At Deer Hollow, family education helps interrupt the cycle of addiction.
Travis Whittaker was not surprised when he found himself addicted to opioids, Xanax and alcohol after a sports injury in his twenties.
“I was surrounded by addiction for most of my life with family members,” he said.
Yet when Whittaker decided to get clean after 12 years of using, he knew that he wanted the cycle to stop with him. He was able to address his relationship with his wife and three children during his treatment, starting the family on a healthier course for the future.
“We found a way to stay together through my whole addiction and in recovery,” said Whittaker, who has now been married for 24 years.
Now, as the director of national outreach for Deer Hollow Recovery and Wellness Centers, Whittaker is helping to lead a program that focuses on family involvement and healing the wounds of addiction for everyone that substance abuse touches. It’s a mission that is close to his heart.
“It’s extremely important for me,” he said. “We cause a lot of turmoil with our family members in our addiction. Everybody needs to be involved in the recovery process because they’re involved during the bad times.”
Family members see their addicted loved one transform before their eyes, causing pain and hurt along the way.
“It’s like Jekyll and Hyde,” Whittaker said. “You’re the non-addict, and then all of a sudden you get stuck in your addiction and you change who you are. Every part of your being becomes different because you’re chasing that drug, you’re chasing to not be dope sick and trying to escape your life.”
Even when someone gets into recovery, the pain and distrust that the addiction brought is often still an open wound for family members. Because of this, Deer Hollow staff believe that it’s essential to get families involved in the treatment process.
“Families are part of that addiction and they have to be part of that recovery,” Whittaker said. “Everybody needs to heal because of the damage that takes place.”
An important tool for healing is education. At Deer Hollow, families are invited in monthly for educational sessions that teach about the disease of addiction, underlying mental health issues and the process of recovery. Family members can learn about separating the disease of addiction from the individual, which can open the door for healing and processing.
“We want the family to come in once a month, to learn about disease, recovery, and how to be a positive support system,” Whittaker said.
Learning about addiction can also help family members to absolve themselves of blame for their loved one’s illness.
“We bring awareness that it’s the disease of addiction: it has nothing to do with the family member,” Whittaker said.
Addressing the trauma of addiction on the family system is essential for breaking the cycle of substance abuse. When Whittaker got sober nine years ago, there was less of a focus on family support. Although his children and wife all did some therapy, the family didn’t fully understand how addiction had affected everyone.
“At the time there was the belief that if I’m getting help, as the addict, and doing aftercare, everyone else will be ok,” Whittaker said. “But as the kids started getting older there was some depression and anxiety coming out. It’s because they weren’t being honest about working through what I caused with my addiction.”
Luckily, they were able to address this in therapy.
“It’s on their time and what they need, and I’m here when they’re ready,” Whittaker said. “They know they can talk to me about anything and I’m not going to put blame on them or misunderstand. They need to heal.”
In addition to the family educational program, Deer Hollow connects family members with resources for individual and family counseling. All of this is part of helping not only the client, but the entire family, recover.
“We do our best to set the families up for success,” Whittaker said. “This is a big thing for us at Deer Hollow because you can’t treat someone and send them back to the same environment without it being a healing environment for everyone.”