We have beaten the odds and watched our loved one enter treatment, we talked a little bit about treating the family not just the addict, and we talked about the fact that recovery is a process and should now be a way of life.

I should back up for a minute and talk about an aspect of residential treatment that is common and you may have to deal with; leaving the program before completion.

The first reaction, of course, if your loved says they are leaving or does leave before completion, is one of doom and gloom.  Nothing has changed, everything is going back to the way it was, and it’s all been a waste of time.  That is not necessarily true, but now is when you need the information from the family groups, co-dependency classes, and/or Alanon, or NarAnon.

If your family member talks about leaving and hasn’t left yet, both encourage them to stay and make sure you talk about your new boundaries.  These are set by what you learned in those groups.  If they leave anyway, stick to the boundaries.  When it comes to, “Loving Them Enough to Make Tough Choices”, this is where the rubber meets the road.  If they are willing to abide by the boundaries, don’t panic, give them a chance to do it.

Whether your family member completed the program or not, encourage them to follow standard recovery suggestions for the newcomer.  Typically they include;

  • 90 meetings in the first 90 days.
  • Getting a Sponsor
  • Getting phone numbers at the meetings and using them
  • Joining a Home Group
  • Taking a service commitment
  • Getting and reading the literature
  • New people, places, and playthings

Ninety Meetings in Ninety Days

This is talking about one of the twelve step programs mentioned last week.  This immersion into the meeting life is very successful at keeping people in recovery on track.  Although it is said that 90 in 90 (in recovery parlance) is a must for any newcomer, it is a tool used far more frequently than just when you first come into recovery.  When things get difficult, following a traumatic event, sometimes just because we feel like we need it, an addict will commit to a 90 in 90.  There are also those who seem to live forever at the pace of a meeting every day.

Getting a Sponsor

Recovery is not just a quick education in a rehab, it is a lifelong process of discovery and change.  One of the vital keys to the process is working the 12 steps.  It is a Sponsor that guides us through that process and helps us in discovery.    In the process of recovery we must discover and resolve things within ourselves that contribute to our desire to use, or find anything that will help us escape ourselves.  This is someone who had been through the process of working all 12 steps and has a working knowledge of them.  They can also be a primary lifeline when your loved one is having a problem.  If there are moments of doubt, fear, or anger; outbursts, arguments, or threats to use, calling their sponsor is the best resource.

Getting Phone Numbers

Getting phone numbers of others in recovery and using those numbers if the sponsor can’t reached, or just so they can talk is of high value to anyone in recovery.  When you’re new to recovery that phone is like a thousand pound weight and difficult to pick up and dial.  Once you start using it, however, it becomes a resource you wouldn’t want to lose.

Joining a Home Group

The twelve step programs are each a fellowship that is nationwide, or worldwide.  In your local area there are Home Groups in each fellowship that hold meetings specific to the home group.  There may be multiple meetings of each home group, in various locations.  It is important that an addict go to meetings and identify one where he feels most at home, and join that Home Group.  A home group becomes the place that an addict attends regularly, goes to the business meetings, and takes a service commitment.

Taking a Service Commitment

This is an important part of our recovery for several reasons.  At first, it helps assure our attendance.  It also provides the newcomer a sense of belonging and purpose, something they have not had in a long time, if ever.  There is also a reward that is hard to identify at first, just a good feeling.  That reward is the result of giving back.  Service.  When you serve you are fulfilling the characteristic of the twelve step programs that says, “You can’t keep what you have unless you give it away.”  This saying applies in many other aspects of recovery life and the process of recovery as well, but this is where it begins.

Getting and Reading the Literature

It is absolutely amazing when an addict sits down and reads about themselves in a book.  That is truly the experience; the addicts reads stories, facts, principals, and characteristics that they completely identify with.  It is as if the book was written about them or by them.  And in the literature are the answers for how to deal with the things that go on in the mind of the addict.  Solutions to the everyday troubles and craziness that we live with.  The literature is a lifeline and one of the cornerstones of any twelve step program.

New People, Places, and Playthings

One of the most important things someone new to recovery has to face is leaving old friends behind.  This can be very difficult and your family member may insist they need to keep contact so they can help them find recovery too.  This is not a good idea.  There must be a realization that the best help they can be is in setting an example from a distance.  You may not win the argument, but it is one worth trying to win.  Their friends that are still stuck in addiction are far more likely to suck them back in than follow them out.  Similarly, the places your loved one went and things they did are most likely connected to their use so changing everything is important.

Now let’s talk a little about what rehab did not do if your family member went to a residential program.  It did not fix the addict, it did not clear their head so they can think straight, it did not make them normal, and it did not change all the behavior so everything will be ok.  You have to face this or you are in for more misery.

In the first 30 days after detox, an addict is still in a complete fog mentally.  They may know things are changing, and they may have hope that they can find a way to live with their thinking and feeling without having to numb them.  For the most part they are hanging onto this because they see others that say things your family member can identify with but they seem to be ok.  They even seem to be happy.

Then, slowly, depending on several factors like drug of choice and how long they have been using, the addict begins to think straight and the process of recovery brings them to one level of improvement after another.  It can be 6 months to years before your loved one is at 90% of normal.  I say 90% because the process never ends, so we can never say 100%.

There are going to be rough times ahead.  You just have to know in advance that life is never going to be what you would define as normal.  There may be a relapse in the future, and maybe not.  You must realize that for an addict to not be using is not normal, this is a miracle.  Our normal is high.  There will emotional upheaval as your family member works through steps.  Opening wounds and looking at things an addict tries to cover up with drugs or alcohol can me traumatic.

Don’t try to be a confidant and learn all of the things your family member is uncovering or the things they have done in the past.  Many of them would horrify you and cause you trauma.  Just trust the process and those in recovery that have also been where your family member has been but have found a new way to live.

I know that to reveal some of the things I did while in my addiction would have caused my parents great emotional turmoil.  If you want to get a little insight into the reality of what I am telling you, go to a few open meetings of AA, NA, or CR.  There are meetings just for members, but there are also many open meetings were anyone can attend.  Listen to some of the old timers share, listen to some of the people with a little time.  You will begin to understand this disease and the process of recovery.

Be thrilled that your loved one wants to go to twelve step conventions and activities, spend time with others in recovery, and go to meetings frequently.  At least they are alive, and they are growing toward becoming someone you will probably truly enjoy.  Watch the transition from regretting being alive to loving life and loving others.  It is a gift, it is a miracle.

The next Volume will be a discussion on support.  What can you do to be the most helpful, and the least harmful, to your loved one’s recovery.

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