Getting a Loved One Into Treatment Sooner
From a family’s perspective, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of addiction and mental illness is that they often see the decline before their eyes. Of course, while the unusual behavior is apparent, our emotions, fear of admitting “failure,” and the need for normalcy often cloud our judgment. This can enable destructive behaviors and rationalizing events that could and should have been addressed sooner. Feeling helpless when we see our loved ones in distress is normal, and it is also not unusual to take drastic action to try and shake our loved ones out of their situation. Unfortunately, this often does more harm than good, pushing the loved one away and making them resent and even hate the very people that care and are willing to help.
What Is Rock Bottom?
When we think ahead to how this cycle of destruction will end, we usually come back to the often-discussed concept of rock bottom. There is plenty of validity behind the idea that people must hit the floor before picking themselves up. After all, we know from decades of research and practice that a patient unwilling to address their mental illness or addiction will likely relapse. Someone who comes into treatment having let go and admitting that they need help, on the other hand, has a good chance of longer-term sobriety, with some ups and downs and challenges. But while we think rock bottom is a floor and there’s no further to fall, this is not often the case. Much like a collapsing building, the floor can, and often does, drop to the floor below, which may trigger yet another drop, and the cycle continues. In other words, it’s hard, if not impossible, to know when that floor will hold, and sometimes it needs help.
But Are We Genuinely Helpless?
The answer, as you may have guessed, is a resounding no. We are not helpless, and in fact, we have far more power than we may believe. Following are several tried-and-true tactics that we, as treatment professionals, as well as loved ones and families, can follow to support and lift that floor. Of course, we understand how challenging this may seem, and we certainly do not begrudge family members and friends who feel overwhelmed with the prospect, but we are here to help through that process.
End the enabling. Unfortunately, for loved ones with substance use and mental health disorders, destructive behaviors can perpetuate due to family members or friends enabling their destructive behavior. The concept of enabling must be taken into proper context. Enabling does NOT mean we consciously promote these destructive behaviors; instead, we will enable them to continue by engaging in behaviors and responses that are well intended. If you are a family member of a person struggling, and a mental health professional discusses possible enabling behavior, it is extremely important that you don’t take it as an accusation or criticism but rather as an opportunity to better understand the impact of your actions.
Let’s take the example we are all warned of providing financial support to a loved one struggling. Someone suffering from a mental health or substance abuse disorder commonly asks for money. Many families know not to provide cash – even when the family is being pulled in every direction in the throes of addiction or a mental health crisis. However, many don’t realize that offering a cell phone, paying a car loan, and even providing food and a place to sleep can be a form of enablement. When faced with the prospect of their loved one being homeless, going hungry, or not knowing where they will sleep next, the uncertainty and potential danger our loved one could face is often too much to bear. This is where a breakdown can result in enabling within the family system. This breakdown typically occurs when the family member or friend provides monetary or emotional support that normalizes these actions (at least in the individual needing care).
Circle the Wagons for a Fight: This enabling behavior has consequences: it can also be the foundation for a collapse in the family unit. There’s almost invariably one parent, for example, that will disagree with the other or siblings that will approach the problem differently. Suppose the family does not fight the issue from a unified front. When the perceptions of what needs to be done begin to go in different directions, their efforts to support their loved one may not only be made in vain but there’s a good chance that spousal and parental relationships can be damaged or severed, possibly permanently. Without a cohesive angle of attack and support from all family members, the road to supporting a loved one’s recovery becomes much longer and more unpredictable.
Ben Brafman, a co-founder of SBMHC, says, “The problem with that, of course, is that family members don’t stick to it – there’s going to be a weak link in the family system, and we discuss that with our families and with the patients. You know who’s the weak link, who’s the one that’s going to give Johnny $100, and Johnny knows who it is, too. In fact, Johnny has two of them. We support the family – and how do we help the weakest link? We rally around them. The faster a family becomes a united front, the faster that person will feel a bottom – they’ll feel the natural consequences. The families that don’t – it’s going to take a lot of time.
I like to use metaphors, but if there’s a category five hurricane and your loved one who’s an addict or alcoholic with mental illness is knocking at the door, slamming on the door…if you let them in, you let the hurricane in, too.”
~ This excerpt was adapted from Episode 2 of The Mind-Soul Connection Podcast
Seek Professional Help: As a loved one, family member, or friend, you are desperate to make things right. Ideally, you’d be able to fix the problem yourself, but like any other disease, going at it alone may not be the best way – or it may not be feasible. Further, your role in the recovery of a loved one can be far more successful and sustainable if you have the tools imparted through professional help. And believe it or not, there is a great deal of truth to what we always say: asking for help is the hardest part of starting recovery. This is just as true for the individual battling addiction or mental health issues as it is for a family member trying to help them. Why? Ultimately, you must believe you can’t do it alone, which can be hard to swallow.
Don’t Consider This a Moral or Personal Failure: There is so much meaning, positive and negative, behind the word failure, but when it comes to getting help for addiction or mental illness, it should not enter our vocabulary. Ultimately, being addicted to a substance or having a mental health problem is a disease, not a moral or personal failure. Similarly, the actions a family took or didn’t take before the problem cannot be seen as a failure either. If anything, the failure is in a society and culture that does not see addiction and mental illness for what they are and tries to sweep them under the rug. Could you have seen the warning signs sooner? Maybe. Could you have done something to prevent this outcome? Unlikely, but you can be part of the solution; seeking professional help and being part of the recovery process is critical to your loved one.
Be ready for the ups and downs: When it comes to addiction, but especially mental illness, relapse is almost an inevitability. While we all hope that our loved one will recover on the first attempt, we have to be focused on raising the floor so if they do have a relapse, they understand and recognize it sooner and don’t go as far before seeking treatment again. Similarly, families who are a part of the recovery process will know what to look for in case of a relapse and be better equipped to help their loved one get back into treatment and make their recovery more permanent.
A Word From Peter Marinelli
Peter Marinelli, the founder of Through the Archway and Executive Director of The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center, talks about his road to recovery, the catalyst of which was when his parents finally decided they would no longer support him.
“It’s easier said than done, but in my personal experience, when my family put me out – they said, ‘you can’t come home anymore.’ I thought it was punitive, but I realize my family did it with a broken heart. They threw me out, and I was on the streets…it was awful. But the bottom got raised real quick. I realized it then – I was in serious trouble. We’ll see this happen more often than not. When options are taken away, and the family stops giving us help without treatment, a great line a family can say is: ‘I’ll do anything to help you get sober. I’ll do nothing to help you get drunk anymore.”
~ This excerpt was adapted from Episode 2 of The Mind-Soul Connection Podcast
What Does This All Mean?
Ultimately we want to make it very clear to friends and family members that while their loved one needs to hit rock bottom, there is plenty they can do to raise that floor and help them to reach out for help sooner, preventing them from causing more damage to themselves, their families, and those around them. But it truly takes a village to make this a reality. The family is unlikely to succeed without professional help from an experienced clinician or evidence-based treatment program like The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center. Fighting addiction and mental health concerns is a multifaceted, delicate process.
Should you have any concern that a loved one, child, or parent may be struggling with addiction or mental health issues, we encourage you to take the first and most necessary step in getting them the treatment they need – reaching out for help. Finding a caring and experienced mental health and addiction treatment center in Florida can be challenging. Still, we encourage you to learn more about our facility and the world-renowned professionals and clinicians that support it by calling our admissions team and seeing what options are available for your loved one.