When your family is tied to the turbulence of addiction crisis you know one thing for damn sure: something has got to change.
There were no overnight cures for my family when our son was in the midst of an addiction crisis that spun out into the rest of our family. Substance use disorder is a disease of the family system so everyone is impacted by it.
We all were playing out pretty predictable roles in that system including: the Identified One, the Redeemer, the Denier, the Enabler, the Truth Teller and the Clueless. To get some traction with necessary change seemed impossible. As our son’s addiction worsened over the years, I truly began to believe our family was sentenced to live our lives in chaos and sadness.
Looking back, I now see that the theory of the Butterfly Effect was at the heart of how change happened for our family over time.
Can the flapping of a butterfly’s wings begin so powerful a change on one continent to cause a hurricane on the other side of the world?
That’s the question summing up the Butterfly Effect. It carries guiding wisdom for families caught in the net of an addiction family system.
The Butterfly Effect says that tiny changes in a complex system can eventually generate huge changes. There are all kinds of mathematical formulas and scientific data about the theory that are way over my pay grade.
But boiled down, the Butterfly Effect offers an empowering message for those seeking recovery solutions for their families. It says that even the smallest change toward recovery in a family system can begin a pattern impacting the addict and the rest of the family stuck in co-dependent behavior.
And here how it works.
When one member in the family system makes a decision to change up their role in the addiction situation, it shifts the dynamic for the entire system. It forces other family members to re-evaluate the role the system has “assigned” to them and to change themselves because of the void created by the initial role shift.
That role shift — like the flapping of a tiny butterfly’s wings — begins a ripple effect in the entrenched system, eventually creating more openings for healthy changes.
The key here is to remember that like the whisper soft movement of a butterfly’s paper- thin wings, change can begin in very small, practically unnoticeable ways. You don’t have to do some big, dramatic thing. A small step forward can set in motion an empowering change mindset in your life and the lives of others in your family system.
I knew a mother with a decade in recovery who was concerned about her adult daughter’s drinking and decided to quietly make her concerns known. So, the mothers drew the poison sign – a skull and crossbones – on the liquor bottle her daughter drank from nightly after a late shift at work. Every time the daughter went to pour, she saw that image. It planted a sober seed in her mind that knocking back at drink at 2 am wasn’t the best strategy for getting a goodnight’s sleep and that her overall choices around alcohol in her life were holding her back. Eventually, the daughter entered a 12- Step fellowship to address her alcohol issues.
Now years later, the daughter says her decision to stop drinking was influenced by her mother’s small act. That’s the Butterfly Effect.
For our family, making a commitment to see a counselor was the butterfly wings we needed to change our family addiction system. Every family has their own unique process. But guidance could include: 12-Step fellowships, family counselors, faith advisors and recommendations from treatment centers.
There is comfort to be found in the wisdom of the Butterfly Effect. It is reassuring to know that no effort we make on behalf of our family is wasted.
It is comforting to know that once freed from the stricture of the cocoon, the butterfly graces life with its beauty.
For information and guidance for help and resources for you or your loved one please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy is co-author of Unchained: Our Family’s Addiction Mess Is Our Message.