How Friends and family can support recovery
The family network – whether it be our biological family or chosen family of friends and mentors – is a critical part of everyone’s recovery.
We can help those in recovery by modelling healthy behaviour, providing emotional and social support, and keeping our loved ones accountable throughout their recovery journey. But when relationships are strained, communication is lost or trust has been eroded, we – the support network – can end up feeling hurt, helpless, frustrated, overwhelmed, manipulated, burnt out or isolated.
Many addicts in recovery cite the pain associated with interpersonal relationship breakdowns as a leading trigger for relapse, says Leanne Schubert from South Pacific Private, Australia’s leading rehab centre for addiction, trauma and mental illness. “Nobody gives you a manual or teaches you at school how to help a friend, partner or relative through addiction or mental illness, so you can be forgiven for feeling like you’re flying blind sometimes,” says Schubert.
Figuring out how to best support a loved one on their journey to recovery can be a complex and difficult process, but you’re not the first person to go through the experience. As those who’ve helped loved ones through addiction and mental health issues before will tell us, sometimes we need guidance on communication and boundary setting skills, and support in our own journey of healing.
“Often the person that comes into treatment feels like they’re the problem, wrong and unworthy, but then they make shifts and attempt to return to the family system who are still there with the person prior to treatment. They are still left with the anger and hurt,” says Schubert. “This is just one of the many reasons we see it as important to involve the family in recovery.”
Those of us who are closest to a person with addiction, trauma or mental health conditions are often drawn into behaving in ways and doing things that we’re conflicted and uncomfortable about. Schubert says it’s extremely common for family members to believe that they are helping their addicted loved one, but, in reality, they are unwittingly enabling the addiction. “The family might be suppressing feelings, accepting excuses, trying to protect them and the family image, justifying their dysfunctional behaviour or lending the person money to get them out of trouble. It comes from a place of love and care, but I’ve worked with many families who haven't set boundaries and it allows the addiction to continue. They often find it challenging to set these boundaries, but it’s important to long-term recovery.”
Healing broken relationships
Our relationship to our family system is complex and in order to heal, it’s important to unravel the elements that do not serve us without laying blame or causing further damage. It’s also important to gain a greater understanding of how we grew up in our family system. “We might not have recognised when we were younger the stressors that were placed on the family system and how we adapted - did we thrive or survive? When a family system is under stress, our needs may not have been met,” says Schubert. “Or perhaps we grew up in a dysfunctional family system where the rules were - don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. We may still be feeling fear or shame from this.”
At South Pacific Private, many clients find the three-day family program to be one of the most profound and transformational experiences in their recovery process. According to Schubert, to move forward families must learn new ways of relating to each other and communicating effectively. “Here in treatment at South Pacific Private, we encourage families to be functional by sharing how they feel - without anger or casting blame. This helps build intimacy and strengthens the relationships. We want families to be supportive and the client to be successful in recovery.”
She says approaching conversations with honesty and compassion, and being mindful of language is key.
South Pacific Private is Australia’s only hospital to integrate a dedicated Family Program within our treatment plans. Our range of workshops and programs dedicated to families, friends and partners are designed to equip everyone with the tools and strategies necessary to set clear and effective boundaries, communicate effectively and to care for your own mental health and resolve prior trauma.
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