Living in the Wake of Addiction: Lessons for Courageous Caregivers

LivingInTheWake493x789Many people in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD) say that being restless, irritable, and discontent began long before they ever tried to medicate those feelings with their first drink or drug. Until they experience recovery, these emotions can sometimes make the person feel like everyone else but them has received a different instruction manual for life.

But what about the person who is in a relationship with someone with a SUD? How do they learn to handle the extreme anxiety, stress, worry, and need to control that they might feel when their loved one experiences SUD? Where is their relief, and who knows what to do when that happens?

Rarely does a book that examines codependency, addiction and recovery also provide knowledge and hope for those with a substance use disorder, their loved ones, as well as the professionals who serve them. Fortunately, local addiction coach Gloria Englund has written that sort of guide. Living in the Wake of Addiction: Lessons for Courageous Caregivers provides a roadmap of how to be in relationship with a person who is struggling with a SUD. It is also an instruction manual that supports all pathways to recovery as it provides tools, resources and education about substance use disorders and the various approaches to treatment.

GloriaEngland400x600Living in the Wake of Addiction offers practical lessons for loving and caring for a loved one who is experiencing addiction, early recovery, or relapse, in a way that is nurturing and supportive for both the caregiver and the person with the SUD. Inspired by her own experience and relationship with her son, Aaron, Gloria wrote this book to help others who may be baffled by what to do when the needs and wants of the person with the SUD begin to pull at the heart strings and affect the lives of their caregivers or loved ones.

But why not just go to Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, Twelve Step programs that offer tools and support for families of alcoholics and addicts? Gloria would definitely encourage loved ones to get any and all group support for this journey. In fact, she has developed a six-week coaching support group, Courageous Caregivers© which offers the same kind of professional feedback and experience that she shares in her book. Like Twelve Step family support groups, this book offers a personal story that many will relate to, thereby diminishing the isolation and shame felt by so many of the family members of those with SUDs.

Beyond that, the book offers information and education about the brain disease of addiction that helps the reader understand and overcome the stigma and shame often associated with the disease of addiction. Living in the Wake of Addiction is well researched and provides an understanding of the complex nature of addiction, especially opioid use disorder (OUD), on both a personal and societal level. Englund’s account of her relationship with her son, Aaron, and his many attempts at recovery, are peppered not only with lessons she learned along the way (lessons learned the hard way, I might add), but also with facts and statistics regarding the extent of the problem. She not only discusses the shortcomings involved with the various treatment methods for SUDs, but also recent advances in our approach to addiction and recovery in the United States.

The remarkable thing about this book is that, although it chronicles the eventual death of the author’s son to a heroin overdose, her personal tragedy is used as a backdrop to educate others about the need for change in the way addiction is looked at and treated in our country. Yes, Englund provides many lessons on how to set healthy boundaries in order to prevent one’s own undoing when in a relationship with someone with an SUD. But ultimately, this book is a call to action to change the way addiction is viewed and treated in this country.

Englund devotes an entire chapter to “Myths and Misconceptions” about substance use disorder and recovery. Perhaps the most pervasive myth she discusses is the idea that addiction is a “character defect” or a moral failing, rather than a brain disease that needs to be treated and accepted as any other chronic illness.

Another thing that is so important about this book is Englund’s willingness to share her son’s participation in Medication- Assisted Treatment (MAT). Aaron spent many years on methadone in his attempts at recovery — which were no less courageous or authentic than Bill Wilson’s (the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) or anyone else’s attempt at recovery. But methadone and other medications used for SUDs are often viewed as “lesser” forms of recovery or not as real abstinence. Englund writes about her own struggle with her son’s use of methadone, which was based on her own prejudices and the journey to understand and respect some people’s need for medication as a recovery tool. In fact, Gloria admits that it took her years after her son’s death to let go of the idea that it was his defects of character and dishonesty that killed him. Gloria writes about these feelings in her book, telling a moving story about how finally in 2012, five years after Aaron’s death, she came to terms with the fact that Aaron died not because he didn’t try hard enough to recover, but because he had a disease that had progressed to the point that he couldn’t recover.

“In the end, Aaron’s battle with addiction cost him his life as it does so many others,” writes Englund. Despite his death, he didn’t fail, nor did she as a mother. Unlike many of the stories we hear from those who live with, love, or have a family member die from addiction, Gloria’s story ultimately becomes not only a question of what was this like for her, but also, what was it like for Aaron? Englund’s ability to use her story to cultivate compassion and understanding, and to call for changes in public perception and pubic policy around addiction and recovery, provides the ultimate demonstration of hope.

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