Recovery – Alternative: Going Forward with Couple Recovery
Over the months John’s legal issues and mandated first offender meetings demanded he miss important out-of-town meetings, additionally, just getting to work was a huge issue since his license was suspended. He felt at some point he had to tell work what was happening, but he feared what would happen when he did. The strain at home added to John’s shame and humiliation. The DUI happened over 10 months ago but he and Carol still had not talked about it.
The impact on his marriage and on his professional life was mounting and John wondered why he was still drinking after the DUI, especially given what he was now going through and after promising Carol he would stop altogether. As John’s denial began to painfully crack, John had to grapple with the reality of his drinking. It became more and more difficult to justify his drinking. John woke up early one morning after another evening of hiding his drinking, but this time something changed in John. For reasons that morning he saw for the first time the destructive power drinking has over him, and has had over him for a long time if he were truly honest with himself. He needed help, everything he had worked for, everything he had with Carol was at risk.
John had hit bottom and decided to get help, he began an outpatient program and got into recovery. Carol was relieved and felt that the problem was finally being addressed and that their life could maybe get back to normal. At first Carol didn’t think she needed any help, this was about John and his drinking. After getting a call from one of John’s counselors she reluctantly agreed to attend a family group where she was told she would learned about addiction, recovery, and codependency. She was shocked to think any of this was something she should work on, that addiction had impacted her and that more was needed than John getting into treatment.
Carol met with the counselor, despite her reservations and having more than a little bit bit of anxiety. The counselor asked her how she was doing, how thing have been since John started recovery. At first Carol didn’t understand what she was being asked and thought the counselor was asking her how she thought John was doing. The counselor gently redirected her to talk about herself. Over the course of the session Carol heard herself begin to tell her story to the counselor, her real feelings and how difficult things have been for her. Much to Carol’s relief, not once did she feel blamed. Carol was told that recovery is not about blaming the addict or the partner, that it was important to understand what happens in addiction and learning new ways to develop healthy practices for individual and relationship growth. Carol responded that while that sounded like a good approach, in fact Carol was very angry and did blame John. The counselor smiled and stated that Carol’s feelings were normal, that living with addiction is actually traumatic for both partners. Carol hadn’t really thought about John’s own addiction being traumatic to him as well. Carol stated that she needed to understand more about alcoholism as a disease.
“Carol, it makes perfect sense that you feel what you do. Both of you need individual support to deal with what you have been through. Learning about alcoholism and how it affects the alcoholic and the coalcoholic is crucial in trying to make sense out of all that has happened.”
The counselor told Carol about support groups, recovery therapists, and 12-step programs. The counselor also went on to explain what scientists have learned about addiction, and why good people do bad things, even to the ones they love the most. “Addiction is a disease that affects the parts of the brain related to reward and ultimately to judgement and decision-making.
“I also suggested to John, and now to you, that you both consider doing some couple work to create ways to talk about the changes that are taking place in your relationship. We have learned from research that the first year of recovery is very difficult for most couples, even with the partner remaining abstinent. Understanding how to make recovery a part of your relationship provides opportunities to support both of your individual recoveries as well as recovery for the relationship.”
Later that evening Carol and John shared their thoughts about the couples work. They both had more questions for what this would involve. The next day, in a conference call with the counselor, they asked their questions and concerns. They were told that a research-based approach to couple recovery offered understanding and tools for supporting individual recovery and couple recovery, and included how to effectively manage conflict, establish healthy boundaries, develop a new relationship with one another, and change communication patterns. They were told that especially after living with an addiction that couples often need help with ways to talk about feelings and needs, learning to find the balance between self-care and relationship-care.
John and Carol agreed that they needed something to help them right now. They both were committed to their individual recovery, but they also realized the relationship needed attention too. Neither was willing to give up their own support system, their own programs, so learning to balance these recoveries would take work.
When they shared their intention to piece together a recovery approach that addressed their individual as well as their relationship recovery, some of their recovery friends expressed concern that this could take away or distract them from their individual recovery. It seemed that there are firmly held beliefs well rooted in the recovery and addiction treatment communities, but nobody could really explain how not talking about what they were experiencing in recovery was better than talking about it.
There were so many things that have changed between them, so much they had been through. Why was it better to wait a year to talk about recovery and not now? Where did this time frame come from? John heard that 80% of the relapses take place in the first 90 days of recovery; clearly this was a crucial time. John asked his counselor about these concerns.
The counselor explained that Claudia Black, a pioneer in treating families with addiction, noted many years ago the common injunction she saw in alcoholic families: ‘Don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel. ‘How is this different from current approaches in recovery where we tell couples to wait a year before talking about addiction and recovery? “John reflected that not talking about recovery kind of felt the same as not talking about his drinking when he was in the middle of it. “The silence felt deafening”, John reflected
John shared his conversation with Carol when he returned home. Carol, shook her head affirming she understood and related, “Today in a meditation I read this: ‘ Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.’, written by Nido Qubein”. I think we need to do this for ourselves and our relationship.” John agreed, “I know we have to talk about what has happened, but maybe that will be easier if we start working on writing a new chapter.” Carol nodded, “It’s time.”