Addiction and controlling behaviour can ruin relationships. Jonathan Edgeley knows the story from both sides.
Behavioural health advisor Jonathan Edgeley is uniquely qualified to help people beat their addictions and guide their families through the turmoil of dysfunctional relationships.
As a teenager filled with fear, inadequacy and self-loathing he began looking for other activities to fulfil his inquisitive mind and channel his insatiable appetite to change how he felt. At secondary school he found a new world of drink and drugs that would take his life on a rollercoaster ride of highs and ultimate lows.
Throughout his 20s, while outwardly successful professionally, his life was spiralling out of control.
Finally, after an intervention from his father, he accepted that he needed help and so started the long road to recovery. That journey began in 2006 and four years ago Jonathan decided to put his own experiences of addiction to good use helping others.
He said: “I grew up in a world where money was deemed a token of success and well-being. If you were wealthy you were well. I watched my mother and father’s marriage break down due to alcoholism on my mother’s side which had a devastating effect catapulting my already self-destructive behaviour to another level.
“My mother and father eventually divorced and my mother began to drink more heavily. Sadly, four years ago my mother died due to drinking. The loss of my mother hit me like a train
“However in her death she provided me with the greatest gift. The evidence I needed – alcohol kills. I had stopped, and other people can too. I just needed to get the message out that recovery is possible.
“What enables me to connect with a family or somebody who’s got an addiction, is the fact that I am an addict. I am in recovery, I have been there and I know the route out.
“I’ve been through the whole process of having to go through treatment, and the run-up to that, and how bad things had to get in order for me to actually realise that I’d got a very serious illness.
“I can talk to people about that and explain how my life spiralled out of control, and how I’ve managed to gain a degree of power over it. I have experienced relapsed. I’ve experienced marriage, children, births, deaths – all of those things in recovery. The takeaway from this is I didn’t have to use mind or mood altering substances to get through it.
Jonathan’s work now involves him linking with family lawyers. They call on his expertise and experience when a problem is identified and a family member needs professional help. The situation has typically got to the stage of wanting to leave a loved one because of their drinking, emotional mood swings or volatility or the children are suffering and at risk of psychological trauma.
The work is much easier if the person concerned is open to help. In that scenario Jonathan will talk to those involved to get background and understand their situation in granular detail before putting together a tailored pathway to meet their needs, including therapies.
Jonathan added: “When I have that conversation with their families and loved ones, I can really connect with them. Meeting them where they are at that particular point and help them make some realisations and compassionately guide them throughout the process.
“I can connect with somebody who says, ‘this guy gets it’. What I’m able to do is go in at a different level completely from, say, a GP.
“I can say something like ‘I understand, you’re all right, you’re safe, you are going to be ok. I’ve been where you’ve been. I want to help because I’m sure that you don’t want to live the life that you are living now. Would you agree?’
“And often, they will say ‘no, I don’t. But I’m petrified of doing something about it because I’m not quite sure how it’s going to end up. What I know for certain while I’m using drugs or I’m drinking is what the outcome is going to be. I get high, I drink, I forget’.”
The best-case scenario is the person receives the help they need and the partner and family members are willing to try to rebuild relationships with professional guidance.
But frequently those with the addiction are not prepared to accept they have a problem that needs tackling. The family concerned may then have to go through an emotional and often painful process that includes an intervention.
Jonathan said: “You know, this is the dark side of the addiction. The disease is so powerful that it wants to keep you in its grip. The important thing is that an intervention is approached with love and compassion. The family often require a degree of education to help them understand that addiction is a disease not a choice.
“I know all of these things and feel all these emotions going on. Whatever the addiction might be, it changes how they feel. And they’re scared of these feelings coming very powerfully back when they stop taking drink or drugs, or whatever it is they’re doing.
“And, it is really, really sad but that’s where it goes. So, if you can imagine that the people on the receiving end of that, the children, the wives, the husbands, the family members, the fathers, the mothers, all of these other people that are witnessing somebody who is in the grips of an addiction.
“They see they are slowly killing themselves. But that person is in such denial, people around them feel quite powerless to do anything.
“They don’t know how to approach it; they don’t know what to say. They’re fearful that they push them further away, they are fearful that they may then leave. They are fearful that they may then carry on drinking or taking drugs and die early.
“This enabling behaviour unfortunately is pushing the loved one further into their addiction and supporting their using. This has to stop, as it can lead to further upset and ultimately death.
“All of these things have got a counter-argument to them. It is a positive counter-argument, that if you don’t do something, they are going to die anyway. If we don’t do something now, then this thing will only get worse.
“I’ve never seen anybody get better without clinical or therapeutic intervention to help them overcome their issues.”
The second part of this interview Intervention: How do you help someone who doesn’t believe they have a problem? will be published shortly.
Jonathan Edgeley is the Founder of Montrose Advisory which offers independent support and guidance to families seeking a solution to a behavioural health problem. He takes a family through the complex world of addiction and mental healthcare and creates robust care pathways to meet their loved one’s specific needs, circumstances and budget.