We had a bunch of pet hamsters when our kids were growing up. And those little critters (the hamsters – not our kids) loved to run in the cage on a squeaky metal wheel.
Round and round and round. They never tired of the repetition of the run.
It worked for them…
Wish I could say the same for us humans. The hamster wheel in our heads from the family systems disease of substance use disorder is exhausting.
When we are worn down by addiction’s lacks – lack of sleep, lack of peace of mind, lack of predictability, lack of understanding, lack of self-determination, lack of the gifts of acceptance, courage and wisdom …. that hamster wheel in our heads goes (as my daughters say) ham on us.
In this family system’s disease, we need to make a decision to get off the marathon of the wheel and take the action of necessary change towards recovery.
Seeking effective change can feel like an impossibility.
But the insistent call in our hearts — some describe it as an invitation from a Higher Power – to the work of change must be answered, or else we are committing ourselves to a rodent’s existence of running on an endless cycle of fear, despair, anxiety, anger and grief.
During the years my son was in active addiction, change came slowly for me. I was full throttle on the hamster wheel.
For a long time, I couldn’t see that I was in denial about the disease of addiction taking over my son’s life, and in turn mine, because I was constantly reacting to his choices.
I guess that’s the definition of co-dependence.
For years my life was limited to a faded one-dimensional existence of co-dependence. When I began to move from living on the wheel of the same old, same old to making intentional positive choices, life slowly began to recalibrate with depth and color, and most importantly recovery solutions.
With the guidance of our team – counselors, recovery professionals and spiritual advisors – my husband and I realized we had to make some tough love decisions in our relationship with our son to force him to face the consequences of his substance use disorder.
These tough love decisions were painful.
But let me be very clear: tough love does not mean no love.
As our beloved family counselor Dr. Bill Cipriano said to us: “It’s tough love, not tough shit.”
Tough love means setting the necessary boundaries so our addicted loved ones can face the truth of their substance- driven choices.
Tough love can and should be enacted with love and compassion.
What makes taking a tough love stance tough is not a lack of love, but the fact that you are radically changing the dynamic of the co-dependent relationship with your addicted loved one and removing any pretense of enabling behavior.
As a disclaimer: there is no one size-fits- all solution to establishing recovery in a family system.
But with the benefit of time, our son, now sober for a decade and co-founder of a treatment center, says the tough love measures we enacted helped save his life.
And, with the benefit of time, I see how those difficult measures in many ways saved my life, too. They got me off the hamster’s wheel to living a life with the abundant gift of recovery in my family.
Connect With Nancy
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.