Transitioning Into Recovery, A Family Perspective: Part I

Transition Requires Courage

Making the transition to a life in recovery is never easy.  This is true whether the individual has been addicted to alcohol, opiates, heroin, or anything else.  Often the transition is as big for the family as for the addict.  Often I am asked by family members of our clients how they can help, what they can do to give support.  In this article I am going to try to give some general guidelines for anyone concerned with a loved one entering treatment on how to have conversations around seeking treatment, and what to expect when their loved one first enters treatment.  In a subsequent article I will cover what to expect when their loved one returns home.  

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Making the decision to enter treatment is a very difficult one for an addict.  Some of the most persistent experiences in an addicts life are the feelings of a lack of connection, a sense of not having a place in the world, of being alone.  It can be hard for the family of an addict to understand that these feelings are not necessarily connected to the realities of the families life.  When an addict ingests the drugs or alcohol they prefer in addition to creating a state of intoxication they feel connection to others and the world.  It is very difficult for any of us to conceive of a life without connection.  When an addict is considering treatment this is the choice they feel they are making.  On the one hand they can continue down the road they are on with all the consequences, hurting those they love, and causing harm to their own life, but with a feeling of being connected.  On the other hand, a loss of the one thing that has helped them to feel connected with uncertain results.  Not easy alternatives to face, even when you want to.  

Family Help Can Make The Difference

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A family can do much to make this an easier, and thereby more successful process.  If a family allows the following suggestions to guide their actions there is a much greater likelihood that their loved one will get better.  The first suggestion is to begin detaching with love.  Detaching with love does not mean that you quit loving the addict.  On the contrary, it means that you continue to love the individual but that you make a decision to refrain from giving all of your time and energy to focusing on them.  It means further, not allowing the addicts actions and addictions to consume your life.  In order to take care of anyone else we must first be taking care of ourselves.  Detaching with love is no easy task, especially for parents.  As parents we have an instinctual response to want to take care of our children, and it can be quite counterintuitive for a parent to detach in order to help.  What we want to try and do is to thread a balance between helping the addict and enabling them.  The truth is that for most addicts, until they can begin to feel the full weight of the consequences of their actions they won’t truly be ready to change.  At the very least learning to detach with love will enable the parent or loved one to be more available for the others in their life who need their love and support.

If the family is in a position where they agree (with or without the addicts input) that the addict needs to seek treatment, the question will arise how to confront this situation with the addict.  This is a delicate proposition and while I can provide some general guidelines consultation with one or more professionals is advisable at this point.  First, the guiding principle of this step in the process is to act as a mirror for the addict.  Reflecting to them through your words how their actions are affecting those around them.  Many times it is suggested that prior to a conversation of this nature that the family members prepare letters to the suffer, expressing honestly and compassionately their concern for their family member who is suffering.  This process will allow the family to express their worry without blaming or shaming the addict.  This should not be a negative or confrontational conversation.  Rather it should come from a place of love, concern, and compassion.  Some other guidelines to consider; it is best that this conversation take place in a neutral location, it should take no longer than an hour or two, the purpose of this conversation should be to help provide understanding to the addict, as well as, the family as a whole.  

Setting Expectations And Boundaries

Once this conversation has taken place clear expectations can be put in place in terms of the addict seeking treatment.  If this expectations are not met the family needs to be prepared to detach with love and/or provide clear consequences for the addicts decision not to seek treatment.  This is sometimes referred to as “using leverage”.  Let me explain, let’s say for example that a family has been allowing the addict to live in their home they can decide that hereafter if the addict does not seek treatment he or she will no longer be allowed to live in the home.  This same idea can be applied to any form of material support being provided to the addict.  It is important however that if a consequence is promised it must be delivered.  Otherwise we will undermine our credibility and may lessen the chances long term of being able to help the addict to recovery.  

The above should be taken as a series of suggestions and helpful tips not a replacement for working with a properly trained professional.  That said If we can detach with love, have an honest conversation and set some appropriate limits we may greatly increase the chances our loved one can get the help they need and may save them years of needless suffering.

In part II of this series we will examine what the family can do from the point that the addict has agreed to enter treatment through the first few weeks of treatment.  Until then if you have any questions about how to help your loved one find a solution to their problem, or questions about your specific situation please do not hesitate to reach out to us, we are here to serve.

Until next time.
Your friend in service,
Rob Campbell
VP of Communications & Market Development

If you or your loved one is in need of treatment for substance use disorder, please don’t hesitate to contact us today. Picking up the phone could help save a life in need.