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Family Exercises for Recovery

“I hope one day you can be at my house with your kids, hanging out on the porch while they play, talking about property taxes or your next vacation.”

“I’m grateful you told the truth about your drug problem, I’m grateful that you helped our family—we would have never talked like this.”

“I’m afraid we’re going to do all this and you’re going to go back to the same thing.”

Speaking with intention

When parents and patients come together for their first group exercise as part of our intensive week-long Family Program, one of the first activities we have them do is for each person to write a list. They write something they’re hopeful for, something they’re grateful for, and something they’re afraid of. Then they read it aloud.

It’s an opportunity—maybe the first parent and son have ever had—to practice speaking in intention and without criticism.

There is no feedback allowed between parents and children. Their hopes, gratitude and fears hang in the air all around us, while other families and their sons do the same exercise.

It’s an intense experience but a safe space as families hear things they hadn’t dared to give voice to for years.

This is just one of the exercises we perform with patients and families together to foster recovery as a family. Speaking in intention, without fear of reprisal or criticism, in a room where other patients and their family members are speaking openly honestly creates an atmosphere of healing. Families can begin to believe in the miracle of recovery.

Family Dynamic Model

Another exercise we do is the family dynamic model. Though a little simplistic, it shows how when one member of the family is struggling with addiction or alcoholism, each member of the family has their own role to play that balances everything out. Are you the Chief Enabler, helping the addict avoid consequences? Are you the Hero, trying to save the family through perfect performance at school or extra-curriculars? Are you the Scapegoat, distracting the family from the chaos of the addict by causing your own share of problems? Are you the Lost Child, keeping a low profile and hoping the chaos passes by you? Or are you the Mascot, using humor to divert your family’s attention?

As we hash out these definitions, family members are asked to talk about the role they identify with. Again, it’s a conversation that happens in a safe space where individuals can speak openly without it turning personal or accusatory. Family members can identify themselves and with the other members of their family, and see a bit more clearly how they all relate.

It’s a daring risk each individual is taking, but it’s likely the first time they’ve considered their family dynamic outside of crisis. You’re just sort of thinking about it because it’s a Tuesday, and you’re in the Family Program, and you’re all here trying to get better together.

A close look in the mirror

Another exercise for family recovery is a look at physical health. When we examine certain health risks associated with substance abuse disorders—issues like hypertension, weight loss, weight gain, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression—we see something surprising. This list of symptoms is shared by both the addict or alcoholic and their codependent, enmeshed family members.

They’re all significant health risks, plus they make life pretty unbearable.

For families struggling to see the detriment in their inner perspectives, or the chaos that abounds in their family dynamic, these physical symptoms are hard to ignore.

Family members begin to see how much their own life has changed in the course of their loved one struggling with addiction. They see how much they are suffering, that they are falling apart, that they need to take care of themselves. They realize how tired they have felt, how sad or angry or fearful they’ve been, how their clothes don’t fit quite right, the chronic pain they’ve been trying to ignore.

Patients begin to see how much their behavior affected their family members. They see how much their parents, their siblings or their partner’s experience of life is disturbed. Young men see that they were not existing in a vacuum, that things they said or did—or didn’t—had a direct and profound impact on their family.

This exercise initiates a self-care narrative for family members, and an empathy narrative for patients.

Families find their own recovery

These recovery exercises are just a sample of the work with do with families to help them heal and recovery from the devastating affects of addiction. Examining each individuals hopes, gratitude, and fear helps to explore the emotional side of the disease. Understanding the family dynamic and the role each individual plays shows families the mental aspect of addiction. And an examination of the health risks anchors the mental and emotional pain they’ve been feeling in the physical world.

We help families to come to grips with what they’ve lost to addiction, and what they stand to gain in recovery. To learn more about how you can change the momentum of your family with recovery, call us at 772-245-8345 or email us at


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