Is This a Crisis?
It might take an outside viewpoint to recognize behavioral health dysfunction in your family.
There’s a saying about a frog jumping into a pot of water on the stove. As the water heats up, the frog continually adjusts to the new temperature until he’s being boiled alive. Families dealing with addiction or behavioral health problems often feel like that frog. Until a crisis hits, they’re either in denial about what’s happening or they build a tolerance to the behaviors that are taking place.
This can often play out in stories a family tells to explain dysfunctional behavior. Instead of saying, “Mom gets drunk and passes out,” the narrative in the family might be, “Mom sleeps a lot.” Meanwhile, an outsider presented with all the facts would recognize there’s unhealthy behavior going on. Like the water on the stove slowly getting hotter, the behavior gets worse. At first, Mom might limit her drinking to the evening. Then maybe the kids coming home from school start to find Mom “sleeping” on the couch. Finally an event might happen, like the kids get home from school, find Mom passed out on the bathroom floor with a gash in her head, and call 911. Mom’s okay in the end, but this might be what prompts Dad to move out of the house with the kids.
It’s important to remember that everyone in the family hits their bottom at different times. In the example above, for the husband, the bottom might be his kids calling 911 on their mother. He’s moved into full crisis response mode and something is going to change for him. But for that mom, having her kids move out might not be enough to convince her something needs to change. She might believe she can still manage. The good news is, the husband can make his own decision to ask for help even if his wife isn’t at that point yet.
Surrender is not defeat
For anyone hitting their bottom, surrender often looks and feels like defeat. For the family with the potentially alcoholic mom, clearly whatever they’ve been doing to try to manage the dysfunction isn’t working. The family is now split up. The kids are traumatized by the experience of coming home and finding their mom bleeding on the floor. The husband could be looking at a potential divorce. The mom is alone. It’s a desolate place to be.
And yet, for the person hitting their bottom, letting go of control allows for surrender. It allows them to see the situation in a different light. They’re forced to step into uncertainty and start to think creatively about solutions. And it’s not always the person with the behavioral health issue who hits bottom first. Often a family member will reach their own crisis before their loved one does.
Ask for help
Whether it’s you or your loved one reaching a crisis, it’s important to seek outside help. None of us truly understands the water we’re swimming in; we all need the perspective of outside eyes. It’s really difficult to untangle and unpack your own history in a way that’s effective—and do it quickly, which you usually need to do in a crisis. So I would encourage any family that’s facing a crisis—even if your loved one with the behavioral health issue is not recognizing it as a crisis—get some help. You can’t do this alone.