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EDUCATION - KEY TOPIC

Preparing for Change

Relating to Family While in Recovery

Family is an important source of connection – and sadly, sometimes disconnection — in our lives. Relationships with family members can help support lasting, positive changes in our lives when that system is healthy. Therefore, recovery may need to involve periods of separation from family, particularly in treatment, especially when there is pain, trauma, co-dependency, or other unhealthy aspects present. This space creates opportunities for wounds and unhealthy relationships to experience healing with intentional support being provided to the entire family unit. We may need outside help to understand the unhealthiness in our family, as we are prone to becoming conditioned to our past experiences of relationships. Clinicians, therapists, and counselors can provide important clarity and advice on how families and patients can best engage to support health among all parties.

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Family is Important

Relationships play an important role in our recovery, and particularly around addiction. Healthy family environments offer opportunities for powerful and rewarding connection, which can be a highly-motivating “yes” to pursue. However, family or romantic relationships can be a source of pressure, co-dependency, or other negative emotions that can hinder one’s recovery process. Much of the disconnection, trauma, or pain underlying our addiction may come from a past or ongoing family experience. Thus, while it’s important to work towards stronger family connection and relationship in the long-term, the recovery process may require some periods of intentional separation, especially if we are seeking help via a treatment center.

Understanding Family’s Impact on Our Recovery

Why is it so important to be aware of family or romantic relationships during our recovery experiences?

Family and romantic relationship can be a source of past pain. The trauma that contributes to our need to escape doesn’t have to come from the major events that we typically envision. I Subtle experiences can be quite painful, and have long-ranging consequences. The presence or involvement of family members may impact us in unexpected ways during our recovery because of past wounds or underlying relationship issues.

Family and romantic relationships can unintentionally reinforce shame and pressure. While we may pursue recovery specifically to improve our connection with loved ones, over-focusing on that reason alone can unintentionally create stress that is counterproductive to recovery. Healthier family relationships can be an outcome of successful recovery work, but we cannot control others’ experiences during our recovery.

Recovery is a family process. The time spent apart is an opportunity for family members to experience growth and change in their own lives, not just ours in recovery. Experiences of co-dependency, worry and anxiety, and fear, some of which may have influenced the addiction in the first place, can be addressed.

Space gives us the opportunity to experience new identity. There’s great benefit to being able to connect with, while in recovery, individuals that do not hold our pasts against us, and do not see us as limited by our traditional role or place in our family units. Experiencing grace and connection in this way is important. It can be much harder for our family members to offer this same level of unconditional support and patience, whether because of their conceptions of our identity and role in the family, or places of pain and hurt from past choices.

Love Is Different From Co-Dependency

Despite potential challenges present, there is great potential for healing in individuals, families and romantic relationships through recovery. Sometimes this takes place through the re-understanding of family relationships, connection, and love. Family relationships can become hard when we misunderstand what love really is. Co-dependency — or the need for others to make us feel “okay” — masquerades as love. Love is not manipulation, nor control, but a desire and choice to serve another without need of anything in return. Sometimes, this requires recognition that we cannot control the choices of other human beings. Understanding this realization can be painful if our happiness and comfort is linked too tightly to the well-being of a family member — co-dependency. Family contexts and addiction offer particular challenges around co-dependency, because it is painful to watch individuals make choices that have clear negative consequences for their lives. But in the long-run, the only answer is love, not control. Vocalizing love — and the honest expression of affection no matter the outcome — can unlock individuals’ hearts in unexpected ways. Most individuals struggling with addiction or other mental health challenges already feel guilt and shame internally, even if their actions or words don’t express it.

Outside Counsel Can Help

For individuals looking to make a change, and for family members involved, there needs to be an internal check-in on the motivations behind seeking care. Throughout the recovery process, boundaries are important. We can’t value and love others unless we value and love ourselves. Love sometimes looks like having strong boundaries, and not being manipulated by someone else. We will discuss boundaries later in this flow of key recovery topics. Involving trusted advisors or counselors in the recovery process can help individuals and families the best plan for communication during recovery, whether from an addiction or other mental health challenge.

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