Recovery is a Long and Worthwhile Process
Recovery is an elusive term, and one that often isn’t fully understood, even by those in treatment. But no matter how you define it, recovery means a better future for individuals and families.
What does recovery mean?
When I talk to people about recovery, it’s a troublesome question. What is recovery? It depends on the individual and what they want out of life. But in general, I think it comes down to living up to your own individual values.
There are also a couple of absolutes that I hold onto. First, recovery is a process or a continuum. I often hear (although I’m hearing it less and less now) that relapse is part of recovery, and I really struggle with that. To me, relapse is the opposite of recovery. If I picture a line, I’m either moving towards recovery or towards relapse. I can’t stand still, there’s no such thing.
I have been abstinent from substances for quite a long time, but I can tell you that I’ve relapsed many times. And that has nothing to do with using. It has to do with old attitudes, old behaviors, old fears, and old triggers that affect my relationships with others. I have to continuously treat my own recovery in order to prevent those kinds of emotional relapses.
Family recovery services
In helping families recover, I try to push families to identify what they want. That’s in addition to getting someone into treatment or helping one individual get better. I want families to identify what recovery means for the entire family system and their relationships.
I have a metaphor I like to use with families: We are all those old fashioned cash registers with the big buttons. And Harry knows which button to push on Sally. And Billy knows which button to push on Harry to get the desired emotional reaction. Usually the reaction someone is seeking from others is one equal to the pain they are feeling.
Just because a family member goes to treatment doesn’t mean those buttons have disappeared. People will still react and still have the same triggers as before. This is one of the biggest difficulties many individuals face in returning to their families from treatment. If the family system doesn’t do any of their own healing, then it makes it more difficult for the individual to continue his or her journey. But more importantly, the family needs to realize they’re going to go on this journey together.
How long does recovery take?
Believe it or not, I actually get this question from clients quite often. My response is usually just to say that I hope that you’re willing to never arrive at a place of total satisfaction. You can always improve your relationships with others. As we get older, I think we’re blessed with a little slower emotional energy, which sometimes looks like grace from the outside. But in fact, we just have more energy to spare on exploring our meaning in the world. As a grandfather now myself, I’ve started to think about these things. What is the meaning of my existence? What am I going to leave behind for my grandson?
In terms of a family, I want clients to think about how they can change the legacy of their family so that the grandchildren are impacted in a positive way. So when people ask me how long recovery takes, I should really answer, “How long do you have, or how much time are you willing to invest?”
Why isn’t there a magic pill to recover more quickly?
Many people wish there was a magic pill that someone could take and instantly recover from their substance use disorder. But that pill simply doesn’t exist. When we engaged in substance use, it was magical. I could take something and instantly change the way I reacted to the world. That behavior sets up a pattern of thinking and rewires the brain to seek out easy solutions.
This way of thinking translates to family systems in a slightly different way. While it may not be the magical way of seeking solutions, many families believe that if one individual gets treatment, everything will be okay. Families might have even been engaged in behavior that made it easier for them to live with what was going on, often living in contrast to their own values. So all of that has to be sorted through and rewiring has to occur in order for the entire family system to recover.
A family member once told me, “This is hard. What you’re asking us to do is hard.” And I replied, “Easy got us here.” It is hard. But only by working through the hard will families get better.