Trouble at school, work, or home, running afoul of the law, stealing, dishonesty, and behaviors that put him at risk of hospitalization or worse: this is just a snapshot of what some families must deal with when they love someone with a substance use disorder.
When someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, parents, siblings, partners and children must adapt, patterning their behavior around dealing with a person in crisis.
When a person in crisis brings this kind of chaos into your household, where does that leave you? Where does that leave your spouse? Or the other children in the family? Where does your relationship with your parents or your close friends fall?
Isolation is a hallmark of addiction and alcoholism
Just to keep rolling from one day to the next, families are forced to adapt. In doing so they often create an environment that sustains the addict or alcoholic’s destructive behavior. The result is often years’ worth of panic-driven, trauma-informed behavior. That’s why we view the entire family as our patient, and why we work so closely with both the young man and his family from the beginning. It’s going to take time, patience, and a lot of hard work to begin to undo the damage.
The goal of treatment is the same for patients as it is for families: to find freedom from the chaos of addiction and build a life that is worth living.
Though the Family Program occurs in the second month of treatment, our work with the family begins from the day a young man is admitted to Voyage. Immediately we begin phone conferences between family members and one of our counselors to lay the groundwork for the Family Program. We do this through weekly assignments of reading and writing that examine the nature of addiction and codependency.
The Voyage Family Program happens over the course of a week at our treatment facility in Hobe Sound, Florida. Parents, siblings and partners are invited to attend. The group size stays small intentionally to ensure that families are able to express themselves and gain helpful insight and supportive feedback from Voyage clinical staff and other family members in attendance.
Family Program begins on a Sunday night in the second month of treatment. Families are invited to attend a dinner hosted at the Voyage residence. The guys plan a menu, prepare a meal, and serve their families dinner, then they all eat together. It’s an event that sets the tone for the week. After 30 or 40 days of treatment, these young men have started to gain some ground, transitioning from being isolated and self-centered in the throes of addiction to thinking outside of themselves, considering the people they love and how best to connect with them.
Goals and Obstacles
On Monday morning the families convene at our treatment facility. This is a day families will spend with our clinical staff only. In the family conferences leading up to this week, we have begun to discuss goals. Our conversations on this day dig deeper into the idea of goals for the post-treatment landscape and how family members can support each other. We help families think critically about their goals—if a parent has said that their goal is to trust their kid more, we’ll help them imagine what sorts of obstacles and barriers may crop up that will prevent them from achieving this goal.
The Family System
Parents and patients come together on Tuesday, and together we work on some operational definitions about the family system, what it looks like, and how different family members identify within that framework. It's a remarkable conversation as family members, for perhaps the first time ever, have an open conversation about family roles without it being deeply personal or accusatory. Individuals can identify and see themselves more clearly, while also relating to other members of their family, and members of other families. They consider the roles each of them plays in relation to the alcohol or addict without being in crisis.
We use this as a springboard into a conversation about what happened and how it happened, what is recovery, and what is a relapse, something each family member gets to talk about from their own perspective.
Communicating with Intention
On Wednesday we focus on teaching open, honest communication between family members. We have each parent and each patient write a list. They write statements about life in general or their relationship—something they’re hopeful for, something they’re grateful for, and something they’re afraid of.
Each individual reads their list to their family, and there is no feedback. It’s an intense experience to speak with intention about your hopes, gratitude and fears. But it happens outside the context of crisis, and families hear things they hadn’t dared to give voice to for years. Without accusation, judgement or criticism, family members develop a feeling of safety about talking openly and honestly, which supports an atmosphere of healing.
By Thursday we have reached the stage where we have defined recovery for a family as a move away from unmanageability and toward a life they want to have. At this point we work on relapse triggers—what is going to be a trigger for both the patient and the family member. The work we have done through the first part of the week has given each person a perspective on what recovery looks like for them, and helps each person to see the behaviors that have kept them from getting there in the past.
We emphasize showing yourself patience, acceptance and compassion—sometimes the only thing that will get a family member through a relapse is giving yourself a break. We show families how, even when something goes off the rails, they can start fresh again with a new behavior. Rather than trying to control the alcoholic or addict, they can admit their powerlessness, reach for something greater than themselves, and seek out support.
Continuing Care for the Family
For our last day of Family Program, the patients return to their routine, and our families work one on one with our clinical staff. On Friday we develop a continuing care plan for the family. Just as someone leaving treatment will have a contingency plan and a built-in network of support, our families leave us in the same stead. Their own continuing care plan outlines their goals as individuals, as well as how they can support each other as family members. We make sure they have a therapist set up when they return to their hometown, and that they’ve got a plan for going to Al Anon meetings in their town.
When someone in your family is struggling with a substance use disorder, you are profoundly affected. Your health, your sanity, your daily routine, your hopes for the future, even your vision of yourself. Good treatment and well planned continuing care can make all the difference in a person’s recovery—whether that person an addict or alcoholic, or they love someone who is.
The families we work with at Voyage are challenged to think about themselves in ways that might feel foreign: to remember that they and their other family members are people in need of love, support, and healthy nurturing.
Find out more about how our program can help your entire family recover from the chaos and devastation of a substance use disorder, and to build a life worth living. Call us at 772-245-8345 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.