Support of the family during addiction
Throughout my time working with clients in recovery from addiction, I have come to realise, and been frequently reminded, of the vital role that a supportive family plays in helping someone progress with their addiction recovery.
I think it is important to point out, that the majority of clients who are fully committed to recovery and giving themselves the best chance of making progress are doing so because they genuinely feel they want to change their lives for the better and often wanting to be more present as a family member is often a key motivation for developing an ability to deal with the challenges that need to overcome in order to achieve this and any other goals they might have.
I think the prospect of providing ‘support’ as a family member of someone who is in recovery from addiction, can be a daunting one for a lot of relatives. What does this involve? Do I need to find a miracle ‘cure’ for my loved one’s issues? Do I need to supervise them 24/7 in case they slip up?
The short answer to these questions is ‘no’.
What is the right level of support?
I’m going to use this blog to focus on three elements of a family environment that provides effective support for someone in recovery from addiction – empowerment, accessing outside support and not enabling them to maintain their addiction.
Achieving an effective supportive environment involves striking a fine balance. One of the key elements is ensuring you are working with and not against the person who is in recovery
An absence of support can obviously have negative effects on the person’s well-being and ability to maintain recovery progress. Equally, the simple truth is that, however good the intention, too much support can itself be counter productive. It can lead to negative feelings for the individual, such as being judged or mis-trusted and can hinder progress.
The support might involve providing the person with a roof over their head. A safe environment where they can regroup and relax before they are ready to move on again. It might involve offering an opportunity to talk, listening without judgement, allowing them to express their thoughts, fears and feelings if they feel this will help. Listening can also be a good opportunity to learn more about addiction, what it involves and what it means for the person in question. As a counsellor, I have learned a lot from clients about what addiction means for them and this has helped me develop my knowledge and develop relationships with clients and it can help family members to engage on the subject of recovery.
The last is often not an easy thing to effectively do between family members. The depth of caring that one feels for another family member means that it is often difficult to have that kind of discussion whilst resisting any urges to raise angle of vested interest, however well intentioned, based on our existing relationship with them.
For that reason, counselling and/or support groups have a vital role to play in the person’s recovery process. This will allow the person a vital opportunity to discuss issues with someone who is of a completely neutral position, is trained to listen and to help them explore and develop better ways of dealing with issues and situations. In the case of support groups, opportunity to take part in facilitated discussion with peers who have been through similar experiences and can offer different perspectives on progressing in recovery.
It can be helpful to have some awareness of available services and resources that the person can be gently signposted towards if they are not looking to access this help themselves. But again, it is important to pitch such suggestions in the right manner, inviting a discussion about options and giving the person themselves the responsibility to make any decision based on their own support needs.
This is an important factor in a progressive recovery, because the person will have the best chance of progressing their recovery if they feel they are in control of their own decision making processes.
Finding their own support network
As well as having awareness of services and support available to a relative who is in recovery, it can be of great value for relatives to seek support of their own. It can be just as beneficial for a family member to have an outlet in which to talk freely without fear or being judged about their thoughts and feelings in relation to their relative’s situation and to be allowed time and space to explore and process these and possibly even to develop ways of thinking that will help them deal with situations more effectively. This may be by having their own counselling, or attending a support group, where they can meet others who are going through similar experiences and give and receive support and knowledge of how to handle different situations.
I was going to say that trust is a vital component of progressive recovery. In many ways it is, but most people I have worked with in recovery are honest enough to acknowledge that trust in relationships has been affected by the development of the addiction. If a client feels that trust is showing signs of being repaired, then this can be a real boost to their recovery progress. Most, though, understand that this is a long, slow process.
It’s more a case of the person gaining benefit from feeling empowered to guide their own recovery, based on their own evolving needs. A person is far more likely to engaging positively with family and friends if they feel they are in charge of their own process.
Empowering someone to take responsibility for their own recovery avoids another potentially risky development within a supportive family environment. Enabling.
Enabling might mean different things to different readers of this blog. Or it might be a factor that some people aren’t aware of. Enabling goes further than creating a situation where the client may be able to access an addictive substance. It also means enabling an environment where the person may be allowed to avoid responsibility for things like daily tasks, the completion of which can be a very useful aspect of recovery in establishing structure and giving them a sense of self responsibility. The absence of the need to do these tasks can maintain a void which might make more conducive for an addiction to be maintained. Likewise, enabling a situation where the person may be able to avoid some of the consequences of addiction, by doing things like excusing negative or avoidant behavioural patterns, ie, calling in sick on someone’s behalf, or turning a blind eye to conflicts.
I hope that this blog has provided some insights into the important role that a supportive family environment can play in a person’s progress in recovery. Many clients believe that recovery is never a process that is ‘completed’, rather efforts must be maintained to keep doing the things that are effective in helping them progress and being aware of their evolving needs and finding new ways to accommodate these safely. A family environment that is effective in supporting these needs can be a really solid foundation on which to build progress.
Written by Neil Weston.