When someone in the family has a chemical
dependency, everyone changes under the strain. As the chemically
dependent family member begins to recover, the rest of the family
needs to recover, too. To help the dependent person stay sober,
family members develop patience, reasonable expectations and
better communications skills.
When Will Everything Be Okay?
Life with a chemically dependent parent, spouse
or child can be difficult. People often feel hurt and angry about
the hard times, blaming it all on the chemically dependent
person, or the drug itself. They may thing that all the problems
would go away if the dependent person would just stay off drugs.
But getting sober is only the start of recovery. In order to have
a healthy and happy family; everyone has to work at it.
There are no magic steps to recovery. The
recovering person needs to concentrate on permanently changing
his or her behavior. This is not an easy task, and the whole
family has to know it. Otherwise, they're likely to hope for too
much, and be angry and disappointed when their hopes aren't met.
On the other hand, it helps everyone if each family member learns
to appreciate the small, day-to-day changes.
Having someone outside the family to talk to
can also help, since anger and disappointment tent to grow if
they're locked inside. Seek help from counselors who deal with
chemical dependencies, or members of 12-step programs such as
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. Besides talking about your feelings at
12-step meetings, you'll have a chance to laugh, enjoy yourself
and make friends with people who really understand.
More than anything else, most recovering
families need to improve the ways they communicate with each
other. Here are some suggestions:
- Whenever possible, start your sentences
with "I" instead of "you". For
example, say, "I feel hurt about that." Instead
of, "You're always so mean." Be as honest as
you can about your feelings without blaming.
- Don't talk to one family member about how
another member is behaving. Instead, talk to the person
whose behavior you don't like.
- Avoid asking questions that start with
"why." The answers don't usually help and often
distract you from the real issues.
- Practice listening to each other, and try
to see each other's points of view. Try asking if you've
understood correctly, by repeating what you think the
other person has said, using slightly different words.
- Take time to be with just your spouse in
low-key, pleasant surroundings on a regular basis. Make
sure you won't be interrupted, and don't use the time for
TV or sex. Instead, use it as a chance to get to know
each other again, bit by bit, and share the good parts of
your recovery with each other.
- Have family meetings to plan good times
together. Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and
no one gets interrupted or put down. Meetings can also be
used to negotiate chores and privileges or practice
solving problems together. You might all write out a
"family contract" over several meetings about
responsibilities, privileges and consequences of not
taking responsibility. An agreed-on contract, signed by
everyone and updated about every six months, can really
help to keep the family peace by making sure that
everyone knows what's expected and gets rewarded for
doing his or her part.
For more help with your family's recovery, you
may need to seek outside counseling. Ask for a referral from your
employee assistance program, a school counselor, your physician,
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