written by Laura C. Todd on 6/10/2016

“He’s just been really stressed lately.”

“She still has a job and pays her bills – she must be doing better.”

“Everything is fine.”

Often in our most important relationships, we faultlessly assume that a person doesn’t need help because they haven’t asked for it. People we know might ask at dinner how our child, spouse, or friend is doing; and so we smile, nod, and share whatever information we need to in order to calm any of our own concerns. Fearing judgment and bathroom gossip, we shield the ones we care about from the imminent harm of the truth. Perhaps there’s a reputation on the line, so we choose to stay quiet. Steadfast in our disbelief, we allow months, sometimes years to pass. Our intentions are pure, but we still need more proof.

In the moment we arrive at this realization, there is so much to be afraid of — similar to the one who continues to use, we feel ashamed to admit the truth: That someone we love is lost in a battle with addiction, and we don’t know what to do about it.

Our minds fill with so many questions: When did this start? How did this happen? How long has it been going on? Why didn’t they tell us? How could they do this? Why is this happening? What will people think of us? What have I done? Where did we go wrong?

We begin tracing every step of our past; attempting to pinpoint a moment we had failed to see before. We must have missed something all along. Surely, if the signs were there, we would have seen them. If only we’d known sooner, we could have done something before it got this far. We aren’t that different from other people…are we? This doesn’t make sense. We must have made a mistake. We didn’t talk to her enough about it. Our family doesn’t do this. We must have done something. It must be our fault. We wait for the phone call that confirms a nightmare that we pray never arrives, until we start asking the worst question of all: How much longer will it be until we lose her?

In the history of news and literature, addiction has served as the mystery behind a curtain of senseless crimes, unexplained violence, and social deviance. Extreme poverty and chronic homelessness are seen to befall individuals who, while chasing their next high, have lost everything. The world seems to whisper it’s their fault if they want to do this, and they will pay.

Addiction was first recognized as a disease over 70 years ago. Yet, many people still view the addicted person as an individual with a compromised moral compass; a lack of virtue; a selfish character. So it’s no surprise that when a person we love is wandering this path – that we are left to wonder if we ever really knew them at all. We fear the world will view them as flawed; that we are flawed for loving them; that neither of us can be helped.

In the wake of a nation-wide overdose epidemic, we are pulled by the powerful gravity of fear, terrified to lose the ones we care for the most. For those of us in Baltimore, a city once-hailed “The Heroin Capital” of the country, it’s the same heartbreak we’ve seen in our streets for many years. We are told that some people “just won’t make it;” that we must accept it and go on; that we must navigate on through. As we age, we learn that life is filled with a vast spectrum of emotional cornerstones, both joyous and devastating. But when did this type of tragedy become the norm? 

“When all we want is a little relief, blame will feel natural. Much like our addicted friend or family member, we will go on a painstaking psychological search for a momentary escape from the truth. “

The questions that burn in our hearts leave us to search for an answer that will make sense of it all. We feel forced, at times, to read between the lines; to know when to come running and when to walk away; to analyze every word they speak for a modicum of trust. And in the absence of clarity, we seek blame. We blame each other. We blame our loved one. We blame strangers. We blame friends. We blame bartenders and drug dealers. We blame teachers and television programs. We blame our partners. We blame ourselves. We take it all on. Their suffering becomes ours, and it hurts us. Terribly.

When all we want is a little relief, blame will feel natural. Much like our addicted friend or family member, we will go on a painstaking psychological search for a momentary escape from the truth. We can spend a great deal of our effort in attempts to identify whatever it is at which to point the finger. Certainly, blame makes for a great distraction. Much like the one that justifies his drinking due to his job, his relationship, or his parents, our need to blame someone or something, including ourselves for our loved one’s disease, will get us all but nowhere in the end.

But if there is no one and nothing to blame for this, then why did it happen? What we know about addiction is that there is no cookie-cutter design to tell us who will become dependent on drugs and/or alcohol, and who will be spared. All walks of life have faced this disease: the terribly poor and the extremely wealthy; women with children and men in wars; transgendered youth and church-going elders. Society is quick to fit us all into groups, but there isn’t one category of people – across all socioeconomic factors, that have not yet been touched by addiction. People discriminate – substances do not.

Often, in looking for blame, we are hoping that by finding a reason behind their suffering that we can somehow pin it down. In truth, we are trying to help. As people, we are conditioned to uncover motive in pretty much everything. We seek to understand what is happening in our lives; to solve the mysteries in our relationships – so that we can be empowered to do whatever it takes. As much as we pray for a miracle, a person cannot fully recover from addiction at our will. Like many chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and asthma, addiction often requires long-term treatment and support. Addiction and recovery are two sides of a coin – both, at times, are a struggle; and both always a process. There is a transformation that we all must undergo.

As your loved one walks a path of recovery, you, too, will need to make the necessary changes in your own life – not just for the sake of providing healthy support to the one in need, but also for your own well-being (which is just as important!). When we find ourselves looking for blame – we enter a space where instead of focusing on solutions and improved ways to cope, we are unknowingly feeding into a cycle of hurt for all involved. Instead of tracing each step we have taken in the past – what if we stared bravely into the horizon of tomorrow?

The future holds potential for peace to be found; for us to step towards forgiveness of each other and ourselves. What a gift it can be: to move towards admitting our powerlessness, our faults; to accept our humanity and our flaws and the things we cannot change – as the beautiful, imperfect, whole people that we are today. Recovery that lasts demands immense effort from all involved – yet one day at a time, a little while down the road – the incredible journey will lead to happier relationships, in which all who are still with us are more grateful for each other; for the work it took to mend what seemed could never change.

“Instead of tracing each step we have taken in the past – what if we stared bravely into the horizon of tomorrow? “

Our feelings are valid – they are not to be ignored or swept under the rug. Facing addiction will not be easy – putting our efforts into a hope for the future can be exhausting, infuriating, and filled with all the complexities of human emotion that could possibly be felt. But, by allowing a little bit of hope to stay within the present; to base our choice to act on what is best for ourselves, right in this moment – we allow the door of real recovery to remain wide open – and we allow ourselves and everyone we love a safer place to heal.

It is for these reasons that addiction is often called a family disease. Social environment and supportive connections are vital to the successful treatment of addiction. Our team believes in the importance of repairing important relationships within the scope of recovery. If you care about someone who needs help, give us a call. By reaching out, a new journey can begin – and we are happy to be here with you, every step of the way. Visit or give us a call at 443-725-4062.

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