When a Spouse is Addicted to Drugs…

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

This was supposed to be a nice visit to a couple’s house for lunch.  However it turned into a rather uncomfortable setting as we witnessed the troubling transformation of a generally delightful woman.  She had already appeared a little agitated, but her grumbling about how worthless her husband was escalated into her yelling, “shut your face, you worthless piece of  ****.”   I searched for a sign that my husband was ready to leave as much as I was.  The husband, clearly embarrassed, explained that his wife was behaving that way because “that’s how she gets when she’s out of her drugs.”   Ultimately, we stayed a bit longer, attempting to offer some comfort and understanding.

As a respected member of her church, this typically charming woman was the perfect hostess in most situations.  However she had developed a dependency on her prescription pain medication that resulted in her behaving like many others who are

addicted to illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine.  Her craving for relief from the pain and suffering of drug withdrawals dominated her ability to conduct herself rationally.

  • WHY HELP IS NOT SOUGHT

Similar situations are being echoed in many households where a spouse has become addicted to prescription medication.  Unfortunately many of these families are too embarrassed to seek help.  There are also growing numbers of addicts who remain in denial about their struggle with over usage and dependency on their prescribed medication.  I believe that this state of denial is fueled by the fact that their drugs have been initially prescribed by doctors.  However the burden that this type of avoidance places on a relationship can appear to be unbearable.  Unfortunately many couples view divorce as the only real solution.

Although there is awareness in the medical field at large of this growing problem, there is much to be done in order to address it.  A report by Dr. Barbara Ray expresses great concern – especially for the so-called baby boomer generation.  In many cases, these are the older married couples who are battling with prescription drug abuse that has often been initiated through misdiagnoses.

  • UNDERSTANDING THE REAL ISSUES

Dr.  Ray’s report includes the following serious concern:  Clinical reports of substance-related health problems among older adults speak to the dangers of overdose, dangerous combinations of therapeutic drugs, and misdiagnosis of drug-induced mental confusion as early dementia. Misdiagnosis of drug-induced health problems may trigger prescribing of still more drugs. To date, there are no population-based estimates of the size of this problem, but there are increasing indications that drug-related health problems will be at unprecedented levels in the baby boom generation (born from 1946 to 1964) as it begins to reach Medicare eligibility in the year 2012http://www.samhsa.gov/data/aging/chap2.htm

When facing a situation where a spouse is clearly addicted to prescription medication, it may be very difficult to accept this addiction is just as serious as someone who is battling with street drugs.  Quite often the spouses view their partners as people who are simply not taking responsibility for their actions.  Concerned spouses will do much better to realize that these drugs are debilitating and can greatly hinder the ability to have a controlled response.  In other words, their loved ones may be under the influence of the drug in ways that are difficult to assess without professional intervention.

One of the greatest obstacles to overcome is facing the shame that is realized with those who finally admit their addiction.  In his eye opening book about recovery from addiction, Dr. Aaron Jamal gives readers a candid look at the journey of recovery that addicts often face.  As an addictions counselor, Dr. Jamal offers insight into the mindset of many addicts struggling to regain sobriety.  In regards to the often accompanying sense of shame, Dr. Jamal’s book, Preserved for Greatness includes the following: The shame-bound disease/sin that is associated with addiction has as much to do with what the addict is willing to do for the drug of choice as the dangers surrounding the consumption of the drug. Over and over again we heard of the shameful acts that each person participated in for the sake of “getting another hit” and with each of these stories was a clear and obvious attitude of shame.”

  • IN CONCLUSION

During this time, the concerned spouse needs to seek support and strength to help the addicted partner find effective treatment and recovery.  The love and concern for a spouse is needed and may be tested in ways unimaginable.  However, it is important to realize that people generally do not choose to become addicted.  Likewise drug addicts need love, understanding, forgiveness, much prayer and help to make the choice to overcome the addiction.

*If someone you know may be abusing or addicted to prescription drugs, speak up right away. Resources such as SAMHSA’s Treatment Referral Line, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD), or http://www.SAMHSA.gov/treatment are available to help anyone, at any time.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES….

  • Can Marriage survive the effects of substance abuse?

In a small room, a young lady sits with her face in her hands crying. She does not even look up to acknowledge me as I enter the room. She appears afraid and shame ridden. I offered some tissue and waited for some of the emotion to subside before beginning our session.
I asked if she would like a cup of water and she declined but said, “I can’t believe I did …” her voice trails off as she tries to compose herself.  “I really blew it this time… and I deserve whatever happens to me.” she said as she put on her sunglasses. I told her that I would prefer that she not hide her eyes and insisted that she remove her sunglasses. She complied and then looked up at me… “You just don’t know how bad this is…” she said shaking her head in disgust.

“Why don’t you take your time and tell me what you mean.” I said positioning a pad in front of me to take notes. “You can’t tell this to anyone!” She said while appearing to be gripped by fear.  “I would never tell anyone about this or anything else we are about to share. However, I want you to know that this is probably not the first time I have heard something like what you are going to share.  I just don’t want to interrupt you and so I will make notes for me while you speak.” I said.

“Well it’s the first time for me… I can’t do this… this has to stop! I need some help!” she said crying hysterically. “That’s why we are here. Now let’s begin this journey.” I said as we initiated this healing process on her journey of recovery.

This woman was one of more than 1,200 participants we would serve over the next 18 months. However, much of the damage had already been done to their families, marriages, jobs, and all had experienced an encounter with law enforcement for drug related offenses.

What is substance abuse?

Medline’s Medical Encyclopedia defines Substance abuse as the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are indicated or in a manner or in quantities other than directed.” However, substance abuse is evolving as inhalants and solvents are used for their mood altering effects.

For this article my focus will briefly target the more severe models of abuse that hijack marital relationships and threaten to destroy their way of life and marriage.

Many of the couples that I have tried to help have come as a last attempt to salvage what little is left of their marriage.  There is always multiple perspectives of the extent of the abuse, the depths of its damage, the cost to the family, and consequences that have been shared. Let me clarify that addiction is inherently selfish. People don’t indulge in substance use to help others. It may have many different provocations or reasons to begin. However, once the dependency is active, the addict is solely interested in self-gratification.

  • An Insatiable Appetite for Self Gratification

Self centeredness is among the most destructive elements of the effect of substance abuse on marriage. Couples vow to stay together through sickness and health but addicts don’t require the spouse to engage in their abuse. Many of them grow isolated from their spouse and become committed to a totally different social network of co-addicts. Some suffer from co-occurring dependencies.  Most have crossed moral and ethical lines in order to acquire drugs and to continue feeding their habit or to reach new levels of intensity.  Their pursuits rarely give into reason because much of their reasoning skills have been hijacked by the drug and environment.

In a room filled with self-proclaimed users I asked the question: “How many of you have done things that were unthinkable before you started using?” Everyone in the room raised their hand. I asked a second question: “How many of you did those things with people that were strangers?” Again the room was filled with raised hands. Finally, I asked:“How many of you considered what this might do to your loved ones while you were in the midst of those unthinkable acts?” This time the room had only a few hands that went up. I asked those few that raised their hands; “Did you still choose to get high even though you knew it would hurt your loved ones?” Sadly, they each answered “Yes.”

  •  “I can’t believe I did that”

Regardless of the “drug of choice” each person usually has a story that includes deception, shame, reckless behavior, and escapism. In addition to those dynamics and long before the addict has reached a point of exhausting bank accounts, savings, and family valuables there are often a litany of challenges that occur in the relationship. Often the addict has encountered severe depression as a result of a traumatic experiences such as the loss of a loved one, rape, loss of a job, career ending injury, etc.

Coping with the after effects of those traumatic occurrences without professional guidance and support is far too often a perfect setting for gateway drugs to be introduced. Sometimes even the pharmaceutical solutions are an introduction to this altered existence when they are not taken as prescribed. In other situations, there maybe someone sharing their plight with some peer or friend and the peer says “Have you ever tried…” and before you know it, you are on your way toward opening the door to something that will isolate you from your spouse, your faith, your children, your moral code and anything else of value.

Often the spouse of the substance abuser feels betrayed and deceived once they discover their spouse has a real problem with substance abuse. Some even blame themselves for what happened. Others have considered participating with the spouse rather than lose them to the new social network they have engaged in. Some are in denial because their spouse doesn’t look as bad as the horrible pictures they’ve seen on TV. However, many of the people that I have counseled admit they are even worse than their spouses think they are. They have done things they can’t even mention.

  • Get the help you need!

If this describes you in any way at all you can be encouraged that there is hope for you and your marriage. It will probably not happen without the inclusion of a support system and that will differ based on the type of issues you face and the degree of your dependency.

Personally, I have not witnessed significant levels of sustained sobriety following lengthy seasons of abuse without a combination of Spiritual, psychological, emotional and physical therapeutic assistance.  Holistic models appear to be the most effective. Additionally, many of the models have implemented strategies that are flexible enough to facilitate your healing process without lengthy periods of being isolated from your spouse.  However, the process of resetting the necessary disciplines and boundaries is not an overnight process. It is not just a mental or a physical remedy.

Healing Fractured Lives

Psychospirituality is an alternative method assisting the recovering addict on his/her journey of recovery.   Dr. Margaret Jamal explains the term psychospirituality in her book, Beware of Wolves in the Church, as follows: “The term psycho-spiritual is one that combines the two words- psychological and spiritual.  The psychological stresses of life tend to precede the decision to seek spiritual resolve that is believed to be beyond our personal control.    Psycho –spiritual studies (while still in infancy) indicate that an intersection of psychological treatment with spiritual intervention can produce significantly favorable outcomes.”  Most methods have stopped short of proclaiming promises of healing. If you only define healing as abstaining from the abusive substance and behavior then you are probably not representing the “whole problem.”

What is most important is for you to get help today! Do not procrastinate or put off tapping into resources that are intended to help you. If you are the spouse of someone struggling with this, there are programs that are designed to help you and address the questions and voids that you have been struggling with.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa.gov) is a great resource for people that are seeking solutions for this prevalent issue.  National Institute on Chemical Dependency is also a great source of information and resources. Whatever, your choice, it is best to choose to engage with a support system as quickly as possible. Stop the advancement of this degenerative cancer on your marriage.

You may have to use the leveraged threat of divorce to urge your spouse to seek help. However, be very careful of what and to what extent you include people that are not bound to confidentiality standards. Unfortunately, the stigmatization of those struggling with addiction is very real. It can affect your ability to gain employment, leave your home vulnerable for liabilities and/ or become a weight for your children to bear throughout their school aged years.

Couples Coping with Bad Child Behavior

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

Many of us may remember the critical moments before giving birth to a long awaited child.  But do we remember our thoughts, prayers, wishes and dreams concerning that child?  We want our new baby to be healthy and beautiful.  We even plan to count the toes and fingers.  Yet how many of us actually hope for a child to be well behaved, obedient and full of joy?  And as the child develops, we consider the education that could lead to gainful employment.  Yet, we tend to ignore seeking the type of environment that would result in a well mannered child who brings peace and joy to the home.

Perhaps the lack of emphasis on child behavior has been a great contributor the high degree of reports of unruly children wreaking havoc in homes across the globe.  There are many different perspectives concerning the causes of bad behavior in children.  For example, one study reports that they found evidence that children who have trouble sleeping are more likely to have behavioral problems.   Another study concludes that mothers exposed to a certain amount of exhaust fumes are more likely experience bad behavior in children.  Whether the problem is poor sleeping habits or the results from exhaust fumes, experts are proposing a growing number of solutions to address misbehavior in children.  However, regardless of the causes for a child’s bad behavior, the solutions seldom address the adverse impact on a marital relationship.

 WHOSE FAULT IS IT?

One of the greatest responses that can contribute to hurting the marital relationship- where the couple is struggling with bad child behavior- is the tendency to look for opportunities to assess blame.  In too many cases, the couple blames each other  (just as much if not) more than they blame the child.  The father may blame the mother for poor health choices during pregnancy.  On the other hand, the mother may blame the father for not affording them the access to better child development resources, such as good day care facilities, or developmental toys and gadgets.

While there are vast arrays of resources available that claim to address bad child
behavior, there appears to be few resources that offer to repair the damaged marital relationships resulting from dealing with their child’s bad behavior.  The strain on relationships where bad child behavior is present may even result from underlying issues that simply had not yet surfaced.  In any case, there needs to be an intentional effort to seek support and adequate counseling for the couple who may not see their own adverse behavioral issues as significant in light of their child’s.

For couples who may be experiencing the stress of having a child with bad behavior issues, here are 7 responses to avoid along with 7 responses to apply.  Both 7 Responses lists below can be used by couples in order to help them to maintain their relationships as they seek solutions regarding their child’s behavior.

7 RESPONSES TO AVOID WHEN DEALING WITH BAD CHILD BEHAVIOR

1-      Avoid placing blame (especially on yourself or each other) or seeing yourselves as failures and bad parents.

2-      Avoid being angry and yelling at each other- especially in response to the child’s behavior.

3-      Avoid misdirecting punishment towards each other.

4-      Avoid telling others and declaring that you have a “bad child.” (Words have power.)

5-      Avoid trying to guess what is wrong with your child. (Seek expert assessment and counsel through schools, clergy, and/or mental health professionals.)

6-      Avoid going into debt through pursuing knee jerk responses to possible solutions.

7-      Avoid using substances such as illicit drugs, drunkenness, etc. as coping mechanisms.

7 RESPONSES TO APPLY WHEN DEALING WITH BAD CHLD BEHAVIOR

1-      Remind each other often how much you love and need each other.

2-      Be a good and concerned listener for each other.

3-      Take your time with discussing your options for solutions and insist on getting the clarity and understanding that you need –realizing that either of you may need to have solutions explained over again.

4-      Forgive the words said by your spouse or the problem child in times of frustration.

5-      Intentionally find ways to get away together to enjoy each other as often as possible.

6-      Remain hopeful that your situation will improve as you continue to seek solutions.

7-      Above all, pray for love, peace and divine guidance to abound in your household.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

In a world that is vastly different from the one that I remember growing up in, I am confident that the children of this age are facing far different challenges than I remember facing as a child. However, even during the times that I grew up in, it was clear that a lot of parents were not certain about how to deal with their children. The stress from feeling helpless in dealing with a difficult child can also wear on a marriage. However, the short answer to the entitled questions is “yes.” Your marriage can survive the journey of raising a difficult child.
After years of counseling couples, I have developed a number of constants but I am very careful to avoid projecting what worked for one couple on to each of the other couples as though it is a principled method for resolving their problems.  I believe “Principles” should be presented as universal and applicable to every aspect of life. Similar to many philosophies, principles are like musicals. They cannot simply be performed, they must also be rehearsed in order to reach desired goals.

Please give consideration to these insights- not as life principles but as thoughtful insights -with the intent of arming you with more tools in your tool belt of resources that can help you along your journey.

DON’T MAKE COMPARISONS

1) A constant that I have learned and share often with couples is that it is far more important to learn how to love the spouse you have than to struggle with the question “Did I marry the right person?” Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages” is a great resource to use to discover best approaches toward satisfying and reshaping expectations within your marriage. When seeking resources to help you deal with your difficult child it is also appropriate to begin learning to love the child you have and avoid fruitless comparisons to other children within your family or outside of your family structure.

BEWARE OF COPYCAT-ING

2) It may be necessary to take an honest assessment of your marriage to determine if you have projected some of the behaviors or root causes for the behavior manifesting in your child.  This assessment is not to find blame or fault, but to frame solutions.

Children are often little “copycats” that mirror their parents as they understand. “Do as I say and not as I do” strategies are conflicting and not effective for child development. Your children need to see you consistently handle stressful circumstances calmly and with restraint to learn that there are better responses to what will happen to them as well.  Discuss what you feel like even when you are using restraint to validate that the emotions that your child is feeling are not weird. “That really makes me feel angry when…” should not be used as an excuse to behave poorly and the more your child sees your example of handling stress with effective coping skills, then the better the odds are for them to develop better coping mechanisms.  On the other hand, if you retreat to a cigarette, profanity laced rants, or drinking as a coping mechanism then the odds are pretty good that your behavior will be copied.

LIES AND BROKEN TRUSTS

3) Avoid lying in any case but especially in front of your children. This avoids setting up a standard that lying is acceptable in certain situations. I believe it is even more important to avoid lying and breaking promises to your children. Broken trusts can be very traumatic for children and will often provoke behaviors that are reactions to those broken trusts.

Broken trusts tax any relationship and children are often acting out because of trust issues while they lack the communication skills to effectively express their feelings or to begin building that trust again. Apologies can go a long way in helping a child to learn that mutual relationships can hit the reset button and begin again on a clean slate.

DISPLAY GOOD TREATMENT TOWARDS EACH OTHER

4) Primary to the family structure is the health of your marriage. Take time out to de-stress and to build an affectionate atmosphere. If you are affectionate to each other and to your children these can develop constants that guard against negative behaviors. On the other hand, if your marriage has grown contentious where you are screaming venomous statements at each other, the children often view their family as unstable, embarrassing and insecure. Young children often thrive in affirming and affectionate atmospheres. Teens usually go through a period of adjustment where they may resist public displays of affection.  However, if you give them some space and remain receptive, they often come back to what made them feel secure in your love after the adjustment.

Early in my current marriage I had a discussion with our oldest daughter following an argument I had with my wife and looked her straight in the eye and promised her that divorce was not an option and that I was not going anywhere. I saw that she relaxed with the assurance that her family was not spitting up and I apologized for exposing her to that argument. Additionally, I explained that sometimes we say things just because we were upset at the time, but we would try to do better at treating each other better because we really loved each other.

That brief exchange with her added to the importance of my acknowledging how our verbal exchanges affected our children. We have since learned a great deal more about those dynamics. However, I must admit we made mistakes and were not always as responsible as we should have been it providing the best atmosphere in our home for our family.

Our children have endorsed our model of marriage as a great one often and that is a great reward on its own. However, difficult children are not a product of genes and every family dynamic must seek what is needed for their unique set of circumstances. Professional help is often an aid and sometimes the help of great friends can also provide great support through trying times.

ENFORCING PRINCIPLES VS. PUNISHMENT

5) Principles related to consequences are vastly different from punishment and defining the difference is critical to a healthy attitude about the correction that is required in guiding a child. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is not a bad principle but I do believe that the principle has been misused and abused to excuse methods of disciplining children.  Whereas I do not believe that the government has the capacity to offer “best alternatives” for children that are suffering through “abuse” I am aware that many parents mean well in their attempts to discipline their children but sometimes go way overboard in trying to use force to bring their child into compliance. In this case, it is necessary for those in authority to intervene.

Anger begets anger. Diffusing your own anger before levying consequences will avoid inflicting your child with suffering for their actions. Consequences do not have to be viewed as suffering to be effective. Suffering results more in shame and humiliation which rarely leads to positive results in the development of character. Providing consequences that target additional chores, losing benefits or money are better examples of appropriate consequences. Each of us will have to deal with consequences at some point of our lives. Facilitating suffering is not a teachable moment. Survival instincts can often drive the child into deceptive practices to avoid suffering punishment.  Building trust of your parental love is still viable even in the midst of a child experiencing consequences for inappropriate behavior.

CHOICE WORDS

6) Affirmation that is intentional and even exaggerated for every positive behavior breeds an appetite for more affirmation and often inspires the child to provoke you to higher levels of satisfaction and appreciation for their deeds. Negative responses are usually intense and leave long lasting impressions in the mind of the children. Ideally, negative responses should come far less frequent than positive ones. However, if they must come, let them be measured and not as a life sentence.  Avoid letting your negative response become as a label like “Lazy!” or “Irresponsible!” or even worse, “Loser!” Additionally, past behavior should not become a basis for each incident of inappropriate behavior. Fresh starts should truly be fresh starts.

PLAYING BY YOUR OWN RULES

7) Establish consistent ground rules that establish respect between you and your child. Require your child to be respectful and polite and avoid being rude to the child as well. Your role in the family is not a democratic role that requires a vote of acceptance. You are the parent and they are the child. Just as you are required to learn how to love the child you have, so should the child learn to love the parent they have. This love cannot be based solely on performance and should not become threatened even in the midst of poor behavior. You telling your child that you hate them or can’t stand them is not acceptable any more than your child screaming “I hate you” in response to your ground rules.

Resist being manipulated by the child, forcing you to choose sides between them and your spouse. Make it clear that you are a united front that loves them. You will not be divided nor will your union be threatened by their manipulation. Stand firm! Ask questions: “Does your mother/father know about this?” “Tell me exactly what s/he told you” should also follow along with a promise to discuss this with the spouse.

Finally, let your children hear you praying for them in a positive way. Don’t use family prayer as a platform to gossip and complain about your child’s behavior.  Allowing the child to witness your humility in front of God is a great model for your child to learn from.

The Impact of Unemployment on Marriages

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

Can you guess what the men all have in common in the following movies: John Q, Cinderella Man, The Jacksons (An American Dream), Selena and The Pursuit of Happyness? The answer is that each of these men had to face the reaction of their
wives from their being unemployed.  Of all these movies, the ones that put lumps in my throat were the Cinderella Man and The Pursuit of Happiness.

The scene in The Pursuit of happiness where Will Smith pleads with his wife to stay with him was simply gut wrenching to me.  While I understood his wife’s concern, I wanted him to have the type of companion that would help him through this extremely difficult time.  Even though this movie show a wife leaving her husband, a not too distant study indicated that the divorce rate actually declined during a recession.  A Huffington Post article offers the following interesting insight into the expected connection between divorce and unemployment, “…divorce decreases when unemployment rates climb because couples are not ready to give up their standard of living by having to pay for one extra household with one less salary.”

At the same time, staying together in strife and discontentment is no good either. Perhaps, if spouses would take the time to examine the emotional impact of job loss, there might be more compassion towards the unemployed partner.  I have come to understand that unemployment can induce a highly paralyzing state of mind.  It can greatly reduce a once thriving and confident person into a confused mindset, who learns to doubt everything.

However in order to get hired, the unemployed person actually needs to have a heightened since of awareness and strategic thinking in order to compete for employment.  Unfortunately, additional pressure from home only diminishes the ability to think clearly enough to plan strategies that could result in gainful employment.

It appears that many spouses who look to their partners for financial stability are often unskilled with encouraging the types of provocation that could help them to succeed.  Perhaps they feel that pressuring the spouse to do something” will result in immediate income.  However, many times the pressure leads to their spouses considering options that were previously unthinkable.  Additionally, once the spouse has been made to feel unvalued, it is difficult gain a level of proficiency and confidence that could attract an employer.

This attitude of defeatism can be quite taxing on a marriage.  The feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness are also magnified through the debt collectors and financial obligations that refuse to go away.   Anyone who is constantly faced with such challenges may easily find it difficult to be good company.  However, during this time of financial stress, there is even greater need for encouragement and reassurance.  Financial hardship is a time when the strength of a loving relationship will be exactly what is needed to overcome the growing urge to simply give up.

Ultimately, as in the Cinderella Man movie, a family will be able to reflect upon the great blessing of love and perseverance that actually withstood a great test.  Such challenges can uncover and even develop the true character of a couple that will make their relationship even stronger.  Couples should do their best to reflect upon and recommit to the promise to remain in their marriage- through “richer or poorer”.

Spouses should also encourage each other one to share their feelings that may be causing stress, while striving to give attention to what blessings they still have.  I have learned that everything has a season and hardship does not deserve the worry that it receives. Couples must learn to find ways to comfort each other until the trying season of unemployment passes.  And I truly believe that the more an unemployed spouse is fed encouragement, the sooner the season of worrying about finances will be over.