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Aspects of Early Stages in Family Recovery
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In the last section, we discussed the three important aspects of the ‘collapse’ stage of recovery. These are, letting go of long-standing routines and rituals, letting go of old attitudes and behaviors, and the fear of ‘walking backwards’.
In this section, we will discuss the entry into family recovery in its early stages. We will specifically discuss the four aspects of parallel recovery. These are, rebuilding is slow, personal examination, the family is still divided, and parallel recovery is only partial recovery.
As you know, parallel recovery focuses on the need for family members to focus on a period of personal recovery, so that each individual can develop a healthy self in preparation for later rebuilding the family. When describing parallel recovery to my clients, I use the metaphor of two children in a sandbox, each building their own castle. Each is aware of each other, but they have little interaction except to ask for a shovel, or squabble over a bucket. I explain that in parallel recovery, each family member is building their own castle, but the other family members are still close by.
4 Aspects of Parallel Recovery
♦ # 1 - Rebuilding is Slow
The first aspect of parallel recovery is that the task of recovery and healing is slow. This is difficult for many family members to accept; as you know, they want everything back to normal now! Mark’s wife Donna had been abusing alcohol for the past ten years, and had been sent to a treatment after crashing her car into a telephone pole on her way home from the bar. Mark, a 40-year old office manager, had sought counseling at the same time. Although Donna had made a commitment to recovery, and was making excellent progress, Mark came in angry to a recent session.
Mark stated, "I thought once Donna got sober, I’d have her back, but I don’t! They have her now! She’s at those AA meetings half the nights of the week!" Obviously, it is dangerous for a family to push too quickly for closeness and normalcy. Changing from a firmly established way of life, even a negative one, is difficult.
♦ # 2 - Personal Examination
In my experience, the second aspect of parallel recovery is that family members need to learn the skill of personal examination. As you are well aware, during active addiction, personal examination and accepting responsibility are dangerous activities and accepting responsibility are dangerous activities for both the addict and co-addicts.
Everyone is looking for someone else to blame. I find that it is essential to recovery for family members to relearn personal examination, and honesty. Do you agree that is as important for the family members to examine how they have betrayed their family, their friends, and themselves as it is for the addict in recovery?
♦ # 3 - The Family is Still Divided
As you know, the third aspect of parallel recovery is that the family is still divided. Do you agree that family members quickly become defensive at any sign of stress, and that communication still occurs primarily in monologues, as we discussed in Section 1? It is my experience that shame levels are still so high at this stage of recovery that family members slip easily back into assigning blame.
As you are aware, "camps", as we discussed in Section 2, must be disbanded, and the family must be able to become vulnerable to each other, as trust develop once again. I find that the perspectives of the addict and co-addicts at this point can be quite different, and family members often do not have a long-term vision of what recovery will mean. Do you have a client who, in the early stages of recovery, still errs on the side of short-term stability instead of long-term mutual growth?
♦ # 4 - Parallel Recovery is only Partial Recovery
In addition to rebuilding is slow, personal examination, and the family is still divided, I consider the fourth important aspect of parallel recovery to be that parallel recovery is only partial recovery. As we have discussed, parallel recovery allows the recovering family members to work on their individual recovery, creating a healthy self that can more easily participate in the family recovery process, it is still only a partial recovery.
Thomas, 18, came to my office as part of family treatment for his older brother Anthony, who had an addiction to cocaine. Thomas stated, "Things are better. There aren’t shouting matches any more. But at night we all sit at home watching TV, nobody talking. What am I supposed to say? How do I say sorry differently than I have a million times? Does Anthony feel bad for stealing the money I was going to use to go on spring break with my friends? Does he even remember?"
As you are aware, in this partial recovery, the distance between family members has not yet closed up. Although the family has found a way to stop the destructive aspects caused by the addiction, it has not found a way to recreate a shared values system. Do you find that many families get ‘stuck’ in the pattern of settling for this partial recovery?
♦ "Accepting Better, Going for Great" Technique, 3 Steps
I invited Thomas to try a journaling exercise that I call "Accepting Better, Going for Great".
In the first part of the exercise, I asked Thomas to write about what his ideal picture of his family would be. One of the images Thomas described was "having family dinners where we talk to each other".
Step 2: For the second part of the exercise, I asked Thomas to stop throughout his day and think, "if this is better, what would be great?", and write down his answers.
Step 3: In the final part of the exercise, I asked Thomas to try and make a habit of recording all of his successes and steps towards his goal that occurred at the end of every day.
I have found that with clients like Thomas, this journal exercise can help encourage the co-addict to keep his or her mind on where the family can go, which can help reduce the pattern of settling for partial recovery. Would playing this section be beneficial to your Thomas?
In this section, we have discussed the entry into family recovery in its early stages. We specifically discussed the four aspects of parallel recovery. These are, rebuilding is slow, personal examination, the family is still divided, and parallel recovery is only partial recovery.
In the next section, we will discuss the task of early recovery, and the phenomenon of release.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Carmody, T. P., Delucchi, K., Simon, J. A., Duncan, C. L., Solkowitz, S. N., Huggins, J., Lee, S. K., & Hall, S. M. (2012). Expectancies regarding the interaction between smoking and substance use in alcohol-dependent smokers in early recovery. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 26(2), 358–363.
Grant, D. S., & Dill-Shackleford, K. E. (2017). Using social media for sobriety recovery: Beliefs, behaviors, and surprises from users of face-to-face and social media sobriety support. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 6(1), 2–20.
Robbins, M. S., Feaster, D. J., Horigian, V. E., Rohrbaugh, M., Shoham, V., Bachrach, K., Miller, M., Burlew, K. A., Hodgkins, C., Carrion, I., Vandermark, N., Schindler, E., Werstlein, R., & Szapocznik, J. (2011). Brief strategic family therapy versus treatment as usual: Results of a multisite randomized trial for substance using adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79(6), 713–727.
What are the four important aspects of parallel recovery?
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