Addiction is a family disease. The Recovery Book advises family members of people in recovery that “Everyone in your family, as well as other people in your lives, has been affected by addiction in some way. Now you all need to work on getting your lives back to some kind of normal.”
Michael Arnold is a recovering alcoholic who now works as an alumni relations manager at the Harmony Foundation. In a recent Facebook Live with her twin sister, Michael and Casey talked about the impact Michael’s addiction and recovery had on their relationship. Both siblings demonstrated how important clear and honest communication is for the family dynamic.
Michael talked about the need to share with “brutal honesty what addiction can do to your family.” Casey talked about how hard it was for her to watch Michael decline in active addiction, realizing there was nothing she could do, that Michael had to save herself.
Michael recalls doing things to her family that “just weren’t nice.” Casey remembers all too well. Seven years ago Michael helped to put her twin sister briefly in jail—just to hurt her. Michael was in such a bad place that to hurt her sister made her feel better.
“I never thought I could be close with Michael again, never thought I could trust her again,” Casey said. But change can happen. Recovery can work miracles. “Michael has changed. She is not the person she was seven years ago,” Casey said. “She is not that selfish person that put me in jail. She’s working very hard at it every day.”
For desperate family members the trick is to be patient and supportive. “Don’t hammer people in recovery about all the mistakes they made in active addiction” all the time. “Show your love,” Casey said. “You need to have grace and patience with them. As family members you have to give them space to recover, the harder you are on them the worse it’s going to be.”
Appealing to people in the audience who have family members with addiction, Casey said, “You have to choose either to be there and support them or walk away. You can’t live in the middle and hold their past wrongdoings against them—that doesn’t help them recover. I have nothing but complete love for Michael now and I’m just so proud of her. It’s been a journey for both of us.”
Michael shared her side of that journey. Only “when I went through rehab did I get the tools to tell myself everyday to have that patience, to be so grateful that I’m sober. I have to know that my family will trust me; that they should realize that I’m a changed person but time is not on my side.”
It’s important to remember that recovery is a process. “I thought simply that Casey and I would be okay now that I’m sober. The relationship would be fine but it wasn’t,” Michael remembers. “Casey gave me that space for about a year to recover, but then she said ‘we need to talk about what happened’ so that we can move forward.”
Casey had to tell Michael what she had done to her and “she took it hard. I love you, I forgive you, but you have to earn the trust back.” That shook Michael, “but now our relationship is even stronger because you have to be able to open up about these things or they will simply fester.”
Making amends is an ongoing process for Michael now and Casey knows it. “Michael is ruthless and relentless about her recovery—she has even written a book about it. She is working hard every single day and that is all you can ask.”