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Defining Recovery: What is Your Focus?

Who Has the Problem?

Some years ago I remember leading a family group at a drug and alcohol treatment center. I opened the group with the question: What does it mean to be a family or couple in recovery? Some people struggled with the idea that the non-addicted members of the family had some part in going forward in recovery.

Until that moment many partners had viewed their addicted loved one as having the problem. The idea that the family members too had recovery issues didn’t fit their expectations of treatment. Either the idea of couple/family recovery never occurred to them, or they simply admitted to feeling angry about having to take some responsibility for fixing things given that they weren’t the ones with the addiction. This feeling is very understandable.

The damage to relationships from addiction usually has a history built on broken promises and countless unintended disastrous outcomes. It is like something destructive has invaded the family, unwelcome but unshakable, that is until recovery.

Family members often cling to the hope that once their addicted loved one gets into recovery their lives can finally be normal. What we know from the research is that while recovery is the end of something – active addiction, it is also the start of something – a healing process and the beginning of building new relationships in family and couple life.

Addiction and Recovery Are a Family Affair

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Addiction in the family can be thought of like a mobile or wind chime, one of those hanging art objects that have parts connected by lines. When the wind blows all the parts move. Think of the family as the parts of a mobile and think of addiction like the wind. The wind blows and all the pieces are affected.

Recovery is like that too. Addiction recovery affects everybody in the family. All the pieces of the mobile are still connected, but what moves the pieces is different. Families need to know that adjusting to these changes takes time. Everything may seem different and even though the addicted person isn’t using, there still are problems, issues and concerns that need to be addressed: This is normal!

What is Recovery?

How do you define recovery? That is a question that a hundred people might answer a hundred different ways. I would begin the answer with the idea that individual recovery is taking stock of how the addiction has impacted oneself and starting to address the question of what the individual needs to do to keep what is healthy in their lives and change what isn’t healthy.

The same thing needs to happen with relationships. How has addiction impacted relationships, how do you talk about that, and what changes will make those relationships healthier now? 

If you have been affected by addiction and recovery, however you define it, consider taking steps to address the impact and to develop paths for healing.

How do you define recovery?

Dr. Robert Navarra

Robert Navarra, PsyD, LMFT, MAC, is a Master Certified Gottman Therapist, Trainer, and Speaker, and an author. He is is certified as Master Addiction Counselor and specializes in treating and researching couples in recovery from addictive disorders. Dr. Navarra created "Roadmap for the Journey: A Workshop for Couples Embracing Recovery" and "Couples and Addiction Recovery: A Gottman Approach for Therapists, Counselors, and Addiction Professionals".

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