Recovery for Couples Affected by Alcoholism
It is especially helpful to couples recovering from alcoholism to be informed about what to expect in the healing process. Couples healing from alcoholism, or other addictions, need to know they will be creating a new, different, and better life, not just putting their life back together. This will require reaching outside the relationship for help. A 12-step program, a therapist, and/or church can be important to help the couple tolerate the uncertainty that will come from so much change. The couple needs to know this turmoil is normal. They need to know that the psychological separation that occurs is not only normal, but also necessary. This separation allows the couple to become healthy as individuals first, so that they can become healthy together, as a couple. This process can take a long time.
At the same time, if there are children, the couple needs to both be able to attend to the children, as well as focus on self. This can be difficult to pull off. Treatment providers are beginning to realize that children can become neglected in the recovery process. Providers are beginning to consider ways to balance treatment to consider the children’s needs. One way is to ensure that the children have outside support also.
Apologies — The Neglected “Bearing Up” Phase
Taking responsibility for one’s mistakes, making a sincere apology and offering amends, are important abilities that measures one’s honesty, character, integrity, caring, maturity and self-esteem. AA teaches these skills in its 12-Steps of Recovery. They are skills everyone could benefit from learning. What is not included in the 12-Steps, or other self-help resources is Part Two in the process of apology. I call it the “bearing up phase”. This means after the apology has been offered — ”I did it, I was wrong, I am sorry I caused you pain” — the apologizer must fortify himself to bear up to hear the injured person’s hurt and anger. The nature of the injury will determine the intensity of the feelings that the one apologizing will have to withstand, and the time necessary to process through those feelings. Some injuries, such as those of affairs, or abuse, could take a long time. Being able to listen with patience, fortitude, care, empathy and sorrow is important. Both parties involved with difficult injuries will likely need help to endure and stay with the process. Without help, too often the one responsible for the injury is unable to tolerate the other’s pain, and preempts the process by becoming defensive. In addition, the wronged party may need help expressing his feelings of being wronged constructively. If the process is allowed to unfold through all the feelings, then true forgiveness will be the likely outcome. Reconciliation may be possible as well. Smaller injuries, or course, are more quickly and easily laid to rest.
Growing up in a Family with Alcoholism, Drug Dependency, or other Dysfunction
If you have grown up in a family with chemical dependence or other dysfuction, it is important to take time to figure out how this experience has affected you into adult life. Sometimes the way you had to cope growing up no longer works, and may even be problematic. One frequent way of coping is to take the overly responsible, caretaking role, which eventually can lead to too great a need to take care of others, control the world around you, and eventual burnout. Other common ways include rebelling, withdrawing, or becoming the comedian.
A therapeutic relationship can provide enormous opportunity to learn about these patterns, heal from the difficult experiences, and develop new, healthier roles.