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Monday, 13 October 2014

Time to Reflect

Recently I have been thinking of the ways families are damaged while witnessing and living in an addict. There is no doubt in my mind that we have been damaged and need our own recovery just as much as my son needs to find his own time to stop using and start recovering.


However, since "my drug abusing teenager" no longer lives with us in the family home, I decided to not only investigate on the damage, but to reflect back on how our lives have changed for the positive in the last 10 months.

Occasionally I have mentioned that while being with my son I have had thoughts about how glad I am that I do not need to see or hear certain things 24/7, but surely there has been other positive changes in our lives?

It is quite a challenge when all of a sudden you are allowed to live your life the way you want. You can not just flip a switch and start "living" your life because a negative contributing factor has been taken out of your home! I did feel some positives fairly quickly. A much quieter and calmer household was always going to be the case, and it was.


Before we could move on though we needed to actually get use to the idea that my son was no longer living at home. Also the initial transition period was made more difficult since he left home just before Christmas and that he was not going to be spending the holidays at home.

Once the first month or so was over, then I think that my daughters and I started to feel that the change had actually happened. We decided to have a meeting and talked about what sort of things we would like to see be reinstated in our normal routines, (such as meals taken at the table once again) to things we would like to try doing (more friends coming over).

So the first and easiest was indeed the simple pleasure of eating around the table again. Eating without fear and dread that an argument would soon ensue, eating at regular times and not while sat in front of the tv in the attempt to reduce tensions. The girls had fun creating weekly menus and having choices and looking forward to dinners again.

Also in an attempt to restore normality, my daughters were given daily chores which they initially "liked", but that did in fact help develop a feeling of unity and working together, which we had most definitely lost.

While my son was at home and over the years as his addiction grew and his behaviours worsened, our family felt more and more isolated. We no longer felt "safe" in having friends over, we were all anxious and often fearful at home so of course having visitors was not an option. Actually before we stopped having friends around, there were those unfortunate occasions in which we still did have friends over but then my son would snap and react badly and thus leave our visitors feeling very tense and awkward and unwelcome.

Having freedom along with a much happier atmosphere in the home has allowed us to invite the children's friends over more often which has been a very positive change in their lives. Actually at the moment my middle daughter is involved in a 2 month study exchange and we are currently hosting a German girl for 2 months before my daughter goes to Frankfurt for 2 months. This would have never ever been an option while my son was here. There would be no way to try have been able to "act" normal for that long of a time! The exchange program has been a good aspect of my children's education, but this time my daughter was specially chosen to do a special long term exchange based on her language ability and her maturity level. I am so proud of her and I am so relieved that we are now in a position to accept such an opportunity for her. We are now starting our third week of having this lovely young German girl living with us, and it has proven to be the best medicine for my middle daughter. She is happier and more active and more sociable now and I am so very happy to be witnessing this transformation within her. I can only hope the positive impact and change will last even when the exchange is over and she no longer has a live-in bestie to make life more cheerful.

So the home is calmer and more relaxed and definitely has an improved atmosphere which has enabled us as a family to enjoy family meals together again (with every one's input to what meals we will have) as well as working together as a family unit with everyone's responsibilities and chores. This has allowed us to be in a happier place to renew friendships and start becoming more sociable again (even some overnight visitors, which could not have been possible in the chaotic and controlling atmosphere my son created while here).

It is also a great sense of freedom to me that I do not need to justify my whereabouts and be phoned regularly about where I am and when am I coming home. I can openly leave money laying about and no longer have to hide my bank card and be caught out when I pop to the shop and release that my card is still under my pillow! I can leave my phone on the table while I go upstairs or leave my computer open, no longer worrying that my son will access my accounts or do his own dealings on the internet. I can put my bottles of wine and spirits out without waking up to empty bottle or denying myself because of the fear it would "discovered". What a sense of relief and a sense of openness and honesty that has become part of my life once again!

I have also realised that due to all the problems that our family has had over the last few years regarding drug and alcohol and domestic issues, I have actually started becoming much more confident when it comes to meeting people and expressing myself and finding ways for myself to have an outlet. Thinking about it, the amount of people I have had to speak to, going to court, going to children in need meetings, joining a support group, attending appointments, etc has helped me tremendously. I am much more at ease when it comes to having to go out and do things and have my voice heard! How weird is that? All the amount of talking I have had to do, talking about our problems, has actually been quite empowering for me. I have slowly become more confident within myself and hopefully this is the beginning of also being able to gain control over my life and start to do more empowering things for myself and my children.

I have been on various training days, applying myself to different volunteering opportunities and going to parties, having a friend over from time to time and just being more of my true self has been very good for me, even if the transition is slow, I feel it is slow but steady.

I am back in control of my life and that is not only a big change abut a big responsibility as well, but mostly it is a hugely positive element in my life that I am still learning to embrace. My son did control use and me and now he can no longer control our every moment and my every decision. Of course since he is still in my life and he has called upon me several times for help, I am much more in control but sometimes I do find myself in situations in which he is edging his control back, but I am learning how to deal with those situations.


My youngest daughter seems to be slowly letting go of her confusion regarding her brother because she is starting to let go of her anger and frustrations. My middle daughter has deeper issues regarding the past and her brother, but I am hoping that slowly and steadily she too will start to feel empowered to create the life she wants and learn that it is ok to let go of her anger.

Once our lives become even more positive I hope to be able to reach a point where we may actually begin considering reintroducing my son into our lives so I do not need to juggle and separate my life and my children. How wonderful it will be if in a few years we can actually all eat a meal together in peace and because we are all wanting to to engage in each other's company and the relationships have grown more healthy as well as our own personal sense of well being.

Time is a wonderful healer and a wonderful teacher. We never know in advance though, how much time we will need to reach the point we are reaching for. Ten months is almost a year, and it can sound like a long time, but for us it has not been that long at all and so, though we are moving forward, we are still in need of time to learn and to change and to heal. I do not plan to go anywhere or leave this material existence just yet, so time I have, and I will keep utilizing the powerful healing properties of time!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Compassion Fatigue

After my last post of post traumatic stress disorder, I started researching more. I came across this term used for professionals but it is something I felt I could definitely relate to, "Compassion Fatigue". It is a term giving to those professionals who suffer "emotional strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of a traumatic event".

According to Wikepedia it is described this way: "Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims such as nurses, psychologists, and first responders. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.[1]
Journalism analysts argue that the media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society by saturating newspapers and news shows with often de contextualized images and stories of tragedy and suffering. This has caused the public to become cynical, or become resistant to helping people who are suffering"
It got me thinking about how this might also happen in families dealing with long term stress or illness or addiction. Though I have found a few articles about addiction practitioners and compassion fatigue, I have not been able to find many that speak of a similar sort of disorder or burnout amongst family members. I am thinking that if you live with an addict and especially if there are others in the family home, such as children, there is bound to be trauma and in my particular situation I was in essence my son's caregiver and I also watched the trauma his addiction had not only to himself, but also on my daughters.

I was and am the caregiver of my family, my children. For us in particular, our circumstances of being a lone parent with no extended family, I was the sole caregiver even when outside agencies tried to be involved, everything was on me. So when I read the symptoms of  Compassion Fatigue, of course I could relate and I would imagine that many people living with an addict can also identify with:

  • Excessive blaming
  • Bottled up emotions
  • Isolation from others
  • Receives an unusual amount of complaints from others
  • Compulsive behaviours
  • Poor self care
  • Legal problems, indebtedness
  • Recurrence of nightmares or flashbacks
  • Chronic physical ailments such as stomach problems and recurrent colds
  • Sadness or apathy and no longer finding pleasure in activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mentally and physically tired
  • Preoccupied 
  • In denial about problems 
These symptoms were taken from Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project

I think that I could tick off most of those symptoms while my son lived here with me and his sisters in the family home, but there is still an element of it that I have not been able to move on from. Maybe it is because, even though the "stress" has been removed, the impact on us here and even the physical impact on the home itself, has not been fully recovered yet.

When I look at how to help yourself move forward from the effects of Compassion Fatigue, one of the most striking suggestions to me is "listen to others who are suffering". Perhaps this is the biggest tool we as humans have, to express and share our pain and experiences with others in order to not only gain insight for ourselves, but also to lessen the burden and most importantly to help others and give support, knowledge and understanding to others who may be feeling overwhelmed and isolated. This is when organisations with group support systems are very useful. If you do not have such support groups locally there are plenty on line support chat groups and even blogs and social media can help.


As much as some might like to think that we are invisible or that we like living a life of solitude, the fact remains that part of being human is the need for other human interaction and companionship. We need to have validation from others. That is why our relationships are so important to us and when you live in a dysfunctional environment plagued by addiction it is very easy to lose sight of this and to become masters of illusion to everyone outside our home that everything is ok. We are sucked into the vortex of the disease, but we become so good at living double lives that we often believe everything to be fine and forget about our own needs.

Of course it has been several months that I am not the sole caregiver for my son, he is now his own caregiver, but that does not mean that you start feeling the benefits immediately even when the addict leaves your home. My son is still part of my life and I still witness the damage he is doing to himself even though on a far lesser scale now since I no longer witness it 24/7. I had to live with the fallout of the damage he helped create and also his addiction left us damaged. I do not think I am feeling all the symptoms of this so called compassion fatigue any longer, but I certainly think I did when my son lived at home.

Whether you are a professional or not, living with someone like an addict does take it's toll and we need to remember we are not to blame and that we deserve and need to look after ourselves as well! So as hard as it is people in the throes of trying to make their life seem normal and then dealing with all the manipulation and fear the addict puts on us, we have to try to find some way to help ourselves. Take time out for yourself, go for a walk, take a nap go to a support group, find something that works for you. I have learned that, and I have learned that we all deserve happiness and peace and that we can not control the addict we love and their choices; however,  we can make our own choices to live a happier and healthier life. It is not easy, that I know, after years of my son's growing addiction I finally made the choice that the rest of the family was suffering too much and I had to think of the future of my daughters. I made the choice to tell my son to move out, that was nearly 10 months ago, and we are still adjusting and dealing and suffering to some extent, but it is slowly getting better. I refuse to give up on him though, and I will try my best to maintain a healthier home while still supporting my son in any positive choices towards recovery that he may one day make on his own.