Family & Recovery

Addicts usually suffer from disordered thinking, dysregulated emotions, problematic behavior patterns, and some kind of unresolved trauma - and this is why many of us find it difficult or even impossible to stay sober.
It all begins in childhood, of course. If a person grows up without enough safety he cannot develop as he would in an environment of continuous love and nurture, but trauma may not be identified as such - kids experience emotional trauma as normal, if that’s just what they know since childhood. A childhood climate of fear and threat translates into unhappy adulthood - where he may feel insecure, anxious, depressed, angry, and unlovable, but doesn’t know or dare to communicate openly. He may rather seek to suppress his suffering indefinitely and self-medicate hyper-reactivity, hyper-vigilance, and low self-esteem.
As an adolescent he might experience more trauma and then he is expected to function, “Just get over it,” and “Grow up.” He may not know how to grow up, preferring to relieve some of the confusion and discomfort. “Just say No to drugs” may not really be an attractive directive or even doable.
It is necessary that a healing occurs in recovery. A survivor of emotional trauma has undergone a profound transformation – memories are encoded in the brain. Personality development has been interfered with and there may be a sense of inner emptiness and confusion about life. There is a lack of meaning, and so he may try to numb out and pursue chemical euphoria. This is displayed interpersonally, as well. Unsure of his true self, he has trouble, saying No. But saying Yes can be impossible, too, when love has become linked to pain and fear, and so there are difficulties holding up relationships. Without bonding there is loneliness, but he may trust too much, too soon, or not at all, for he cannot feel love for others or himself. He may feel numb, shut down, unable to open his heart.
Without a fully evolved sense of self, a false self may be presented, where he hides behind an image, unsure of the truth, fearing there is really nobody there underneath the so-called character defects. Perhaps he plays the clown, badass, player, gangsta, or nerd to cover up his vagueness. Mostly, he wants to be cool.
Emotional trauma can be passed down over generations like an inheritance and family members may not even be aware of it. Family members tend to act on their own childhood experiences, even the difficult ones – it is what they know. There may be family secrets and family members may be defensive – boundaries to outsiders can be rigid. Family interaction style is familiar since childhood – a process that maintains a sense of stability, even in the face of extreme and difficult conditions, such as alcoholism and (self-)destructive behaviors. There is suffering and struggling within the family, often with the same difficulties that the addict experiences – there may be unhappiness and mood disorders. There may be shame and blame, and also abuse and alcoholism within the family.
Recovery is the chance for a gradual transformation and catching up with maturation, but family systems can resist change. Alcoholic families, too, want to hold on to the status quo, even when it’s problematic – they want to maintain the homeostasis of the family system in order to keep the family together. Change can raise fear and insecurity. Whatever the case may be, recovery work includes exploring and resolving family issues, while also introducing compassion and patience for this process. It takes time for the family to heal, but it can be done if people want to.
This is why we are including family members in treatment (in the recent decades). When family members receive the chance to participate, cultivate communication, and verbalize their own thoughts and experiences, they can let go, and eventually find forgiveness. The family can (ever so gradually) recover from dysfunctional, but familiar behavior patterns right along with the “identified patient” – the addict. It’s well worth the effort. It’s a beautiful thing when that happens.