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Unite and Celebrate Recovery

"Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.” — Al-Anon, Tradition One

Combat Veterans

We’re united by the effects of alcoholism and substance abuse in our families. We’re united from dealing with a chronic disease that’s been described as “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” Approximately 22 million Americans struggle daily with addiction to drugs or alcohol. Another 100 million family members and friends share their pain. James Graham writes that there are two great resources on substance abuse: those in recovery with front line experience and combat veterans who have been exposed to the active addition of a loved one for long periods of time. We battle scared veterans can help one another deal with chaos, crises and challenges.

Help and Support

Many of us have found support in twelve-step programs and other groups for loved ones. We unite around a central theme — how to provide help and support yet not enable and how to take care of ourselves. Also we can seek help from psychotherapists, counselors and clergy.

Misguided Behaviors

Many of us have spent years trying to reason with and “fix” our husbands, wives, sons and daughters. We lend them money, pay their bills, bail them out of jail, make excuses for them, believe their lies and manipulations, and pray for their safety. We blame ourselves for their failings. We feel shame. We keep family secrets. None of this works. Yet we persist. We become addicted to the addict. Our lives derail into worry, panic, and despair.

Chaos and Crises

We panic when the phone rings in the middle of the night. We worry that our son or daughter might become homeless. We take charge of our grandkids when their parents are unable to care for them. And we grieve when loved ones die. Recently I received an email from a dear friend whose twenty-seven year old nephew died from a drug overdose. I lost my husband to this disease twenty years ago.

Change and Recovery

Transitioning from co-dependency to freedom is hard work. First, we have to recognize that we are part of the problem. Second, we have to seek help. Often this is difficult because addiction feeds on shame and secrets. Third, we have to be willing to change. And like toddlers learning to walk, it’s hit and miss. Eventually with the love and support of a recovery community, we can learn to stand on our own two feet and reclaim our lives.

I’ll focus here on twelve-step recovery because I’ve been part of this community for many years. (I recognize that this approach does not appeal to everyone and other forms of support are available.) It’s a spiritual program with four dimensions: the steps, the slogans, sponsorship, and service.

Members share their experience, strength and hope. We tell our stories. Our narratives unite us. Some are heartbreaking — a son who landed in jail, a husband who lost his driver’s license, a daughter who almost died from a drug overdose, a sister who lives on the streets. Others are uplifting: a daughter who regained custody of her child, a husband who successfully completed a residential treatment, a son who returned to college and earned a degree. The program requires anonymity which provides a safe space to share. (“What’s said here stays here.”) Everyone is welcomed regardless of gender, social status, sexual orientation, race, religion (or not). No one is judged or criticized. No one is advised to do this or that. We laugh. We cry. We listen. We learn. We bond around our brokenness and commitment to healing.

How do we do this? First, we have to admit that our lives had become unruly. Second, we have to show up and share our stories. And third, we have to be open to change. Many of us believed that “doing it ourselves” represented strength and independence. We believed that single handedly we had the power to “fix” our loved ones. Our “God suits” fit us just fine. We wore them with false pride. So it’s humbling to strip ourselves naked and admit that that going it alone doesn’t work.

We combat veterans join to help one another learn how to lead happy, healthy lives whether or not our loved ones are in recovery or in active addiction. That doesn’t mean that everything’s rosy and that we don’t fall back into our old, unhealthy habits. But we don’t have to do this alone. United we ease our burdens, applaud our triumphs, and celebrate our recovery.

A version of this post appeared in Voices of Unity, Coming Together, Falling Apart edited by Cat Pleska, Mountain State Press, 2017.

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