Our brains are designed to develop patterns, memories, and pictures. We hold particular patterns about our loved ones. In order for us to change our perceptions or viewpoints, we must be convinced that what we are changing is better than the view we currently have about our own lives and those of our loved ones.

It can be easy for a family to hold on to the belief that it is only their loved one who has a problem. It can be difficult to see what part, if any, they might have played. When we explore the roles we have in our family, we can start to develop new ways of relating to one another.

Learning What To Say

With help, most families slowly learn how to see how their role(s) have unconsciously played a part in their family drama. They then discover how to respond in a healthier way. Family members learn to:

  • Respond without reacting and think about what they say.
  • Learn what their feelings are and how to share those feelings in constructive ways. In the beginning, most folks are only able to identify four key feelings: mad, sad, angry, and hurt.
  • Use non blaming “I” statements and feelings, such as “I felt angry and confused that last night you passed out on the bed, and I had to put the babies to bed by myself.”
  • Stick with what they have seen, heard, and observed — just the facts when talking with their loved one.
  • Live in ways that promote transparency, vulnerability, and healing.

Learning What Not To Say

Family members will also learn what actions and things not to say, to keep communication channels open. They will learn not to:

  • Lecture, beg, preach, nag, or cajole.
  • Threaten, hold hostage, or negotiate.
  • Bargain or promise, such as, “If you stop using, I will do this or that for you.”
  • Look the other way and sugarcoat, deny, or minimize behaviors they know are unhealthy.
  • Call bosses or schools to excuse their loved ones.
  • Tell other family members that their loved one is not feeling well and can’t attend family functions.
  • Bail out their loved one.
  • Try to control what they cannot control.
  • Take responsibility for the other person’s behavior.

When talking with someone who has a substance use disorder, it’s important to remember that their brain is not the same as yours. You are speaking to a hijacked brain. Thus, it’s important to wait until the person has some semblance of sobriety to talk. Share your feelings in a thoughtful and compassionate way when you do, and whenever possible, speak to your loved one with more than one person present.

Example Statements

Here are a few examples of “I” statements you can use to express your feelings, or use as a base/template to create your own.

“I love you and care about you. Last week when I saw my credit card statement, I felt betrayed, angry, and disgruntled. I realized I have been paying for your alcohol and drugs, and enabling you by allowing you to use my credit card. I have cancelled that card, and while I will not be paying for your substances anymore, when you are ready to get help, I will help you get the help you need.”

“I love you and care about you. Today I feel angry, scared, and baffled. Yesterday the school counselor called and asked why you were not in school. I thanked them for the call, and for the first time I shared the truth — I had no idea where you were or what you were doing. I feel lost. Your problem is bigger than all of us — we need help.”

“I love you. Today I feel frightened, angry, mad, and baffled that you passed out on the couch and left our three-year-old unattended. I will no longer look the other way. I will support you only in getting help. I will not allow you to put our loved ones in jeopardy. I care about you and need you to accept this offer of help.”

Expectations & Listening

Conversation starters are the first step. They let your loved one know you love them and are facing this problem head-on. That you will help, but are no longer willing to sit by or cover for them. Their reaction may not be the one you want, especially at first, but you are opening up a dialogue by letting them know where you stand. By continuing to hold firm in your position — with love and compassion — you will let them know the rules have changed, and their behavior is no longer acceptable. 

It’s important to hear them as well. Whether they are able to communicate with healthy responses like “I can see what you’re saying” or “can you give me examples?” Or if they respond with conflicting responses such as, “I don’t understand where this is coming from,” or “that sounds ridiculous.” Try to hear them out, and not speak over them. Be careful not to frame your sentences around a “but,” such as “I love you, but…” try to use the word “yet,” and continue to hold the space for them with love. 

You’re taking a big step, and it’s not easy on either you or your loved one, but you (both) deserve to live healthy and happy lives.

For help with an intervention, contact Dr. Louise and her team of experienced, compassionate experts.