First Research on Families after Recovery
There have been many studies over the years on the impact of alcoholism on couples and on families, but until the Family Recovery Project, nobody had ever asked the question: What is normal in family recovery processes?
That changed in 1989 when Stephanie Brown, Ph.D. and Virginia Lewis, Ph.D. joined forces as founders and Co-Directors of the Family Recovery Project. Sponsored by the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, the Family Recovery Project was the first research project to study recovery processes in the family with varying lengths of recovery time, asking the question: What is normal?
I was fortunate to be invited to take part of the research component specific to couple recovery for my doctoral dissertation. I have continued this research over two decades, promoting and advocating for couple recovery.
This Research Has Potential Implications for All Families
I have long understood that the issues couples and families deal with after the person with the addictive disorder gets into recovery, are often found in many other families where addiction is not present, but the family has been impacted by a serious mental health disorder, or physical disorder, or behavioral disorder. Families are often traumatized and need a path for healing that allows conversation, and help going forward, Here is what Brown and Lewis discovered in their research.
The Family Recovery Project
Drs. Brown and Lewis studied families with varying lengths of recovery ranging from two months to 18 years, interviewing and videotaping the 52 volunteer families who also filled out a number of paper and pencil tests. What did they find out? The following is a brief overview:
- Moving from active addiction to recovery often comes on the heals of instability in the family – which precedes change. Letting go of old ways of doing things is difficult. We call this the “trauma of recovery”
- Recovery is a long-term, multi leveled process effecting individual development and family development, recovery is much more than simply not drinking
- Recovery is a huge transition for families in that so many changes take place, this usually means learning how to adjust and cope with a new set of problems and challenges
- Recovery is a long-term process transitioning from active alcoholism to early recovery, and to long-term recovery
- It’s important for families to get help. Reaching outside of the family to learn new ways of relating, caring for self, and incorporating recovery into individual and family life is core
Brown and Lewis emphasize that a lot of the difficulties couples and families experience in alcoholism recovery is normal! While it is painful when denial starts to crack around the reality of one’s addiction, or around the partner’s addiction, it creates an opening for change.
Since often individual and family development come to a screeching halt in active addiction, recovery is the process to move forward again. Focusing on one’s own needs, redefining relationships, learning to manage feelings, and creating new ways of dealing with the everyday responsibilities of life is the essence of living recovery. This is a lot of change, but as one person recently told me, “Recovery is hard, but it is better than being numb, I want to live life, not hide from it.”
The findings from Brown and Lewis on family recovery, apply to couple recovery as well. In collaboration with Drs. Julie and John Gottman, I have created a workshop based on an integration of my research with the Gottman Research. I have given this workshop, Roadmap for the Journey: A Path for Couple Recovery, at Hazelden Betty Ford Renewal Center twice, as well as other treatment programs in Washington, Indiana, Arizona, and in Northern and Southern California.
I have developed a live, online version held over consecutive Saturdays totaling 10 hours. The workshop is for couples impacted by addiction, but not currently in active addiction. If you would like to learn more, CLICK HERE
The Gottmans have been wonderfully supportive of this workshop and continue in research collaboration on the effectiveness of the communication tools and methods that help create a couple recovery, deal with the trauma of addiction, and create a path for moving forward.