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Beyond Recovery: Healing as a Family

Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a disease that impacts both the substance user as well as their entire family network. When we think of recovery, it can be easy to feel that the process is only applicable or crucial for the suffering alcoholic or addict. But, a critical component of combating the disease is the recovery of the family.

When a loved one is struggling, we may find ourselves in a state of tunnel vision–only focused on the needs, wants and feelings of the one we care about instead of our own. As the disease progresses, the added stress and turmoil continues to build atop our family’s foundation, and if not tended to, our foundation can crumble.

Family recovery begins when we admit and understand that our loved one is powerless over substances and that subsequently, their family life has become unmanageable because of their disease. As family members, we can gain insight from the 3 C’s of Addiction:

You did not Cause the addiction
Nothing you did or didn’t do caused your loved one to become chemically dependent.

You can’t Control the addiction
The alcoholic/addict is the only one who can take responsibility for managing their disease. 

You cannot Cure the addiction
There is no cure for the disease of addiction, only treatment. 

Once we understand the 3 C’s, working to improve our own healing can begin.

  • You can take Care of yourself
    Make time to do the things that are good for you and that make you feel good. Read a book, go for a walk, journal, make a good meal or soak in the bath. Do things that promote your own personal sense of connectivity, health, and well-being.
  • You can Communicate your feelings
    You are allowed to say how you feel. Addiction is a disease that is often associated with feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, frustration, grief and shame for alcoholics, addicts, and their family members. Own your truth and be honest, be direct and specific when sharing your feelings.
  • You can Celebrate who you are
    Remind yourself of the things that are special about you, your hobbies, your passions, your goals. Do not lose sight of these aspects of your identity. Addiction can blur many lines in the family system, allowing us to lose sight of where our loved one ends and we as individuals begin. Our identity can become so wrapped up in caring for another individual that we often lose sight of ourselves. By celebrating our individuality, our uniqueness, we are reminded of who we truly are and our purpose outside of the realm of the disease.
  • Set aside time to heal
    Addiction is a war of attrition at times. It can be time consuming and exhausting. Once a family member has agreed to accept treatment, it is easy to feel as though the work is done.
    “I’ve already missed so much work/school/social activity and am so behind in life because of this disease I don’t have the time to try and heal myself!” You deserve to heal. You deserve to guiltlessly prioritize yourself and work through the trauma that addiction can cause.
  • Set boundaries
    Boundaries are an important component of family recovery. Boundaries provide us with a sense of individuality and allow us to own our feelings, our experiences and our problems. They also provide a sense of contentment and peace with the self and allow the family to work to not personalize the addict’s problems. To set healthy boundaries, the family must learn to detach with love. Detaching with love does not mean to shutout or isolate the loved one. It means to detach oneself from the disease
  • Release guilt, shame, blame
    Addiction is a disease that feeds on the power of dark and all-consuming emotions. Guilt, shame and blame often draw us inward and leave us unwilling to reach out for the support that is so incredibly important when a family is in recovery. Work to release these emotions as you focus on the positives of the journey ahead.
  • Find your support system (NAR/AL ANON), ask for help, and rely on these support systems
    Again, the way to heal is to make the time to do so. Prioritize yourself and your sanity and seek out support through groups such as NAR/AL ANON family group meetings. For help finding your local group, please call one of the phone numbers listed below

    • Al-Anon and Alateen Family Groups
      Phone Number 1-888-4525-2666
    • Nar-Anon Family Group
      Phone Number 1-800-477-6291
  • Forgive yourself and focus on today
    Unfortunately, you cannot change or undo the past. Move forward with confidence in regard to what you can control. Focus on what is directly in front of you. Ask yourself, what do I need to accomplish today to be well?
  •  Recovery is not an event, but instead an ongoing, evergreen process.
    Family members can also relapse in a sense. We may relapse into old unhealthy behaviors or ways of thinking. The key to healing is understanding that recovery is not an event, but a process that will always require our attention and the prioritization of our self-care.

Serenity Prayer
Finally, in times of trouble remember the serenity prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.