The Habit of Substance Use

Once my brother came clean it about his Substance Use Disorder, it became apparent that ALL of us were suffering with dependencies that were creating one unmanageable crisis after another. A dependency, or a compulsion, is a coping strategy that we use to calm, numb, or benefit ourselves in ways that we use to excess. We are in “excess” when our behaviors begin to have consequences. Too restless, irritable and discontent to get out of bed in the morning and go to work? I may be using sleeping in EXCESS to cope with my depression, hangover, or have a disturbed sleep cycle - a host of possibilities but all related to this one true thing: our “excess” is disrupting our life.

My brother’s cocaine addiction, unlike my own eating disorder, caused him to break out in handcuffs, lose jobs, and generally manage to infuriate anyone who tried to maintain a relationship with him. He lied, he cheated, he stole. I lied in ways that were equally damaging but a teeny tiny bit less obvious than his dramatic crash and burns. In fact, his own propensity to get into massive amounts of trouble served to mask the dysfunction of our family system in general and in particular our individual issues.

The crisis created by my brother’s treatment for drug addiction provided an opportunity for our family to take time to assess the dynamics at play in our family system. Problems that seemed obvious to others about our family were revelations to us. Secrets were exposed. My eating disorder was named. The rigid roles that each family member played, the enabling, the lying, a lot of these realities rose to our collective consciousness. (Again, this was not everyone’s perspective.) Suddenly, what we thought of as normal shifted. We realized how unmanageable our lives were - the conflicts, the financial strain of dealing with my brother’s issues, the unhealthy ways my parents coped with their stress, the resentments we held against one another but never discussed. We were taught that all of this was related to the disease of addiction. It was a multi-generational problem. Both the affliction and the maladaptive coping skills associated with addiction were passed down through our family tree much like the family silver and a few pieces of good jewelry. When we take our first step the focus rightfully belongs on our own particular brand of compulsivity. But it is also helpful to realize that when one family member suffers from Substance Use Disorder, the entire family system is also suffering various forms of sickness marked by denial, unmanageability, powerlessness and resistance to solving problems.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. Romans 7:17-20 The Message