What is often overlooked or neglected in situations where one family member is undergoing treatment for addiction is the rest of the household. This is a huge mistake, since all the counseling and therapy and good intentions can fly right out the window when the recovering addict returns home to face the same situation. Without family treatment, the prospects for the newly sober individual to remain so are slim indeed. Even when family members do go into counseling in preparation for the addict’s coming home, however, they often have conflicted emotions and unclear expectations of the process. Here are some tips that can help in family recovery after treatment.
Intensive family recovery programs
If at all possible, enroll in an intensive family recovery program well before the addict completes treatment and returns home. This will give family members adequate time to process the information and do what’s necessary to make the household ready for the recovering addict. Intensive family recovery programs are available in different blocks, everything from week-end seminars to 10-day residential programs. The best treatment centers offer comprehensive family therapy programs while your loved one is in treatment. If you live locally, they may also offer ongoing family support groups.
Why attend an intensive family recovery program? Simply put, attendees are free of the distractions of the outside world, of schedules and work and pastimes. They are able to devote the time necessary to learn about addiction and how they can help the returning addict by changing some of their own unhealthy behaviors.
What happens in family recovery
During family recovery programs, which are intended exclusively for family, friends and close partners of an addict, attendees receive counseling, undergo education, learn new skills and form lasting relationships in a safe and supportive environment.
While style and philosophy vary from one family recovery program to another, here are some key elements:
- One-on-one and group counseling — Counseling sessions are held with family members on a one-on-one basis as well as group counseling.
- Learning about co-dependency — In essence, co-dependency is a set of unhealthy behaviors that anyone involved with an addict can have. While they are not themselves addicts, other family members nevertheless may have developed a set of coping behaviors that, in effect, enable the addict to continue using. A key element of family recovery involves understanding what these co-dependent behaviors are and learning how to substitute healthy behaviors for them.
- Understanding addiction — Someone who is not addicted often has a tough time understanding what causes addiction in another. They may feel it is a character defect, or something that a person should be able to snap out of. They may display anger, shame, disgust or pity toward the addict — none of which are helpful. In fact, without treatment, family members can actually contribute to the recovering addict’s relapse shortly upon return home. Learning about addiction is a critical part of the family recovery program and one which is best accomplished in a structured treatment program.
- Recognizing unhealthy habits and building healthy ones — It’s hard, sometimes, for people to see that the things they’ve been doing and saying are counter-productive to engage in around a recovering addict. In family recovery programs, attendees learn, through interaction with professional counselors, how to identify unhealthy habits and build new ones. These negative behaviors, which so damage recovering addicts, are replaced with healthy ones that are both nourishing and supportive of the family member in recovery. Part of this is learning about triggers, the situations that cause an addict to relapse. Some triggers are caused by unhealthy behaviors that family members need to change.
- Building an ongoing support network — Parents, siblings, spouses or significant others and close friends need others they can turn to in moments of uncertainty or crisis. Just because they receive family treatment doesn’t mean that is the end of the road when it comes to help. Not only do attendees learn a great deal in the family recovery program, they also meet others in the same situation. A big advantage of intensive programs, especially, is the opportunity to interact with these individuals in a safe and supportive environment, and to fashion relationships — even friendships — with them that can sustain them over the long term.
- Peer interaction activities — Many family recovery programs include barbecues or picnics or other group activities designed to allow for interaction and sharing of experiences with others who have a recovering addict in the family. During periods of relaxation, attendees have the opportunity to realize the common bond they share with other members of the group.
- Introduction to 12 step meetings — Either as part of the intensive or family recovery program, attendees are introduced at least to the concept of the 12 step support group meetings designed for co-dependents and/or family and friends of recovering addicts.
Group meetings for families include:
- Al-Anon/Alateen (For child, parent, spouse or friend who has been affected by someone else’s drinking) — 1-888-4AL-ANON
- Co-Anon (Cocaine addicts’ family groups) — 1-800-898-9985
- Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA) — 1-323-969-4995
- Co-Dependents of Sex Addicts (COSA) — 1-763-537-6904
- Gam-Anon (For those involved with compulsive gamblers) — 1-818-377-5144 (L.A. Hotline), 1-718-352-1671
- Nar-Anon (For relatives and friends who are concerned about the addiction of another) — 1-310-547-5800 (Southern California), 1-800-477-6291
- S-Anon (for those who have been affected by someone else’s sexual behavior) — 1-818-973-2235 (L.A.), 1-800-210-8141
- Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) — 1-310-534-1815
What to do after family recovery
Following completion of family recovery, make it a practice to do as many of the following as possible:
- Attend 12 step meetings — Attend as many as you can each week. Go with an open heart and open mind, and be ready to follow the newcomer suggestions — when you are comfortable doing so. These include getting a sponsor or mentor, reading available literature, and seeking your own spiritual counseling according to your preferences.
- Apply 12 step principles — Recognize that the only person you can change is yourself — and that is a significant accomplishment, especially when learning how to be supportive of the recovering friend/family member who is an addict.
- Recognize your own role — Think about your own role in the relationship with the recovering addict. See how your reactions can be modified to better foster healthier behaviors on your part.
- No enabling — Resolve never to enable the addict to use — no matter what pleas, exhortations or threats you may hear. Understand that the addict in recovery may be tempted to relapse — and your refusal to enable such behavior may make a profound difference. Regardless, you cannot help the recovering addict by giving into his or her pain. They must experience the pain themselves and work through it in recovery, using the techniques and strategies learned during treatment.
- Ensure a clean home — This recommendation is one that every family should go through prior to the recovering addict’s return home. But it is also one that should be an ongoing practice. This isn’t to say that you’re snooping, but you do need to ensure that there’s nothing in the house that facilitates using or compromises the recovering addict’s resolve to remain sober. No drugs or alcohol, no paraphernalia, etc.
- The importance of sharing — Talk about experiences and problems you encounter with others during 12 step meetings. Through such interactions, you may find the comfort, support and helpful advice that may steer you through tough times. It always helps to have an understanding ear from someone who knows what you’re going through — since they’ve been there themselves.
- Set aside time for reflection and meditation each day — Every member of the recovering addict’s family and close friends should pay attention to their own personal development (spiritual as well as physical and emotional), reduction of stress, practice of health behaviors and discipline to do what’s necessary. Read from a book of meditation, do yoga, deep breathing, visualization, and admiring nature — do whatever gets you outside yourself and into a reflective mode. At day’s end, give thanks for the blessings you have received during the day and ask for any help you need in dealing with a situation involving your relationship with the recovering addict. These actions will help you enhance your own recovery.
- Keep an active social life — Being in recovery as a family member means that you need contact with the outside world. Everything cannot be solely about the relationship with the addict. You need to go out and enjoy friendships, attend social and recreational events, laugh and have fun. This will improve your overall mental outlook, refresh and rejuvenate you — benefiting everyone in the family.
- Cheerlead — Encourage the recovering addict to continue attending 12 step meetings and be supportive of his or her efforts to heal. Do not be jealous of the time they need to spend doing these things, as it will work against the recovery process.
- Be patient — Recognize that the recovering addict needs time to fully embrace sobriety from whichever addiction he or she has. Even if there are small — or major — setbacks, be ready with encouragement and support for the recovering addict to get back on the road to recovery.
- Give yourself kudos — It’s hard work being in family recovery. You’ve put in a lot of time and hard work. Take a moment to acknowledge your own efforts in the recovery process. This time of self-recognition is important so that you don’t find yourself feeling under-appreciated or self-sacrificing. Remind yourself that you are doing this out of love.
- Practice changing negatives to positives — You can’t stop toxic thoughts from popping into your mind, especially in reaction to something upsetting such as a behavior or comment by the recovering addict. What you can do, and what you should practice, is changing those negative thoughts into something more positive. For example, if you feel that things aren’t changing fast enough with respect to the recovering addict’s being able to function according to how you think he or she should, change that thought to one that acknowledges that recovery takes time and that you will give it the time it needs. Of course, you can’t always immediately figure out how to see the positive in a negative. That’s okay, too. Give yourself some leeway here. Just try to keep the negatives out of your verbalized comments or your body language. If you don’t feel comfortable saying something, leave the room until you can speak in a more positive tone. Remember that it’s difficult for you to change the way you view things at times. Give it time and keep practicing.
- Take care of yourself – Pay attention to your own physical health and well-being before you can attend to that of others, including the recovering addict. Take care of any outstanding health issues you may have, get regular physical examinations, rest, and relax so that you are in the best physical and mental health you can be. By taking care of yourself, you will be in a better position and frame of mind to offer encouragement and support to the family member or close friend who’s in recovery.
Family therapy benefits everyone
In the final analysis, family therapy benefits everyone concerned. You want the best for the recovering addict and one way to facilitate that is to be as prepared as you can once he or she returns home and is reunited with the family. You should be prepared to take the time to go into family therapy so that you have the skills and the knowledge to know what to do and how to handle situations as they arise. You can’t presume to know how to do this yourself. That’s the purpose of family therapy.
Give yourself, your recovering loved one, and the rest of the family the most hopeful scenario by going into family therapy. Of all the things that you can do for your loved one, this is perhaps the most important after being fully supportive of his or her recovery.