“Uh-Oh,” is the predominant answer we heard when asking people their response to hearing the words, “We need to talk.” Seems no one’s thrilled by a summons to sit down and talk, let alone listen to someone’s thoughts on us.
Outside of treating the physical and biological aspects of addiction and mental illness, communicating clearly with loved ones ranks in the top three challenges in early recovery. While the clinical reasons behind this are plentiful and can be more complicated, in the work we do with families we see a few patterns distinct enough to mention.
- It’s Fine—Giving the benefit of the doubt to a family member by chalking up behaviors to “it’s just a phase,” or “they’re having a tough time at the moment.” We want to believe its going to be OKAY!
- The Elephant Sweep—NO talking. Even when the illness is swinging from chandeliers, lying through their teeth, or hiding in a room with screens 24/7. All of it goes underneath the rug.
- Don’t ask, Don’t tell—The entire family is mired by the illness, each member using coping behaviors to help survive multigenerational trauma, grief and chaos.
While the above depictions may sound a bit bananas, we invite you to think about your own family’s pattern of communication. How do you engage one another to find out how everyone’s doing for real? How each member is coping with the ups and downs of being human?
One of our best practices at Roots Collaborative is to help model regular family meetings. When facilitating an intervention, we engage the whole family to start a recovery journey together, not just the loved one who is currently in crisis. This first meeting gives each family member an equal voice, and the permission to use it moving forward without shame, blame and guilt (be it aimed at themselves or another).
Once the crisis is abated, we host regular meetings with the family network that run much like that of a business meeting. By following the same simple, structured agenda week after week, family members can begin to trust the process, and eventually themselves and finally each other. Talking as a family starts to feel normal, and eventually it does become enjoyable. Through this modeling, our clients experience the fruits of coming together to share what’s actually happening in their lives. If they need extra calls during the week—they get em! A car breaks down—boom—let’s problem-solve as a group. A relapse occurs—let’s pool resources for a higher level of care.
We are not suggesting that sharing openly with your most intimate relationships where the stakes seem very high, is easy. It is not. However, like anything, practice improves it. What we can promise you is that learning to communicate with your family is 100% worth it. And we may even go as far as to say it will change the structure of your DNA.