Why Do Families in Recovery Need a Support System?

Contributor: Deborah L Tamburino, LMHC, CAP, Clinical Director at Artesian Wellness & Recovery Centers

traveller-349963_640It is important to understand that once you or a family member has successfully completed treatment that is only the beginning of the recovery process. The crisis that had precipitated treatment has stabilized and now it is time to heal and grow as a family again. But how do we do this?

As someone we love struggles with addiction or mental health issues we can see the changes in that person but families are often unaware of the changes that are occurring within themselves, their family members or the family structure. Each person in the family system is affected but each is affected and responds differently.

Identifying Individual Needs First

The family needs to develop an understanding of how they can provide healthy support to their loved one, but also to understand the importance of identifying their own needs. When a loved one is in crisis the family tends to focus total attention on keeping that person safe or trying to stop the next bad thing from happening.

As the family focus changes to a protection and survival mode individual needs become less important. Over the course of time, being in the protection and survival mode becomes uncomfortable but a normal way of functioning. Each family member develops their own way of coping.

Learning to Manage Symptoms and Cope

When your loved one goes into treatment she/he learns new ways of coping with their issues. They learn about their addiction or mental health problems, ways to manage and decrease symptoms, develop new coping skills, how to deal with feelings, the importance of developing a positive support system, etc…

The family members at home generally do not have the same opportunity to change, heal and grow as a person. Just as your loved one needs to have his/her own support group to continue in their recovery, the family need the same thing.

Providing a Sense of Belonging

So what can a family support group provide? The first thing it can provide is a sense of belonging. You are no longer alone in your struggles. You can connect and share with people who understand your feelings, fears and concerns because they have been there too.

You can learn how they have addressed a particular problem or have dealt with their feelings or fears. It is a group where you can talk about you and your feelings and concerns. It is a place where you can feel hear and understood.

The Difference between Support and Enabling

jumping-444613_640The second concern I hear when working with families in recovery, is their desire to provide support but not wanting to enable their loved one to continue to engage in self-defeating behaviors. It is very difficult to know the difference between support and enabling.

As a loved one continues their spiral into addiction or mental health problems, a family’s boundaries tend to erode. When boundaries erode family members tend to lose their sense of self and attention is focused on what to do to protect their loved one.

We begin to feel responsible for problems we didn’t create and we can’t solve. A support group can help you learn about the value of setting boundaries and how to maintain those boundaries without feelings of guilt.

Family Support Organizations

There are a variety of organizations that offer support to the loved one, their family members and friends. There are support groups for children and teens. Some support groups are peer-led, while others may be led by a mental health of substance abuse professional.

There are even on-line support groups. Generally they are free or may ask for a donation — monetary or time. The resources to help you are available. I would recommend you start your by doing an internet search of what is available in your area. I would also check with local hospitals, churches and treatment centers.

Listed below are some universal signs that indicate a well-functioning group:

  • Up-to-date, reliable information
  • Prompt response to contacts
  • Regular meetings or newsletters
  • Strong leadership
  • A clearly stated “confidentiality” policy
  • Particular qualities the individual is seeking (for example, a group around a specific condition, or a group for siblings)

Make the First Step

In closing, I have a saying on my desk that I see every morning when I come into my office. It has always been a motivator for me. It is a quote by Loa Tzu. He stated, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That quote continues to hold true today.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How have you or a loved one benefited from a family support system?

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.