It finally happened. You loved one who has been struggling with a drug or alcohol problem has entered a treatment facility. It could be a partner, a son or daughter, or a sibling. What happens now?
First of all, know that your loved one is where they need to be to get the care they need to recover from the addiction. The facility is staffed by medical and mental health professionals, and your loved one is with other people who are facing the same challenges that they are.
The first step on your loved one’s path to recovery is usually medically assisted detox to safely get their body used to being without the abused substance. Next, the client’s therapeutic program will be planned based on the client’s unique needs. The treatment plan will include individual therapy, group therapy, and therapy sessions with the client’s family. Many treatment facilities will also incorporate a range of alternative therapies as well. These could include chiropractic care, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, art and music therapy, and a range of other therapies. Many treatment facilities incorporate life skills training into their programs, particularly nutrition and wellness. In addition, most facilities offer follow-up care, recognizing that recovery is a lifelong journey for many people.
Because of the importance of family support, a great many recovery programs include programs for family members and other important people in the client’s life. Family involvement has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of relapse and can be very encouraging to the client. Many facilities offer educational sessions for family members designed to provide families with information about addiction and the ways in which the entire family has been affected by the client’s substance abuse, issues that are likely to occur in recovery, and ways in which the family can help the client.
Many facilities also have therapy sessions for family members to give them a safe space to process what they are going through. These tend to be group therapy sessions with other families who have a loved one in the treatment facility. In addition, there may be therapy sessions with the client and his family members.
One issue that families of people going through recovery may have trouble with is setting boundaries, and therapy for family members can be helpful with that. Part of the difficulty may stem from confusion about what a boundary is. “All healthy relationships are based on accepting others’ rights,” writes Kathy Lang in a recent blog, “When we respect each other’s rights, we are recognizing our boundaries. Boundaries are guidelines that define what we feel are permissible ways for other people to treat us.” Clear boundaries, she adds, can improve relationships. A part of setting boundaries for families of people in recovery is thinking about changes that they may need to make in their own lives. For example, if your loved one is in treatment, it is vital that you remember that their addiction is not your fault and that you can’t fix them. You also should not be overprotective because, “When you’re protecting them from their own pain, you’re standing in the way of their reason to stop [the addictive behavior]” (heysigmund.com).
When coping with a family member who is struggling with an addiction, while it is important to set boundaries, it is also important to treat your loved one with compassion.Treating your loved one with compassion doesn’t mean turning yourself into a doormat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean “tough love” either. When family members begin to interact with the substance abuser in “ways that promote positive behavioral change,” writes therapist and author Beverly Engel, “not only do they find ways to get their loved one into treatment, but the family members themselves feel better–specifically showing decreases in anger, anxiety, and medical problems.”
It is very important to not shame your loved one. He or she is already laboring under a heavy burden of shame. To treat the substance abuser with compassion means letting him or her know that we see them and recognize that they are suffering, that we hear them. We recognize their suffering and acknowledge the fact that they have a right to their feelings. We let the substance abuser know that we respect them as a fellow human and we offer comfort. “Compassion is especially effective when it comes to healing substance abuse problems, especially the issue of shame,” continues Engel. “Addiction and shame are closely connected….And, as it turns out, compassion is the only thing that can counteract the isolating, stigmatizing, debilitating poison of shame.” Engel also says that family members of substance abusers need to show compassion to themselves. Family members need to recognize their own hurt and anger and find a way to release their anger and disappointment.
There is another benefit to treating the substance abuser with compassion–it benefits the family member as well. “We are wired to respond to others in need,” writes Engel, who adds that when we show compassion to others, our heart rate goes down. “Kindness, support, encouragement, and compassion have a huge impact on our brains, bodies, and general sense of well-being….It’s good for us.”
Watching someone you love struggle with substance use disorder is very painful. You will feel many emotions that could include guilt, worry, fear, and anger. “Is it my fault? How do I help them? How do I keep them safe without enabling their addiction? Why is this happening to me? To my family? I didn’t sign up for this!” Because of these powerful emotions, many treatment facilities have therapy and educational sessions for family members. These sessions give family members a safe place to process their emotions and a chance to be with other families who are going through the same experience. It is very healing to know that you are not alone. In addition, substance use is viewed as a family disease, in that every member of the family is affected by the substance abusers actions and choices. For more information on treatment and family programs, call Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483.
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