Seeking Help for First Responder Families

Seeking Help for First Responder Families

Published on September 3, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Let’s say there is a first responder named Jim who has worked hard to lead a sober lifestyle. He has gone through withdrawal, treatment, counseling, sponsorship, and even sought extended recovery through sobriety-focused group meetings. Months have passed since he committed to his sobriety.

Work feels normal. Life almost feels normal. Why then, does Jim’s family life still show signs of dysfunction? The families of first responders already experience many challenges, from fearing for their loved one’s safety on a daily basis to being disappointed when they miss family time and special events due to demanding work schedules.

When addiction and mental health conditions are added to the mix, the struggle can be overwhelming. By working together and seeking help, these families can finally learn to heal.

All in the Family

Any mental health condition has the potential to ripple across one’s support group. The nature of mental health is such that a person typically experiences and exhibits unease with their mental state. While the expression of a mental disorder can be difficult to pick up on, trained mental health workers possess the experience necessary to diagnose symptoms.

For a first responder who has sought treatment for mental health, they may feel more capable of managing their own psychological well-being, but that same feeling does not extend to their family and friends. Addiction looms in the background of relationships, sometimes for years after seeking treatment.

Any relationship thrives on trust and communication — once these pillars have been compromised, they require a lot of time and effort to rebuild. For anyone who has been close to addiction in their family or friendships, the healing provided by therapy may save these relationships from continuing whatever damage has been incurred.

Addiction and trauma can mar the personal connections of first responders unless healing is sought by all parties.

How Do Family Members Display Secondhand Addiction?

The aftermath of addiction emerges as a variety of symptoms for the families of first responders coping with addiction. In recent years, the concept of “secondhand addiction” has come to embody the harm imposed by the behavior of addicted individuals.

From the physical risks to emotional abuse/neglect, proximity to addiction can be a dangerous exercise in empathy. Knowing the risks may help address any underlying mental health conditions that are factoring into close relationships.

Secondhand addiction can impact the emotional, financial, and physical security for supportive friends and family. The habits of using alcohol and/or substances can become expensive when they turn into abuse. Even those in the strongest of relationships can be tested by the financial strain of addictive behavior.

The guilt experienced by addicted individuals only intensifies as the limits of the lifestyle close in, forcing a decision between buying and telling loved ones the truth about their financial choices. The need for the release felt during a high, or when drinking, tilts our ability to rationalize the effects of our actions.

There is also a physical risk experienced by families of first responders dealing with addiction and other mental health issues. Anyone who has interacted with intoxicated people knows that a higher risk of physical harm accompanies the nature of inebriation for most.

This can result in property damage, physical harm to oneself and others nearby, vandalism, and more. Over time, these actions can grow to embody transgressions, which — if left uncommunicated — calcify into resentment.

Family Therapy and Empathy

As a family member, it is natural to begin viewing the actions of an addicted individual as selfish. Rightfully so, as often the underlying mechanism of alcohol and/or substance use disorder is fueled by the continued repetition of a single act, regardless of the consequence.

This is why family therapy can become such a powerful force for change. Hearing the experiences of their family members laid bare exposes users to the pain of their actions. For the family members, it finally provides relief from the weight of judgment they may silently carry with them on a daily basis.

Seeking family therapy helps identify the strengths of a family unit. From here, the family works towards a shared goal of living alcohol and substance-free while occupying the same living space. By bringing all the concerns, questions, overstepping, and trust issues out from under one roof and into the safe space of therapy, families send the message to themselves — and each other — that they are capable of supporting one another as long as they feel supported in return.

While family therapy is highly efficient when it comes to healing familial wounds, it isn’t always an option for all ranges of the socioeconomic spectrum. The benefits of family therapy can feel as if they are hidden behind a steep pay wall.

Still, certain resources exist for any first responder who is interested in healing themselves and their family. Anyone concerned with how addiction may alter their family infrastructure should seriously consider seeking out family therapy to heal the invisible damage.

Maintaining a family takes work and communication. When alcohol and/or substance use disorder gains a foothold in the family environment, stabilizing the core family relationships becomes a constant balancing act. Feeling the effects of a loved one’s actions that result from alcohol or substance abuse or mental health challenges often creates resentment or anger, allowing guilt or shame to interfere with any meaningful recovery. Although it may seem challenging, first responders and their families can begin to heal with trained support and guidance. If you’re a first responder struggling with alcohol, substance use, or mental health and it has affected your family, the Family Program provided by First Responder Wellness is here to help. To learn more, please contact our staff 24/7 or call True Recovery at (888) 743-0490.