Episode 2 - The Case for Family Support
The Case for Family Support
Hi, I’m Carolyn Bradfield and I’d to welcome our listeners to our audio journal series from InterAct LifeLine
InterAct LifeLine is a technology service focused on helping addictions treatment and collegiate recovery programs keep individuals connected to treatment, to community and to their families to improve recovery and reduce relapse. Today our focus is making the case about the importance of keeping families connected as a critical factor to relapse prevention and recovery.
Years ago, my 15-year old daughter Laura became a danger to herself as her drug use escalated out of control. I got professional advice, enrolled her in a wilderness therapy program, followed by a long-term commitment to a therapeutic boarding school. Right after enrollment in the school, 20 families gather for our orientation. It took us 4 hours to go around the room, introduce ourselves and share why are child had enrolled.
The room was full of emotion. We were all heartbroken that we had failed to keep our child safe, that they were using drugs, and had to be stabilized in wilderness. As I thought about how we could have been more prepared and less traumatized, it became clear that none of us had received any family support or guidance during the wilderness programs. We were totally unprepared emotionally to leave our child in the hands of others to finish out their high school experience.
That insight led me to create Phoenix Outdoor, a licensed adolescent wilderness program in North Carolina. The first order of business was to create a family support program that soon became the gold standard in the industry and later incorporated into most wilderness therapy programs. I’d like to share why family programs are critical when it comes to supporting a loved one who is either in treatment or managing their recovery process.
Families are undereducated about addiction
It’s very easy to focus on the behaviors that have disrupted your family life. From my own experience, I was angry and frustrated when Laura snuck out, took the car on a joy ride, didn’t show up for school, and began to steal things. I knew she was using drugs, but had no idea that her drug use had initiated the onset of the disease of addiction. My situation repeats itself in most families. We get angry, think that our loved one has more control over their actions than they do, and fail to understand the science behind this brain disease. Family support programs should provide an education on the condition so families better understand how it develops, progresses and can be treated.
Families are traumatized by the experience.
There is nothing worse than the fear you feel when your child is missing, is putting themselves in harm’s way, or is threatening you. I experienced many sleepless nights when Laura was unaccounted for, knowing she was with a dangerous crowd, and not knowing how to find her. Add to that the shame that I felt when my friends talked about the accomplishments of their children knowing that my child may not make it through high school or even make it home at night.
Being traumatized lowers a family’s ability to understand the situation, know how to make good, rational decisions in support of their loved one who is struggling and how they can take care of themselves. A family support program gives them an opportunity to share experiences with other families who are struggling, get counseling and develop a way to move past the trauma.
Decision making has become much more difficult
I shared that it took 4 hours for 20 families to introduce ourselves through our tears and sadness of sending our children away in order to keep themselves. Without a family support program to help guide us none of us were really prepared to make such an important decision. We didn’t have the support to explore whether our child come home under different circumstances, if a shorter-term stay would have worked, or what other options we had in front of us.
The bottom line is that in order to make good decisions on behalf of your loved one or with your loved one, having family support to guide that process is critical.
The family system may not be functioning well
Having an addicted family member can weaken or destroy even the most healthy of family systems, but in one that is already weak, dealing with addiction can be catastrophic to the family. In my own case, I was divorced, newly remarried, starting a new job where I traveled and dealing with raising my two teenagers without the involvement of their father. When Laura became compromised, it not only put my marriage at risk, but made it very difficult on my teenage son, my parents and other family members who stepped in to help.
Had we worked on our family system, changing the way we managed our communication, structure and accountability for Laura, and helped her understand and manage her disease, the family system would have functioned much better.
Create an environment for recovery
Someone who has undergone treatment for addiction may very well either return to live at home or reconnect with their family. Families who have gone through and continue to go through a family support program learn the do’s and don'ts about how to support their loved one so they create an environment that supports recovery. They learn how to hold that person accountable without blame. They learn how to communicate openly about what they struggle with. They better understand wellness strategies and how to implement them for the entire family.
Incorporating the family into treatment and into the recovery process does not begin and end with a 1-day visit to a treatment program or the occasional Al-Anon meeting. It requires on-going education to understand the disease and how to treat it. Families need to get healthy, move past the anger and trauma, and become good decision makers for themselves and sometimes for their family member. They need to stay connected to others in their situation for support, strategies, and guidance.
Without family support, it’s much harder for the addict to stay in recovery, begin to regain a sense of who they were before substance use, and to reconnect to the family.
InterAct LifeLine is dedicated to helping improve recovery and reduce relapse through our technology services used by collegiate recovery and treatment programs. A key component of our programming is family education, family support, and an automated way to help programs keep families connected.
I’m Carolyn Bradfield and you’ve been listening to the InterAct LifeLine audio journal.