Needing Support

How important is support? I believe nature reveals to us that we are meant to support one another along the journey of life. Dolphins, for instance, are known to work together to catch fish, save sick friends, and play. Recently researchers have recorded the clever cetaceans ‘talking’ to each other in order to solve a complex puzzle. The discovery suggests dolphins use a language dedicated to problem solving. I read an observation report about one dolphin becoming paralyzed. When others saw that it was unable to swim, they gathered to form a bridge of support under it, carefully raising their injured friend to the surface for air.

Joshua Plotnik, a behavioral ecologist at Mahidol University in Thailand, and primatologist Frans de Waal, director of Emory University’s Living Links Center, have shown through a controlled study what those who work with elephants have always believed: the animals offer something akin to human sympathetic concern when observing distress in another, including their relatives and friends. Elephants in another herd were once found solemnly gathered in a circle, weeping together over the body of one of their herd who had died.

Along with dolphins and elephants, gorillas, dogs, cats, certain corvids (the bird group that includes ravens), and squirrels among others, have been shown to recognize when a herd mate is upset, weakened, or injured and to offer gentle caresses and chirps of sympathy, according to a study (published February 18 in the online journal PeerJ).

In nature, lending comfort and support seems to come, well…natural.

Some years back I personally observed comfort and support from nonhumans when my beloved Cairn terrier injured her spine, became paralyzed, and went through major corrective surgery. She recovered, yet never regained full strength. For the next four years of her life I tended to her every need as my other dog and our cat watched over her closely. They stuck by her, ever present at her side, especially when she grew weaker or sick. I often found them sleeping one on each side of her, lying close against her.

When she died, for months the two of them would sit with me in every room I occupied, something they hadn’t done together before. Every day they would lie at my feet, one on either side, as I worked my way through the sadness and misery of losing my closest companion. That little dog had been like a baby to me. Because of her many health issues, I took care of her like a child. In some ways, caring for her had even become a distracting comfort when my son moved across the country. Losing her was a traumatic shock. I was touched by how aware the remaining two were of my grief. Their loyal presence helped me get through that difficult time. Animals somehow sense when we are in need of extra comfort.

Another example I read not long ago was in reference to Redwood trees having surprisingly shallow roots compared to other trees. Redwood trees are some of the tallest, strongest trees, yet they have short roots that grow more wide than deep. However, these roots have an amazing ability to latch onto one another, growing tightly together as a strong force underground. The linking of roots allows for added strength, causing several trees to unite as a whole, standing together as one when storms come.

  1. Love. That.

Nature gets it. So if support and comfort are vital in nature; what message does that send to us?

What a beautiful thing if that kind of support came naturally in every family and group setting. How much different would our lives be if we instinctively came together to raise each other up, without considering fault, blame, or shame, without thinking of our personal issues or awkward feelings? How wonderful would it be if we didn’t hold back, but instead showed up, putting opinions and differences aside to offer comfort and encouragement, rallying around someone in need? How much stronger we would be when the storms come?

I’ve most often found unconditional support in rooms of recovery. Managing the adversities of life feels crushing, especially when you feel like you have to do it by yourself. Having reliable group support can provide great comfort in challenging times.

For most of my life I’d taught myself to have a stiff upper lip and push through trials. Therefore, support was most often reserved for a small handful of friends, Google, or the self-help section of the Library. It was by chance that I started attending family recovery meetings. We had already come through so much of the storm by the time I started going. But once I went, I never left. Supportive meetings were the final puzzle piece in my walk forward out of years of misery and dysfunction. They were a perfect fit.

After experiencing the profoundly healing effects of attending a good, solid support group, I now admit I regret the nights I walked the floors alone, agonizing about our circumstances. I regret not having a safe place to vent my frustration or hear how others coped when dealing with their own. How I wish I had a room to go to from the beginning of the journey, to gather with people going through what I was going through. I would have found safety in those numbers and strength from others who could say “Yep, I’ve been there. That happened to me too. You’re not the only one. I get it.”

I did have very good friends to call and I was lucky enough to personally know a few professionals I could contact in a pinch. Yet, had I also been rooted around those going through the same dark waters I was drowning in, I believe it would have made navigating my way through them a lot easier. There’s just something about someone who has walked the same road telling you “It will be okay” that is truly worth its weight in gold.

We are some years past the havoc of addiction first raging through our home. But I still regularly meet with a group for support. Now that life is more calm and stable, I believe listening as well as giving comfort, encouragement, and hope back is a great way to keep a stream of kindness flowing. No one should have to go through the harsh times of life alone. That’s when we need others to build a bridge under us and raise us up, especially when we’re feeling paralyzed. There are also times we’re called to be part of that bridge and help lift someone else up. Support is give and take. We all need it; we all need to offer it.

Its not weak to admit you need some support, actually its strong. Its real. And thats not always easy; it takes courage. Being real is not for the phony or faint of heart.

The epidemic of addiction our nation is experiencing is not stopping or even slowing down. I believe it’s awakening us to our need to be open, honest, and to compassionately support one another. Thankfully support groups are becoming more available. I strongly encourage everyone to research and find one that is a fit for you. Online or in person. We need all the strength available! Life can be brutal; it helps when you’re not alone. Support can make all the difference.

We need people to understand and care. That is where healing happens and strength develops. It’s as simple as that.

“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Rooting for you,

Annie

Author of books: Unhooked, and Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache

Host of:  The Unhooked Podcast

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For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support – TAPU

Family Recovery Support

 

 

A House Divided Stands No Chance

Divorce, Division and the Disease of Addiction

I think any respectful, right-minded person would agree that it’s important within a group or family setting to be on the same page when making decisions and navigating circumstances. This is especially true as it relates to managing crisis.

While we all may agree that unity is critical, this ideal is useless if our actions don’t corroborate our claims. We can all find ourselves locking horns with those we’re called to unite with for a common cause.

When the goal is centered around a loved one who struggles with substances, united not divided is of utmost importance.

If division is occurring within the home (or homes), it’s crucial to resolve differences in a fair and honest manner in order to obtain peaceful solutions.

Concerning alcoholism, addiction, and SUD, most people have stories of division. Some occur within a marriage where everyone in the household is pulled in different directions. There can be a good cop/bad cop situation in play, siblings played against one another, and so on.

Coming to terms with the huge importance of having a united front is crucial.

In families where there has been a divorce, it would seem division may be already in place, but from my own experience I know that unity is possible.

Division may come from well-intended family members or friends. Division can come from people pulled in or perhaps outsiders taking it upon themselves to become involved. Division can be motivated by fear, guilt, or more sinister motives such as selfishness or a hidden agenda. Whatever the case may be, division is an area of weakness that allows the disease of addiction and the manipulation it needs to survive, to wreak absolute havoc within a family.

Cracks of division, similar to cracks in a foundation, will bring a house down. Wherever those cracks appear, deception and manipulation can get in, which will deter truth and peace and can postpone the path to recovery.

My personal experience

I don’t write as an expert; I write from experience. The following is my experience with solutions in place for division:

– Divorced not Divided

My ex-husband and I kept a pretty good truce going for the decade we shared the responsibility of raising our son after our divorce. Of course it was awkward and even hostile in the initial phases of separating. In the early days we were prone to heated conversations and blame (never in the presence of our son) and it made for discomfort when our paths crossed.

Two years after the divorce, we met in person to have a conversation that cleared the air. We put our issues to rest moving forward from them with a commitment to positively parent our child. We set clear guidelines to prevent our exchanges from becoming cluttered with issues.

This allowed for strong unity when SUD and crisis came roaring through our lives later.

The following are a few ways we avoided division going forward:

Decide on goals and ground rules

Goals:

Having common goals: peace, health, happiness, and well-being for every child you share is of the highest priority. Never forget, it’s about them.

Giving our shared child a fighting chance at the life of stability we felt we didn’t get growing up was important. Giving our son a strong sense of family despite having divorced parents was crucial. These goals were important as a lifestyle for the years prior to crisis, and they became priority during.

Ground Rules:

Anything you do or say (within reason) wont be held against you. We can choose to not have paper thin skin in dealing with one another. Cooler heads must prevail. If you make a mistake you are still respected as an important part of the family. It’s not going to get rubbed in your face. Moving on is constant.

Lets not demonize one another. It is never healthy to say negative or destructive things about someone your child half-identifies with. If a child is not under threat of serious harm, truths will come out if they need to. Attacking one another and shoving poison in the ear of your shared child(ren) causes confusion, negativity, and will pave the way for unneeded struggles for them down the road.

Lets not rush to react, pounce on, or punish each other. Not everything is an ordeal to freak out about. Making a mistake does not classify you as the villain of our equation.

I prioritized this, having come from a condemning, shaming, punishing background. Which is a very difficult culture to be a part of—it makes it impossible to relax enough to just be. If one lays in wait for another to mess up in order to pounce, there can never truly be peace.

No petty, spiteful moves. That would only be wounds from the past manipulating current behavior. That includes not passive-aggressively planting negative seeds about one another in the mind of a child. No competitive parenting, such as good guy versus bad guy mentalities. If one needs to lose for the other to win, not only does no one really win, but the shared child, group, and goals are the real losers.

Incidentally, its good to remember that the behavior we engage in may turn up later in our sons and daughters. If I am engaging in (or accommodating) spiteful, manipulative, game-playing, or unfair tactics, chances are my son will grow up to date, marry, or become someone like that. By virtue of this behavior being woven as if normal into the fabric of his being, he may come to believe its acceptable and okay. Its not acceptable or okay.

Those things will always come back to bite.

Agree to approach things humbly and bypass childishness. Our sons and daughters are way too important for us to engage in arrogant, right-fighting immaturity. It really helps to be a proud “I dont know-it-all.” It’s not about just one of us, our history, our unresolved feelings, or who is the better parent. Its about the goal: the well-being of our kid(s). We must compromise, come to agreement as much as possible, and unite for what is right, fair, and true. This is about what is best for the greater good.

White flags go up immediately. When it comes to our sons and daughters, cease-fire should be quick, regardless of how we may feel about one another. If we are at odds, a peace treaty can still happen by virtue of having a shared mission.

Many times in our situation we could be aggravated with one another or at odds, yet still always have the safety and ability to call and say “I have to tell you what just happened.”

Loyalty to the goal, to the truth and to what is fair and right. We don’t need to fight just to win. Logic overrules emotion.

These standards greatly mattered to us when our son was young.  They later became the strength from which we navigated him to a healthy place when our lives were in crisis.

* * *

What do the earlier years have to do with the disease of addiction? Plenty—addiction is a family disease. If the time ever comes when we might deal with issues of addiction within the family, we have a great running start against the behaviors fueled by SUD. With goals in place, we have strategies ready for managing crisis, manipulation, and division in the future.

And that can prove to be life (and sanity) saving.

Will we ever fail when it comes to abiding by the ground rules? Absolutely. Sometimes miserably! We don’t always get it right. But the foundation laid is always there to return to no matter who drops the ball. You live, you learn, you do the next right thing and keep going.

* * *

What if it’s not possible to agree and unite or if the efforts are one-sided?

Understandably, there are people we all have to deal with that refuse to play by the rules. Some operate with low-blow behavior, don’t care for the greater good, and can’t be trusted to be sincere. Other times, too much damage has been done to have safe, vulnerable communication. There are people not motivated by logic, fairness, or peace. Some folks prefer to keep the fires of conflict and discord burning.

In these situations, the reality is they are probably not going to change behaviors or become less difficult. However, we can set good boundaries and remain healthy enough within ourselves that our reactivity is not negative alongside them.

Personally, in those cases I believe it’s a thing of honor to choose to be the one who still does what is right, staying committed to integrity, boundaries, and decisions, holding hope for a peaceful outcome, despite anyone else’s decisions. Their journey is theirs to figure out—we are responsible for our own.

Show kindness, don’t ever interact with vitriol, respond with dignity, and keep moving forward.

* * *

Nelson Mandela lived by the “Ubuntu” principle. The concept is, “I need you in order to be me; and you need me in order to be you.”

We need each other. We need to be kind and respectful with one another because we need each other.

“A family is supposed to be our safe haven. Very often it is the place where we find the deepest heartache.”  Iyanla Vanzant

 

I am thankful my ex-husband and I were able to establish unity when there was so much opportunity for division. It’s possible if we all do our part.

Our mission is to give our sons and daughters a strong family which in turn will give them a fighting chance for a healthy adult life.

Our responsibility is to not further discord, conflict, or chaos.

Our outcome can be the creation of a unique family unit that will become a safe haven, which in turn makes it easier for our sons and daughters to choose a healthy adult life in which they can thrive. 

My story is not a beautifully packaged family tale. It is raw and real. But it is a true story of reality, recovery, hard work, and hope.

Peace is possible!

Still learning,

Annie

Author of books: Unhooked, and Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache

Host of:  The Unhooked Podcast

* * *

For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support – TAPU

Family Recovery Support