Cheetos and television are not the keys to recovery

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FEATURE — When I think back on my early counseling career during the late ’90s, Cheetos come to mind.

I worked with youth at that time. Youth groups are, by far, the toughest way to “cut your teeth” in the substance abuse field.

Consider the following anecdote about a father and daughter grappling with her addiction; while the particulars are invented, they represent an amalgam of real-life people and their experiences.

On a given occasion, I had information that one of the girls in a support group was dealing marijuana to other clients in the group. She was outed by one of them, who complained that her product was of poor quality. Another counselor and I confronted the 16-year-old and … she denied it of course.

As the group continued, other clients came forward and confirmed the girl’s product was substandard (sarcasm intended). The girl’s father was called and she was sent home.

After group ended I received a call from the girl’s father. He was livid. I could hardly get a word in as he shouted at me over the phone, “Why did you kick her out?!”

I tried to get the man to redirect his question to his daughter who was home with him. Each time I tried to reframe his question to focus on the real issue of his daughter’s behavior, he angrily asked again why she was kicked out.

I could see there was no getting through to him.

Unsure how to reach this parent, I redirected away from the issue altogether.

“Where is your daughter?” I asked.

“What?” he responded, along with some expletives.

I asked him again, “Where is your daughter?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” he said, again with a few expletives. “She is on the couch!”

“Is she doing anything?” I asked.

His anger did not recede. “She is sitting on the couch!”

Taking more of a risk, I asked, “What is she doing on the couch?”

“Watching TV,” he replied matter-of-factly.

I kept the line of questions going:

“Is she doing anything else?”

“Yes, she is eating.”

“OK, what is she eating?”

He lost it at that point.

“SHE IS EATING CHEETOS!!!”

I’d been working with this father for several weeks in family group, and I knew his story. He had read a few books about parenting addicts, and he was very engaged in his daughter’s life.

What I said next pained me to say to him, but it needed to be said:

“So, your daughter got herself kicked out of a court-ordered substance abuse program for dealing pot. Her probation officer will likely put her back into detention until he gets the case back before a judge. It would seem that she is facing some serious consequences for her behavior. Yet, she is home watching television and eating Cheetos.”

This is an all-too-common theme among family members of the clients I work with. They are far more invested in change than their addict is.

If you examine the motivation behind the loved ones’ reasons for enabling their addicts to continue their behavior, you will find that the addiction tends to rely on the loved ones’ fears as much as it relies on the addicts to continue to use.

Let’s take the above invented story as an example. This father’s underlying reason for overlooking his daughter’s behavior may have hinged on several scenarios. Perhaps he felt the divorce that led to his being a single parent was his fault. Maybe his parents were alcoholic. Possibly his daughter was abused in early childhood, and he felt like he should have been able to protect her.

Whatever the scenario presented, an addict’s loved ones often have issues of their own that bond them in some way to the addict’s issues. It is paramount that the family or significant others of the addict engage in treatment if they are going to have any involvement in their recovery. Often the family is loving them where they want them to be – or where they have been – rather then where they are at this time.

Written by AARON WARD, Lion’s Gate Recovery.

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