Sometimes family gatherings can be awkward for no reason except for the dynamics of all the various personalities.
But during the holidays, often those dynamics are amplified. If you’re in recovery, that amplification occasionally pulses into the red zone.
As you consider time spent with relatives who you may or may not see on a regular basis, and who might not be aware of your transformation into sobriety, there are some points to remember about how to best share your story.
Take Control of the Narrative
Even the best families still tend to gossip or share privileged information. The last thing you want is to have your life experiences shrouded by damaging stigmas and myths involving addiction.
Instead of letting the family grapevine morph what you’ve been through, you may need the courage to speak up about it and clarify:
- What happened that led to your addiction. You have the right to share as many or as few details about this time as you wish. Consider who you’re talking with and why certain information may matter. FacingAddiction.org, in partnership with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), provides a helpful guide through its Facing Addiction Over Dinner campaign. You can use the interactive “test dinner” tool on its website to identify your audience, what you’d like to talk about, and provide people with media resources to learn more about addiction before your conversation.
- How treatment benefited you. Statistics from FacingAddiction.org indicate approximately 21 million Americans struggle with addiction, but only 11 percent receive treatment for it. Sharing your story may help your relatives understand the challenges involving your journey and what you’re doing to overcome them.
- The recovery process. Many people think once you’ve been through rehab, the hard part of recovery is over. For some individuals, this may be true. For others, each day presents a different awareness of life free of substances. It may be necessary with certain family members to address key issues of conflict, shame, blame, abuse, and other catalysts of substance use. You can also talk about the methods you use to stay sober. Again, you’re in control of what you share.
- What you need from them. This is a critical component, and honesty is the only way to secure proper support. You may need help avoiding triggers, explaining that willpower isn’t the only solution. You might also require a healthful distance from family members if they contribute negativity to your wellbeing. Stay rational, calm, and direct in your approach.
Ideally, you don’t want this chapter of your life to be exposed during the heat of a disagreement, or amidst the rush of holiday activities. If you feel conversations about your circumstances are important to clear the air before the hustle and bustle of the season sets in, arrange for some private meetings ahead of time. Usually groups of three–to–eight people work best so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Using the “Guiding Principles of Recovery” for Conversations
As you consider who in the family you need to talk with, remember the guiding principles of recovery. Established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), there are 12 principles that establish the foundation for healthful recovery process. You may find some of these points helpful as you communicate your experiences to people and answer their questions.
For example, one principle is: “Recovery exists on a continuum of improved health and wellness.” This may be a vital statement that helps you communicate that while you’re out of treatment and in recovery, you still have to take particular steps each day in order to stay well. While addiction cannot be cured, it can be effectively managed with proper support and attention. This this may be the opening you need to either ask your relatives for help which may benefit you, or request they keep a respectful distance as you move forward.
Another principle is: “Recovery involves a process of healing and self-redefinition.” This can be a good talking point if you feel your family always expects you to act or be a certain way, especially if members only remember you under the influence of drugs or alcohol. As your authentic self emerges, there may be a need for serious conversations about family issues and actions in order to address situations directly and move on from them in order to heal. This can be uncomfortable for some people, but necessary if you’re going to fully recover. It can also be a helpful touchstone to remind them that you may or may not have the same perspectives as you once did, now that you’re living a more healthful life.
The SAMHSA guidelines outline another principle: “There are many pathways to recovery.” Too often, in their desire to assist you, people may suggest a number of things to help your sobriety. They might share anecdotes of how this group helped a friend or why going to church was the saving grace for someone else. Your patience can be tested in moments like these, but if you keep a compassionate place in your heart to recognize people want you to feel better, it creates an opportunity to have earnest conversations about what works for you and why. If they’re willing, they can be a part of that process. If not, then request they understand as you continue to move forward with the methods best for your needs.
All of the SAMHSA principles are established in research-based initiatives. View the complete list here.
Aftercare Support Through Twin Lakes
If you’re wondering how other people talk with relatives about their wellness journeys, turn to the continuing care support team at Twin Lakes. This aftercare support service is designed to provide access to people and resources that help you through each stage of recovery.