a person must work at it. Attending couples therapy, encouraging a spouse to attend 12-Step groups for support, and helping the spouse get help for their own addiction or mental health issues. Relationships can be strained as a result. Strengthening relationships requires focusing on how a person wants to engage in this season. If the person is in recovery, they might look to rebuild trust with that loved one and beloved partner. Trust is key to moving forward in relationships in recovery. A strong relationship is a big key to being able to navigate recovery and stay clean.
Reconnecting With Children
Kids often are the invisible victims of addiction because they are seen as resilient and that they bounce back. Sometimes they don’t bounce as much as people hope. The guilt a person feels over mistakes made under the influence can take over and make it hard to work together with kids on rebuilding their relationships. The guilt they feel over mistakes made while they were in recovery and still working things out can haunt them as well. With addiction, guilt over mistakes made can take priority over addiction. They are resilient and forgiving.
Consistency means spending time listening to them and being there for them. It will demonstrate how much they are loved and the kind of adult they grow up to be. Learning to navigate this time now can help kids be more resilient later in life. Children are at greater risk of substance abuse, violence, and harm later in life as a result of exposure to addiction. It helps to go to Al-Anon or other similar programs along with family therapy. All this combined helps ensure the family is able to work on staying together for the long haul and being healthy.
Commitment to Recovery
A relationship with family members is never going to be the same as it would have been without addiction. It is not worth even thinking or dreaming about that. What is good to dream about is the commitment to recovery. What does it look like to set goals and priorities to focus on committing to a full and healthy recovery? Lasting recovery does not always last forever but it can be a stable force in a person’s life. Even in the midst of a relapse, the family can still be there together for one another.
Finding Hope and Healing
Addiction has an impact on everyone in the home. Not only do the children suffer but so do the partners, spouses, and other loved ones. They are not able to deal with the challenges their loved ones bring their way each day. The real challenge is figuring out how to navigate living with a first responder in recovery. This may require patience and forgiveness and understanding that passes all understanding. Hope and healing seem far away sometimes but the road to recovery is fraught with difficulty and built from the family roots.
Without being grounded in hope for tomorrow, there are challenges they may have trouble facing. First responders often return to their line of work and continue to deal with the challenges of this career path. If they are lucky, they may be able to keep working for a long time but it may be that it takes too big a toll and they have to decide to quit so they can save their family. Whatever they decide, a strong support network surely helps for the journey.