This is not your fault.
That’s the first thing Dee Meux, CADC, tells the families that come to Oxford Treatment Center seeking help for a loved one struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. Without fail, the tears start flowing.
“They walk in expecting to be judged, perhaps passive aggressively criticized,” says Meux, who leads the center’s two-day program for families. “So right off the bat, we help them realize they’ve been doing the normal thing.
“When you love someone, it’s normal to want to help them out — bail them out, fix things, give them third, fourth, fifth chances. Yet when you’re dealing with active addiction, those are some of the worst things you can do.”
At the center’s residential campus, 16 miles outside Oxford, the families of those in treatment attend a program that helps them understand addiction and how they can support their loved one’s recovery.
“Once they realize that the best way to love an addict is to help set boundaries and to take care of themselves in that whole process,” Meux says, “They’re empowered to help in a different way.”
For parents of teens or young adults in addiction, the guilt can be acute. What if we’d been stricter — or more lenient? Where did we go wrong?
Blaming other people is a natural response when someone is in denial about his or her problem, so it is likely the parent might already get plenty of blame from their struggling loved one.
At Oxford Treatment Center, the families who bring their loved ones in for treatment come from all walks of life. But across the board, Meux says, they have one thing in common — pain.
“Sometimes their anger is holding that pain back, which is fine,” Meux says. “But the despair and the pain and the loneliness is something they’ve all experienced. Most of them have been so isolated in all they’ve been through so far.”
Because addiction still carries a strong stigma, families tend not to talk openly about the chaos they’re experiencing: How is it that everyone else’s children are landing jobs and getting married, while mine is popping pills and shooting up?
The ironic truth is that families living with a loved one’s addiction are far from alone. More than two-thirds of American families have been touched in some way by drug or alcohol addiction.
Meux encourages the families she works with to think about giving a transparent response when someone asks, “How is your family doing?”
“Especially here in the South, it’s our reflex to always say, ‘Oh, fine!’” Meux says. “When you’re dealing with addiction in a loved one, it takes a lot of courage to respond honestly instead.
“If, when you run into someone at the grocery store, you say instead, ‘My daughter has actually had a drug problem and we’re getting her help’ — don’t be surprised if that person calls you a few weeks down the road and asks, ‘Where was it you took your daughter?’”
In addition to supporting their loved one’s recovery, Meux recommends that family members invest in their own self-care and recovery. Being in a support group of people who have been through similar experiences can be a powerful way to break through the silence and isolation.
In Oxford, support groups for families who are dealing with addiction with a loved one include:
- Nar-Anon, for families of addicts. It meets Mondays at 5:30 p.m. at Oxford-University United Methodist Church.
- Al-Anon, for families of alcoholics. There are two local meetings: Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at Haven House, and Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. at Oxford-University United Methodist Church.
- Ala-Teen, for people ages 10-18 affected by a loved one’s addiction. It meets Mondays at 7 p.m. at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Family Hope & Healing, a free therapist-led support group for anyone who has a loved one in addiction or recovery. It meets Tuesdays at 6 p.m. at Oxford Treatment Center’s outpatient office, 611 Commerce Parkway off Highway 7 South.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 27, 2017, edition of The Oxford Eagle newspaper.