Staying Strong in Recovery When You’re Having Family Problems
Recovery is an incredibly courageous journey, which requires a team of people constantly uplifting one another. As human beings, we’re social creatures and we rely on our social connections to help us move forward in life. We talk to others, we create stories, we laugh, we empathize- all common experiences that we have together. Very often, our most treasured and shared experiences are with our family.
In America, we’re often told that our family is meant to be our rock, our center, and a group of people who are supposed to be there for us, no matter what. Movies, commercials, and holiday magazine ads depict the family as an entity that stays together forever. Tragically, as so many of us in recovery know to be painfully true, our family of origin can be less than picture-perfect.
Knowing how many broken family systems there are in the world doesn’t make the pain of coming from one any easier. The consequences of challenging family dynamics affect our minds, bodies, and spirits. Endless volumes of research have been dedicated to understanding the longstanding, intergenerational effects of relational trauma. Caused by damaged attachments to primary caregivers, relational trauma manifests through every relationship in our lives, including our relationship to ourselves. For some of us, these hurtful relationships with others end up translating into harmful relationships with drugs and alcohol. We grow up in addicted homes, we live with addicted family members, and eventually, we may become addicted ourselves.
Once we find ourselves recovering from addiction, we might find ourselves conflicted with how to relate to our family members. Millions of us have made the difficult decision to walk away from a toxic family of origin, meaning the family we are given, and instead turn towards a family “of choice”. Millions of others of us bring our family to recovery, and millions of others of us have our family bring us to recovery. Together, we heal with our family as best we can, if we have the chance.
Some of your loved ones may not fit into your recovery journey right now, for various reasons. Addiction and trauma can cause a great amount of turmoil in family relationships. Unfortunately, one family member getting sober is not typically an overarching solution to all of a family’s problems. Thankfully, through the work of recovery, families have a chance to repair themselves. Changing family dynamics can take time, be a struggle, and weigh heavily on your sobriety. If you are experiencing problems with your family while you are trying to focus on your recovery, you are not alone. Keep this in mind:
Even if it’s hard in the beginning, building connections with other people places you at a greater advantage to become stronger. Connections with others requires gaining trust of other people as well as placing your trust in them – but if you’re open to doing so, you’ll find that you can create your own family over time.
2. Stay Focused
The less you focus on the past – and people who don’t matter to your life and recovery anymore – the sooner you can begin putting all of your efforts into becoming a better version of yourself. All too often, we get lost in the “what ifs”, the “should haves” and more, and ultimately that takes away from your health, happiness, and recovery journey. You will build up your strength and confidence over time, but you have to stay focused. In doing this, you may also find that your self-esteem increases – because you’re no longer distracted by what’s hurt you, you’re able to continue on towards a path of strength and solidarity with yourself and others.
3. Let Go
Sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is to let go of everything you wished would have happened or how you think your family should be or should have been. You likely know the thoughts well- the ones that tell you that your family should be 110% supportive, or the ones where you expect that you’ll be just fine without them, or the ones where you assume that your family will never be part of your life again. Let go of assuming you have an absolute prediction of how your life is going to turn out in regard to your family. Let go of thinking you might be able to control other people somehow. Instead, put full faith and trust into the process of recovery.
4. Practice Mindfulness
If you allow yourself to get lost in a deep, depressing tunnel of hurt, guilt, humiliation, disappointment, anger, bitterness, sadness, loneliness, or other negative feelings that are harboring you down, you risk losing touch with the part of you which wants to overcome adversity in the present moment. Staying stuck in the past, or staying stuck in the future, prevents you from staying fully grounded in the present.
Mindfulness practices help connect you to what matters most in each present moment, as well as reconnect your mind to your body. By becoming more mindful of your thoughts, emotional feelings, and physical feelings, you are better equipped to handle any surprises, upsets, and even processing hard moments.
5. Find Your Center
Staying anchored to your course of recovery is key to managing family problems while establishing your sobriety. You can’t sail the waters of anyone else’s journey. Finding your center means figuring out what keeps you aware of your dedication to your cause- getting and staying sober, bettering your life, and learning to live in a new, healthy way. Whether it is an activity, a habit, a mantra, or a passion, find your center and hold to it steadfast. You will keep yourself inspired and well-directed as a result.