Families are strongly affected by the disease of the person with the addiction. That means families and their addicted loved one need to recover in parallel. This process requires skills and understanding.
One of the first things clients learn about at the Farley Center is detachment, explains Garry Spain, Farley’s director of business development and clinical services. “People in active addiction are unable to detach from the compulsion to use drugs and alcohol. Addicted people feel they must use substances immediately in order to survive.“
The first recovery task is to learn how to detach from that compulsion to use substances. People in recovery need to create a pause and reach out to someone outside their addictive system. The same goes for family systems, says Spain. “They also have to learn how to detach—in this case from the behaviors of the person with the addiction. They need to reach out to people outside the family system with the addiction.”
This could be participating in an Al-Anon group, or in a family therapy program, such as the one offered by the Farley Center. It’s an opportunity to learn “how to become non-reactive and allow the reasoning part of the brain to take over the decision-making versus the reactive tendencies that are threatening to destroy the family,” says Spain.
The family has to learn that it needs to recover and what it is recovering from. “The family system needs to overcome its preoccupation with the behavior of the addicted person, abandon its frantic efforts to control the situation, and reverse its increasing tolerance for the addiction,” explains Spain. It needs to stop minimizing feelings and compromising its value system.
“We teach clients if they cannot prioritize their own recovery, they will lose a lot of things,” says Spain. “They need to learn how to cope in order to not lose more than they already lost. We teach the same thing to their family members. They need to prioritize their own needs in order to be able to help others.”
Additionally, families need to realize that they didn’t cause the addiction, they cannot control the addiction, and they cannot cure the addiction! “That is difficult to take in for some folks,” says Spain.
Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease and recovery is progressive as well. Spain identifies three main phases: the transition from using to abstinence, early recovery where abstinence gains momentum and a lot of learning and changes take place, and finally the ongoing, sustained recovery where abstinence has become normal and significant changes have been processed.
Recovery is a process of gradual change, requiring patience and a deliberate manner versus a reactive one. Recovery is a journey, taking place one day at a time. That goes for everybody in the family.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Farley’s in-person family program had to be temporarily suspended. The Farley Center is now offering an online program to assist family members in learning about addiction and coping with its consequences.