How to Talk to Your Family about Participating in a Family ProgramAnna Ciulla
The best addiction-recovery journey is one that involves, not just the person struggling with the actual addiction, but his or her entire family. Whatever the specific details of the situation, the problem always belongs to the entire household because:
- Almost every addiction is affected by things the rest of the family is doing or not If other family members fail to understand the dynamics of enabling, unreasonable expectations or toxic relationship patterns, it will be harder for the recovering addict to stay sober because relapse triggers will be encountered regularly in vulnerable moments.
- The behavior of the person with the addiction will have had painful repercussions for the rest of the family, and everyone will benefit from getting objective outside help to work through hard feelings.
- Often, an outside party will be better able than the recovering individual to explain the best ways to support sobriety—and, input from a professional therapist or doctor will help defuse ideas that the patient is making unreasonable requests or just being selfish.
- The more people involved, the more accountability there is—and the more “strength in numbers” there will be if someone (not necessarily the recovering addict) slips and needs help getting back on track.
Nonetheless, if you’re the person recovering from addiction, you may feel you have enough stress in your life without trying to broach the subject of counseling with your family—especially if you’ve already run up a record of “talking them into” things you all would have been better off without. Here are a few ideas on how to talk to your family about participating in a family program, while minimizing stress for everyone involved.
CHOOSE A PROGRAM AFFILIATED WITH, OR RECOMMENDED BY, A PROFESSIONAL DETOX TREATMENT PROVIDER
Ideally, you should have started your sobriety journey in a professional treatment center that offers long-term counseling for clients and families as a matter of course. But even if your initial detox was in an emergency room after an overdose, or if you made a personal decision to “just stop” and lived through it without medical help (note to those who haven’t actually detoxed yet: don’t try it at home, it’s too risky)—it’s not too late to consult a professional treatment provider for individual and family counseling on staying sober. You should do this for yourself immediately anyway, because if nothing else, it’s important to get outside accountability and advice for dealing with whatever situations led to your addiction in the first place.
IF ANY OF YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS HELPED PERSUADE YOU TO GET TREATMENT, TALK TO THEM FIRST
If it was a family intervention that initially persuaded you to go for addiction treatment, you’re blessed with the certainty there are several people concerned enough to have already stepped outside their comfort zone for your sake. Even if just one person in your household begged you to get professional help, that should be the first person you ask about participating in a family program with you—and about helping you bring up the idea with the rest of the household.
PHRASE IT IN TERMS OF “US,” NOT “ME”
Sure, everyone’s probably glad to see you on the way to getting better, but they won’t be eager to change their own habits. (They probably hoped your getting sober would automatically make everything better.) Besides, they’ve had more than enough “it’s all about me” attitude on your part. So try your best not to talk solely in terms of “I need this.” Instead, emphasize how getting at the problems behind the problem will help ensure it doesn’t recur, and how much that will benefit everyone.
DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO MAKE PARTICIPATION CONVENIENT FOR EVERYONE
If recovery is for everyone’s good, it follows that the recovery process should take everyone’s needs into consideration. Before talking to your family about joining you for counseling, review what you know about everyone else’s schedules and priorities, and talk with your counselor about what program schedules would be easiest for everyone to manage. If you can, present your family with two or three schedule options and let them vote on it. (And no sulking if no one else favors your first choice!)
MAKE IT CLEAR YOU’RE COMMITTING YOURSELF TO THIS
Although having stuck out detox is a point in your favor, your family probably has all too much experience with your breaking promises, and is likely wondering, “What if we agree to this and s/he drops out—again?” Be understanding, and be prepared to give this your all, even in the inevitable moments when you don’t “feel like” continuing. (Often, we get the most out of things we didn’t “feel like” doing.)
Go to your family prepared to make it clear you will do everything you can to make this work, and that you need them to encourage you in keeping up that responsibility, not to take over and do things for you. Arm yourself with details of what you plan to do in terms of:
- Personally attending all therapy sessions—and listening to others and empathizing with their concerns.
- Finding/keeping a job.
- Putting in your share of work around the house.
- Giving your time and attention to the rest of the family.
- Making amends for the hurts you have caused.
Then, explain to your family that you need them to hold you accountable for sticking to your word—and to let you know when you’re being too hard on yourself or expecting too much of yourself, so you won’t get stressed out and be tempted to relapse. Present the family-program option as the best possible means for ensuring all this will work, and chances are your family will be agreeable—and you’ll all be on the path to long-term healing!
Beach House has an active family program that helps all involved parties learn to better understand addiction and each other, to communicate effectively and to master long-term patterns for encouraging sobriety and overall healthy living. If you’re coming here for treatment or have a family member who is, call (561) 337-3200 and ask about our Family Weekend Program as well.