Imagine a stereotypical family with a dad, mom and a few kids. Both parents are working: Dad goes to the office and Mom works part-time out of the home and is responsible for managing the house, cooking the meals, and handling the kids. The kids are all in school, play sports and some have part time jobs.
On the outside, this looks like a very happy, healthy, successful family.
But every night when dad gets home, he starts drinking and the house is filled with incredible anxiety and tension. What kind of mood with Dad be in? How will this impact the family? With trepidation and stress, the family members watch how many drinks he has had so far.
Will Mom and Dad start fighting where they left off from last night or this morning?
Will the older kids have to step in and break up a physical fight again, or will they have to protect the younger kids and sacrifice Mom or themselves?
Can they get through dinner without a fight, or without watching Dad belittle Mom or bully the kids?
Which one of the kids will be the target tonight?
After dinner is over and the fight has ended, everyone goes to bed and acts like nothing happened. Then they wake up and do it all over again the next day as if nothing happened the day before.
From the perspective of each individual involved, here are some thoughts each stakeholder may express:
- “You all are lucky that I am such a great provider.”
- “My drinking is not a problem; I have the right to relax in the way that I want.”
- “I work hard and have the right to say what I think.”
- “It’s my way or the highway.”
- “If you don’t like it, then leave and live somewhere else.”
- “How dare you question me or challenge me.”
- “I can’t believe that you’re related to me.”
- “Don’t you dare talk about this outside of family.”
- “Your father really does love you: he just doesn’t know how to show it.”
- “He is under a lot of stress at work so sometimes we have to ignore the things we don’t like.”
- “We really are lucky to have all the things that your father provides for us. There are people that are a lot less fortunate.”
- “You have to take the good with the bad: when he hits me, he really doesn’t mean to.”
- “I know that sometimes your father strays out of our marriage but he always comes back to me.”
- “It will be our little secret, and we don’t have to tell your father or the other kids.”
- “It’s important that we don’t talk about this to anyone because they might not understand.”
Kids (in various roles)
- The Fighter
- “This is bullshit.”
- “I am calling the cops.”
- “I am going to do what I want regardless of the consequences.”
- “The next time he does this, I am going to kick his ass.”
- “I am always going to speak my mind even if it means getting a beating.”
- The Flight
- “I am out of here.”
- “It’s every man for himself.”
- ‘If I don’t see it then it didn’t really happen.”
- The Freeze
- Paralyzed with fear
- Witnesses everything and says nothing
- Keeps the family secrets
- Disappears into the background
- “If no one can see me then I cannot get hurt.”
- Feels guilty for not helping others but cannot move
- The Flirt
- Will do anything to make everyone laugh or relieve the tension
- The clown
- Wants so desperately for everyone to get along even if it’s just for show
- Tries desperately to balance out the anxiety and fear with humor and comedy
- The caretaker
- Steps into the roles that the parents have abandoned
- Puts others needs first at the expense of their own
- Always assumes that they are responsible for everything and then the family adapts and does start blaming them for everything
And from the perspective of everyone involved, here are common coping mechanisms:
- Being perfect
- Anything that takes me away from how I feel right now
- focusing on other people’s needs and neglecting their own
Welcome to a home of addiction.
This almost always will happen when one of the kids or Mom will develop an addiction and be singled out as “The Problem.” This allows everyone else to act as if they are not contributing or suffering from their own issues. It might even cover for one of the parent’s addictions.
If we put “The Problem” into treatment then everything should be okay and we can all go back to our “normal lives”.
When we go to the family weekend at the treatment center, we will all be there to support “The Problem” but we will not talk about anything else.
We will say things like:
- “There is no history of addiction or mental health issues in our family.”
- “We have no idea how this happened.”
- “It’s the people he has been hanging out with at school.”
- “We are a perfectly normal family.”
- “We don’t want to talk about this with strangers because it’s really none of their business.”
- “We will handle this ourselves; we are not like the other people here.”
- “We are just here to support “The Problem;” not to talk about ourselves.”
The above perspective is a micro-level view of a common house of addiction. The underlying realization: “The Problem” in your family scenario isn’t one individual. Multiple factors are at stake, which is driving someone to be considered “The Problem” in your family. In reality, the entire family system needs work – and it isn’t just about one person. It’s a slew of things – from Dad’s reaction to Mom’s codependency to the kids’ various reactions – that all need to be considered when healing a family system.
Consider the macro-view: what is our country and the rest of the world going through on a daily basis?
The entire country is living in a house of addiction. Across the nation, individuals are turning to alcohol, drugs and other substances as coping mechanisms to deal with stress and anxiety from day-to-day living (and obviously the COVID-19 pandemic) in our ever-changing world. The worldly situation is effectively creating an environment in which people turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms much like a home environment can gear family members into maladaptive coping mechanisms. The result? A continuous downward spiral.
But there’s hope in navigating out of the downward spiral.
From the perspective of a family therapist living in the house and the world of addiction, in which you and I live in: I don’t focus on “The Problem;” I focus on the system and heal the family from within.
While I can’t solve all the country’s problems – and it’s resulting in a world of addiction – I can help you and your family heal. But first, it starts with the family – not the individual. We’re in this together.