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Steps of Early Recovery from Addiction
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In the last section, we 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 this section, we will discuss a task of early recovery. We will also discuss the phenomenon of release.
As you are well aware, recovery for an addict means not only stopping the use of their drug, but also reestablishing a life of meaning. Likewise, I find that each member of the recovering family must learn to reconnect with the drive for meaning. Have you observed in your practice, as I have, that the addictive family entering recovery is still driven by the instinctive drives of power and pleasure that were such an important part of the family’s defense mechanisms?
Three Steps to Early Recovery
♦ Step # 1 - Establish Honesty
Betty, 16, had been living in a house with an alcoholic mother since she was a baby. Her mother Natasha had recently finished a treatment program, and she and her husband Craig were exhibiting strong commitment towards healing. I explained to Betty’s family that moving towards the drive for meaning creates what I call the phenomenon of release.
I stated, "As an addicted family moves away from the addictive instinct to behave in self-destructive ways, and towards values and principles, they can be released from impulsiveness. Part of this involves realizing that honesty will help more than it will hurt, and that this honesty can help restore and renew the family. Natasha, you mentioned feeling uplifted and free the first time you spoke honestly in therapy about your alcoholism. Often, other family members can experience this same feeling of release by talking about what has happened in the course of the addiction."
As you will see with Betty, her family moved towards the drive for meaning and the phenomenon of release, other emotions, such as fear, hurt, and frustration will seek release in a similar manner.
♦ Step # 2 - Leaps of Faith
In Betty’s family, preparing for reestablishing a life of meaning required a leap of faith, or rather many small leaps of faith. Betty’s family no longer knew how to trust in anyone or anything. The first leap of faith for Natasha’s husband Alfonzo was to begin talking to his pastor about his experiences. Alfonzo stated, "Talking with Pastor Rachel has really helped me communicate better. She’s very understanding and very patient. Every time I see her I find I can open up a bit more. It’s frightening though. I know you said it was normal, but it surprises me sometimes how scary it can be talking about Natasha’s alcoholism."
♦ Step # 3 - Learn to Live without Crisis
Some the most important communication skills Alfonzo learned were how not to hide when Natasha said something hurtful, and how to admit when one he was wrong. As you know, when a family has lived in a state of crisis for a long time, learning to live without a crisis can be terrifying.
Betty stated "It had been about a month and there had been no big fights. It was spooky, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I liked the niceness, but I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I kept getting more tense. So one day I picked a glass up off the table and threw it against the wall, yelled at Mom that she was still nothing but a drunk, and ran out of the house. I thought I’d spend the night out, but they came looking for me. They had never come looking for me before. They weren’t even angry, they were worried… and I cried. I hadn’t cried for years."
Although Betty knew she was benefiting from her family’s new determination to reestablish a meaningful life together, she stated, "I’m just so jumpy all the time. It’s actually much scarier not having my parents fight every night, because I expected that. Now it’s like I’m waiting for something to happen every minute I’m home!" I asked Betty to try the "Personal Pillow Fight" technique to release the tension she was feeling because of ‘everyone being too nice’.
♦ "Personal Pillow Fight" Technique, 3 Steps
I recommended that she make or gather several large, comfortable pillows for her room.
--Step Two: When Betty began feeling the tension, I suggested she go into her room, shut the door, and create a space in the middle of the room.
--Step Three: Then, I explained to Betty that she should take each pillow, and raise it high above her head with her knees bent, think of something that was making her tense or angry, and hurl the pillow to the floor, making any noise she felt like, while releasing her thought into the floor.
--Step Four: Once Betty made a pile of the pillows, I suggested that she jump or collapse into the soft pile, where she could relax and stretch out, or take some time to cry.
Do you have a client, like Betty, who would benefit from a technique to help him or her release the tension that can be caused by working towards reestablishing a life that contains more meaning? Would playing this section be beneficial to one of your clients?
In this section, we have discussed the task of early recovery, and the phenomenon of release.
In the next section, we will discuss the middle stage of family recovery from addiction and three major characteristics of this stage. These characteristics are, the family develops a new vision, more family stability, and moving from borrowed values to integrated values.
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.
Field, M., Heather, N., Murphy, J. G., Stafford, T., Tucker, J. A., & Witkiewitz, K. (2020). Recovery from addiction: Behavioral economics and value-based decision making. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 34(1), 182–193.
Greenfield, B. L., & Tonigan, J. S. (2013). The General Alcoholics Anonymous Tools of Recovery: The adoption of 12-step practices and beliefs. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(3), 553–561.
What is meant by the phenomenon of release?
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