How to stay well when faced with addiction

By Kristen Goettsch, senior evaluation scientist

Published Aug. 15, 2017

For loved ones of those suffering from the disease of addiction, the hardest part can be the most basic process of living our lives in a time of uncertainty. Even when the person we love learns to manage their addiction, we recognize there’s always the chance they’ll have a recurrence of symptoms. 

As loved ones, we must equip ourselves so we’ll survive no matter the outcome of their journey.

My son turned 24 this summer and is on his own wellness journey. Thanks to years of hard work, I’m also doing well. I’m so grateful that this is where our life is at now.

This was a difficult journey that began when he wasn’t even 16 years old. Receiving and figuring out how to live with my son’s diagnosis of addiction turned our lives into complete chaos, despair and isolation. For many years, I didn’t know where to turn and the pandemonium that was our life was debilitating for me. 

Through the years, I learned more about the disease, worked through many tough issues with my counselor and found peers to walk beside me. One very important aspect of my journey to wellness was talking with Dave Jansa, a Face It TOGETHER loved one coach. 

Dave helped me understand the disease of addiction; directed me to many resources that taught me how to compassionately communicate with my son; and helped me be proactive in establishing healthy boundaries in my family. My family’s journey isn’t over and I realize that the road can present me with a hard-left turn at any moment.

The nature of addiction – in which I’m intricately enmeshed because I tend to be emotionally dependent on interactions with my son – requires me to be mindful of the potential for recurrence of his symptoms. In that time of relapse, or even the perception of a relapse, it can be so easy for me to fall back to unhealthy and unproductive behaviors. 

I’m proud to say that I’ve become more resilient in these moments. I can cope and adapt to challenges. I’ve set myself up to be better prepared for a potential relapse or other stressful situation that may come about because of his disease.

We’re all different in how we cope when our loved one’s symptoms recur. It’s important to learn what works best for you, but there are others who’ve walked a similar journey who are willing to share what works for them. Here are some specific strategies that I use to help me move forward in those times:

Praying: I’m a Christian and I spend time in the Bible most mornings already. This is a source of comfort for me. So, I turn to prayer whenever I find myself in a situation where I feel out of control. This quiet time of reflection and communion gives me hope that I can overcome these challenges and stress.

Journaling: The physical process of writing in a journal gives me a healthy outlet for my fears, anxieties, anger and sorrow. It’s a safe place for me to acknowledge my deepest dreams and desires for my son. Sometimes my journaling includes making lists, transcribing portions of scripture or even doodling. The most important thing is that whatever I create in my journal is from my heart and that I don’t judge its quality.

Planning: I am a planner naturally. In times where things feel most out of my control, I talk through a planning process with my husband. It’s important to prepare myself for whatever stressful thing may be coming my way. Talking through the steps and potential decisions to be made helps me to stay focused on what I can control by creating healthy boundaries as the need arises.

Connecting: My tendency is to isolate, a state that is very unhealthy for me. As soon as I can, I seek out those people in my life that make me feel most safe. For me, those are my husband, my family and my friends who have also experienced addiction as a loved one. They bring very valuable personal experience to help me face my concerns and feel less out of control.

Moving: I take my dogs for long walks, or go for a run while listening to an audiobook or a podcast. The act of moving helps me to release pent-up energy and anger. If it’s a sunny day, I get a good dose of vitamin D while breathing deep in fresh air. It clears my mind and energizes me to continue to move forward.

I didn’t have these strategies when my son was first diagnosed. In fact, it was only in the past couple of years that I truly began to understand what it takes for me to be well in the moments where life felt like it was spiraling out of control. 

I met people who had walked a similar journey before me and were willing to share their stories and strategies with me along the way. I couldn’t be where I am today without their generous help.

The most important tip I have is to give yourself some grace. The disease of addiction is chronic, which means that it doesn’t just go away. And, your loved one will more than likely experience a recurrence of symptoms at least once. 

Face It TOGETHER’s loved one coaches can help you prepare for these moments and identify strategies that will help you to become more resilient in times of stress. If we, as loved ones, can be healthy, we can be strong, compassionate and helpful to those people we care about the most.

Loved one coaching