Kate Duffy here with a little bit of wisdom about words and stigma.
A while back, I had a group of families in a training session. I asked them to type in the Zoom chat one word that they thought of when they thought of a drug addict or alcoholic. We then put these words together in a word cloud.
Oh man, it was an ugly cloud.
However, this really connects to the very, very beginning of when I knew I had to work in this particular way with families.
It was an ugly cloud, but let’s just say that some of those words aren’t untrue.
Let me explain.
I’m wanting to fight stigma, but I also want to be realistic and say that we (the addict) can be jerks. We are manipulative and great liars.
I first started supporting families to teach them about addiction from behind the curtains as an alcoholic because part of me knew that I was hurting my family, but whenever I was confronted, I would get defensive and react.
That part of me that knew I was hurting my family… that part also wanted to cry. Especially when I heard repeatedly from family members – I would think they were such jerks to me. They would think I’m mean and I would call them a liar.
None of those are not untrue. They’re true.
But because I was newly recovering myself, they came at me (who was so used to being the one that did that to people I love, not the other way around) so I got defensive. They hit me differently than if two family members were talking to each other about their pain and about that person doing that thing that hurts them.
Hearing it, having it coming at me, it felt like it was stabbing me.
“You did this!” and “You are that!”
And I kept thinking, “Yep, you’re right. Those things are all true.” Essentially: so what?
You feeling that way isn’t wrong, but you going at your loved one with that isn’t helping anyone. It’s not helping you to stay in that pain. And it’s not helping them. Because people don’t get motivated by that type of engagement, you will rarely get a response of:
“Oh my god, you’re right. I’m such a jerk. What am I thinking? Let me stop.”
What I want to point out about these words is, some of them aren’t untrue. And I want you to know, you shouldn’t be mad. It’s okay to be mad.
There’s sometimes this notion that we have to be all compassionate for the person with a mental health illness that is medicating it with alcohol (which is what addiction is, in my opinion.) But I’m not teaching people to tolerate or put up with or condone anything.
Here’s the thing, you want to separate your anger from what’s really going on with them.
I want you to think about that word cloud of all those nasty words to describe drug addicts and alcoholics.
Now imagine if there was one tiny little word that said beautiful soul, sense of humor, or super smart.
All those qualities that your loved one had way before they became addicted? All still there. They’re actually the core essence of your loved one.
Your loved ones are just not showing up with their core essence. They’re showing up with their pain and their addiction and their fear, and their misery. And if you meet them with your pain and fear and misery, that’s repelling recovery.
That is not going to equal recovery.
So I really want to stress that words matter. Take your words, your pain, your anger, and your hurt, take all of that to a recovery meeting. Then when you meet your loved one or greet your loved one, see the part of them that is whole, that is smart, that does have a sense of humor, that is beautiful, that is an artist– whatever it was they were and still have inside them.
Imagine you had two really big containers in your house. Every time you had a negative thought, you dropped a marble in one container. Every time you had a positive thought you dropped a marble in the other container.
I would argue for families being around addiction, the same thing happens: the negative one fills up a lot faster than the positive one. But there are still marbles in the positive one because there’s many parts to us.
What I like to do is teach families how to address the part that isn’t their addiction, address the part that is part of their wholeness.
That’s what you want to feed, we want to start taking the marbles out of the negative and putting them in the positive. We want to start balancing it out. When you learn that your pain is trying to motivate and change them, you can say, Wow, I want to motivate and change them. You just need to pivot how you’re trying to motivate and change them.
People aren’t motivated by anger or frustration or demands. It’s proven that we’re motivated by being inspired to move forward in a new direction. So what I like to teach families is to be inspired to move in a new direction.
Let me help you turn the ship. And it starts with you.
Why you? Because you can and they can’t right now.
Think back to a time before your loved one began this journey of spiraling downward. Journal a little bit about what that person was like. Journal to make it present in your mind and in your heart.
If you live with an alcoholic who’s active, I’m not suggesting you have a long conversation with them if they’re active, because they’re not going to receive the love that you’re handing them. But if you could see the part in them that we want to grow and turn away from the part of them that we don’t want to foster or continue to enhance, you’ll see a difference. You’ll see a change.
We’ve got to change the marbles.
We’ve got to change those words.
I’d love to hear from you about this! Comment below and let us know what you are seeing. What are you experiencing as a result of this strategy? It really works, but you’ve got to give it a try. You have got to work on it. I’d love to hear how it’s going. Thanks for trying to make a difference in your family.