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Middle Stage of Family Recovery from Addiction
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In the last section, we discussed the task of early recovery, and the phenomenon of release.
In this 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.
As you will see with Joann, as the family of an addict enters middle recovery, the members are becoming consciously aware that they have experienced some of the benefits of recovery. For example, Joann stated, "For the first time in years, I know I can expect a degree of sobriety from Roy. I know he’ll go to his meetings, and that when I come home and want some peace and quiet, I’ll usually get it. I used to be scared to open my door after work. Now I’m even feeling hopeful again."
In the middle stage of recovery, both Joann and her husband Roy began to understand and accept the true nature of Roy’s alcohol addiction, and how it affected the family, and each of them as an individual. Although Joann remained watchful towards Roy, especially concerning his AA meetings and efforts to stay sober, she was also able to feel more accepting of his mistakes. In this stage of recovery, Joann and Roy were able to be more receptive to each other’s feelings, and also began to exhibit genuine remorse, even though the wounds of their past were still very much in the process of healing.
Three Characteristics of the Middle Stage of Recovery
♦ # 1 - New Vision
The first major characteristic of the middle stage of recovery for Roy and Joann was a new vision for the family. The most important factor in this new vision for them was hope. Joann found that she had healed enough to begin to see the future of the family in a different light. She also described being able to see the family as a place of comfort, enjoyment, and possibilities again. Do you find that although family members in this stage are still afraid to be vulnerable, the small successes of recovery accumulate, adding to feelings of hope?
Joann stated, "Last week I found myself looking through the golf clubs at the sports store, thinking that our anniversary is coming up next month, and a new driver would make a great gift for Roy. Then I remembered… just two years ago thinking about our anniversary made me consider calling a lawyer to start drawing up divorce papers! And Roy has started golfing again! He always loved it, but when he was drinking he lost all interest in it."
♦ # 2 - Greater Stability
The second characteristic of middle recovery for Roy and Joann was that the family experienced greater stability. Joann observed that her relationship with time began to change. When Roy was drinking, Joann found that she was obsessed with and controlling of each moment at hand. In middle recovery, this began to fade, and Joann was also less haunted by the past, and more faithful in the future. Joann was able to begin to forgo the id-driven instinctual gratification of power and pleasure, and engage in more meaningful and spiritual pursuits.
For Joann, she also found she was able to take risks and connect with others again. Joann stated, "I couldn’t leave Roy alone at night before. Now, once a week, I go to the local Ladies Association meetings. Not having to worry what I’ll find when I come home every time I go out lets me really relax there, and I’m making some good friends! Last week, I even met some of the women I met for brunch!"
♦ # 3 - Integrated Values
In addition to developing a new vision and increasing stability, the third characteristic of the middle phase of recovery from addiction for Roy and Joann was moving from borrowed values to integrated values. In early recovery, Roy and Joann ‘borrowed’ the principles and values of a twelve-step group, and tried them on to see how they ‘fit’ in their lives.
Joann stated, "I didn’t believe in it at first, all this honesty, understanding, acceptance things, and neither did Roy. But we kept using them anyway. And you know, they really were powerful. We started adding more, practicing more. Now I completely believe in them, and I feel frustrated, I can sometimes here them guiding my choices." I explained to Joann that she was beginning to develop a conscious contact with her new values, and that the values she and Roy had borrowed from their recovery programs were becoming skills for them as they practiced.
♦ Technique: "Heavy Burden"
As you have experienced, for some clients, it can be hard to accept and believe when their family members begin believing in these values. Jenny, 16, began seeing me when she was fourteen, after her father entered treatment for addiction to alcohol and painkillers.
Recently, she stated, "The other night, I saw dad on the couch looking sad. He asked me to come over and sit with him, and told me his sponsor had been having him look at how he had
been an irresponsible father while he was drinking. He said it was really becoming clear… then he told me about a couple of things that happened four years ago, things we never talked about.
He described them so clearly, and I could tell he was being honest, really thinking about how it had affected me. Dad told me he wouldn’t say he was sorry and ask me to forgive him, but that he was going to work hard to earn my forgiveness… it really shook me up. I felt really mad… how could he act like that! get my hopes up?"
As you can see, Jenny’s dad was starting to act like a father again. I find that one of the tasks of middle recovery is for family members, like Jenny, to begin to decide whether to let themselves be vulnerable, and give the addict second chances. Since Jenny was struggling with past hurt feelings, I recommended that she try the "Heavy Burden" exercise with me.
5-Step Guided Meditation
Jenny stated that the memories of things her father had done in his years of drinking made her feel like she was carrying a heavy weight around.
In a guided meditation, I had Jenny visualize these memories as being a backpack full of rocks.
Step 2: On each rock was written the description of a painful memory.
Step 3: During the first part of the meditation, I guided Jenny through a forest trail, carrying the heavy backpack until she came to a high cliff.
Step 4: At the cliff, Jenny reached into the backpack and threw each rock with its attached memory over the cliff, one by one.
Step 5: I finished the meditation by having Jenny walk through the rest of the trail, noticing how different hiking felt without the backpack on her back.
Would this meditation be beneficial to your Jenny?
In this section, we have discussed the middle stage of family recovery from addiction and the three major characteristics of this time. These are, the family develops a new vision, more family stability, and moving from borrowed values to integrated values.
In the next section, we will discuss the spiritual principles that I find most important in middle recovery. These are, accountability, humility, gratitude, and discipline.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ashford, R. D., Brown, A. M., Ashford, A., & Curtis, B. (2019). Recovery dialects: A pilot study of stigmatizing and nonstigmatizing label use by individuals in recovery from substance use disorders. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 27(6), 530–535.
Hodgins, D. C., Kim, H. S., & Stea, J. N. (2017). Increase and decrease of other substance use during recovery from cannabis use disorders. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 31(6), 727–734.
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 three major characteristics of the middle stage of family recovery from addiction?
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