One of my favorite self-help books is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 2 is “begin with the end in mind”. By this, he means to take a moment before the start of a journey to get a picture of your destination, to help you visualize where you are going, how to get there, and when you arrive.
What does Covey’s second habit have to do with helping addicted families change? Well, I’ve come to believe in the power of positive change. By positive I mean figuring out how I’ll know when I get where I’m going. Too often people tell me they want to “be happy” or “not be this or that way any longer” without first taking time to visualize the end before they start the journey. I get it, we recognize our current unhappiness and discomfort and want a life. Understandable. However, one of our first recovery tasks is defining how our new, improved life will look. That way, we can avoid creating a different version of the life we are trying to escape.
Visualizing our destination is what I call a positive approach because of the focus on moving toward change, and not just away from discomfort. An added benefit of taking a positive approach is that we recognize our destination upon arrival and can stop looking for what we have. It is easy to focus on the getting there and overshoot the goal.
So, I’ve been thinking about what a healthy family looks like in preparation for this blog post. Actually, I’ve been thinking about what it means to live in a family that was formerly SUD-affected. How does a healthy family look? Once a family member stops drinking or drugging or whathaveyou no switch gets flipped, and suddenly the family is just fine, a model for others to follow. No, that takes some time, commitment, and persistence.
Stopping using from an individual perspective is a different process from a family adjusting to sobriety because there are multiple layers to work through for the family. After all, addiction is a family disease, which means that the substance use occurs within a family system.
Family systems theory begins with the assumption that all the members of a family are affected by the actions of every other member. Like a wheel in motion, the family system seeks a state of balance, called homeostasis, where the system adapts to the behaviors of all members. For a SUD-affected family, the SUD behaviors become the center or hub of the spinning wheel. Later, when the SUD behaviors stop the family can create a healthy value to center around.
The research and the folk wisdom of recovery discuss the long-term effects of living in a SUD-affected family, from mild co-dependency to intergenerational mental illness. One can look at the Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)/Dysfunctional Families website and review the Laundry List of 14 common traits learned in SUD-affected families to get an idea of some long term effects.
Although most of the energy focused on SUD treatment is burned to achieve and sustain early abstinence, supporting a family’s transition process to health is the work of a mental health professional using a systems perspective. White (1996) suggests four dimensions to consider in family-oriented SUD treatment: the needs of the individual family member(s), the adult-adult relationships, parent-child relationships, and child-child sibling relationships. Of course, there are generational layers to consider as children mature and start their own families.
So, what is the end? If we assume that living in a SUD-affected family is an example of a poor-functioning family, then we can look to definitions of well-functioning families for guidance in developing a vision for a potential future.
Gladding (2015, p62) lists the following characteristics as common to well-functioning families: “Commitment to the family and its individuals, appreciation for each other (i.e., a social connection), willingness to spend time together, effective communication patterns, a high degree of religious/spiritual orientation, an ability to deal with a crisis in a positive manner (i.e., adaptability), encouragement of individuals, and clear roles” for members.
And, really, this is the place to start: what is the family’s vision for their future?
Desistance, long-term recovery, and second-order change are terms used to categorize the changes families make over time after they stop centering activities and values on the maintenance of SUDs and begin focusing on living healthy values.
Cox Family Wellness can help you visualize the end and the path to that end. We are licensed to provide counseling services if you are in North Carolina or Tennessee. If you live somewhere else we can help you develop a wellness plan for your family and help you locate a knowledgeable counselor near you to bring it to life.
Let me know what you think in the comments section.
Thanks for your time.