Family member with addiction problems: How to cope
Where are your feet?
One of my favorite questions to ask myself when I am feeling out of control or pulled in a million different directions with just too many things on my “to do” list is:
“Where are my feet?”
When I am working with people in recovery as friends or family of someone with a substance abuse problem, I will often ask the same question.
When we are connected to an individual who suffers from alcoholism or addiction we tend to get wrapped up family dysfunction with addiction. We live in a franticness or worry, fear and anxiety. Similarly, hiding another person’s addiction can consume us. We spend a lot of time thinking about our loved one, about the future, about the past, about problems and potential problems, we think about all of the things we have to do for them or because of them and we start to lose a sense of presence and self.
So, when I am listening to this, or when I am feeling it myself, I ask, “Where are your feet?” Often the first response is an odd look, and then maybe a, “Ha ha,” but I always follow up with, “No really! Tell me exactly where your feet are right now.”
Check your feet
Stop for a moment as you are reading this and check on your feet. If you actually take the time to ask the question, consider the answer and then notice the presence of your feet wherever they are, you will also notice a shift in your mind. When you have to find your feet you have to pay attention to where you are in this exact moment and your mind stops spinning on all of the other issues. Your breathing will calm, your shoulders will relax, you will find yourself transported to exactly where you are right in the moment you are living.
Asking yourself, “Where are my feet?” isn’t about trying to answer a spiritual question, or have some of kind of “aha” magical moment of clarity. It isn’t esoteric, and it isn’t philosophy, it is a practical question that can immediately pull you out of the franticness of co-dependence and worry/fear/anxiety and right back into awareness of your surroundings and situation, and acceptance of what you can or cannot do in the physical place you are inhabiting.
You can only deal with the present
Maybe you have a parent who has a problem with alcohol or prescription pain killers (or both or something else), and you find yourself sitting in class, not paying attention to the lecture or the professor because your mind is so busy with worry and fret, thinking about your parent.
- What can I do?
- How can I help?
- What can I say to them?
- What if they need me?
- Why do they do this?
- Why can’t they stop
- What will happen to them?
- What will happen to me?
…and on and on and on.
Suddenly class is over, you didn’t learn anything and you didn’t solve any of the problems you were busy thinking about. But through all of that, ‘Where were your feet?’ It is a practical question and it is also a little bit of a trick question. The trick is that your mind should be wherever you feet are (now with an addicted family member), because that is where you are and that moment that you find yourself in is all you can deal with in that moment.
You can make a choice
When you start to feel out of control, when you notice that you aren’t noticing the things going on around you because of everything go on in your head, pausing to just check your feet reminds you that you can make a choice about your time, your day and your life. If you are sitting in class not paying attention when you check your feet you can decide if where you really want to be is with your loved one who is suffering, or if you really want to be where you currently are. That pause lets you reconnect to what you are doing as an affirmative action, not a reaction, it reminds you that you have a choice about whether or not you are going to be present in your own life.
Know where you are to get where you’re going
Knowing where we are as individuals doesn’t eliminate all of the problems of co-dependence or the complexity of caring about someone with a substance abuse problem. It doesn’t magically bring us to acceptance or serenity. Substance abuse in all of its forms is enormously damaging and painful, nothing can just “fix” that. But within that complexity, just asking, “Where are my feet?” you remind yourself that only you are connected to your feet, only you can control where they go, and wherever you are, whatever situation you find yourself in is always, all you can deal with in that moment of time.
The rest will simply have to wait until you can move your feet somewhere else!
Photo credit: Peter Pruzina (pruzi)