By Jeff Jay
After a successful intervention, the journey of recovery begins for the whole family. With the alcoholic safely in treatment, a next phase of the process is underway. Some family members will think their job is over. They will say, “It’s up to him now. We’ve done all we can,” But that is far from the truth. Although the family cannot make the addict recover, they can play an important role in the journey of recovery.
First, the family can help keep the alcoholic remain focused during the treatment process. It is not uncommon for the patient to want to leave early, giving a long list of rationalizations and excuses. But the intervention team must remain firm. If an agreement was reached with the alcoholic for 28 days of treatment, then he or she must be held to the promise. If the clinical team at the treatment center is recommending a halfway house after discharge, the family should support the recommendation.
Many patients try to manipulate the weakest member of the intervention team, trying to gain their sympathy for an early discharge. “I’m bored in here. I’ve learned everything. I’ll never drink again. I need to get back to my work.” If you are being manipulated in this manner by the alcoholic, call one of the other members of the intervention team immediately and talk over the situation. Call all the other members of the team as well, and let them know that your beloved alcoholic is trying to abort the treatment process. When you continue to act as a team, and keep the lines of communication open, you will greatly enhance the chances for successful recovery.
One of the best signs that an addict is going to do well after treatment is the ability to follow the recommendations of the counseling staff. If the alcoholic is not willing to complete treatment, for example, the chances for long-term recovery are slim.
The second thing that the intervention team can do is to participate in the family program. It is likely that the treatment center you have chosen has a program that everyone can attend. Whenever possible, all members of the intervention team should make a commitment to complete this program. Besides gaining invaluable knowledge and experience, the team members will also be modeling appropriate behavior. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of having to explain to the alcoholic why he has to complete his program when you don’t have time for yours. It’s a recipe for disaster.
If you have been associated or living with the alcoholic, the family program will be immensely helpful to you. It will give you many insights into the struggles you have had over the years, and it will help you to understand the recovery process in greater depth.
If children have been living in the alcoholic household, it is critical that they also receive appropriate care. They are often the silent victims of this disease, and they must be brought into the healing process as soon as possible. If the treatment program you have selected does not have a program for children (ages 5 — 17), ask for a recommendation for an outpatient therapist who specializes in this area. For more information on this important topic, contact the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA).
Thirdly, friends and family who have participated in the intervention should begin attending their own 12 Step programs. There are several to choose from, including Al-Anon, Naranon, and Families Anonymous. Once again, it is vital for the addict to see that the family is taking action, and working on their own recovery.
Once the alcoholic is in treatment, I often hear questions from families concerning financial help and related issues. Here is a typical example: “Won’t we be enabling if we pay his car payment while he is in treatment?” My answer to all such questions is simple. If the alcoholic is doing everything that he is supposed to do, according to the clinical team at the treatment center, then the family should be doing everything they can do to support the long-term recovery process. If a person is in treatment, they may not have the resources to pay their bills. As long as they are moving in the right directions, the family should support them, within the reasonable limits of the family’s finances.
On the other hand, you may hear the alcoholic say, “I don’t want to go to the halfway house. Lend me some money so I can get my own apartment. I promise I’ll go to AA.” In this case, the patient is going against the recommendations of the treatment team. Although he is probably not aware of it, he is sabotaging his recovery before he ever gets out of treatment. Under these circumstances, financial help should not be given.
Recovery is an activity for the whole family. If the addict is married, the couple should agree to go to at least one meeting a week together. It is not hard to find AA and Al-Anon groups that meet at the same time. Alternatively, the couple can agree to attend at least one “open” AA meeting per week. Many communities have AA and Al-Anon club houses that host many meetings every week. Becoming involved in the larger recovering community in your town is one of the best ways to insure long term recovery.
Finally, in the event of a relapse, the intervention team can play an important role in a return to recovery. In our book Love First, we address the concept of a relapse agreement:
As soon as the relapse happens, the team should reassemble and make plans to talk to the addict about the next steps, as identified in the agreement. Detoxification may be necessary, along with a re-commitment to outpatient counseling and 12 Step groups. In any case, the alcoholic needs to know that the family is continuing to support him in his recovery. All the while, family members should continue with their own support groups. However, it is important to ignore advice that says, “there’s nothing you can do about it.” While it may be true that you cannot control another person, there is a great deal that can be done to influence a person, and to clear a realistic pathway to recovery.
Regardless of any temporary setbacks, recovery is an ongoing process that brings joy and fulfillment back to life. While trapped in the bondage of addiction, both the addict and the family become hopeless and frustrated. Beginning with the intervention process, hope is rekindled and the journey of recovery begins. Addiction isn’t something that happens overnight, and neither is recovery. Your loved one may experience an emotional roller coaster, and regularly plummet through the whole range of human feelings during the course of a day. This is not unusual given the tremendous changes that are demanded by this new way of life. As many people have said: “Recovery is simple: you just have to change everything.” The best antidote to these problems is regular AA attendance, along with a good sponsor.
The promises of recovery are great, and they are memorialized in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. In the following passage, we hear first hand experience about what is to come for newly recovering alcoholics.
It is impossible to know at the beginning of a journey what obstacles may come along the way. Nor is it necessary to know. That is why so many people rely on the famous maxim: One Day at a Time. You can rely on this wisdom. A person only becomes sober and stays sober a day at a time. And so too with the family.
Recently, I heard from a family who had carried out a structured intervention a little over a year ago. At the time, they were nearly overcome by anxiety and fear. Many of them believed that the intervention would be unsuccessful, and that a divorce was inevitable.
What a difference a year makes! The alcoholic is sober, and she has continued outpatient counseling and become involved with the recovering community. The family is together and the marriage has solidified. The children are back on track in school, and their behavior is returning to normal. Family activities are a pleasure again, instead of a nightmare. Most importantly, anger and fear have exited the home, with hope and healing taking their place.
I have had the good fortune to witness many such miracles in my work. Indeed, I would not be here today if my family had not had the courage to intervene on me in 1981. I believe in the process of intervention, treatment, and recovery because it has saved my life. If you are worried about someone else’s use of alcohol or other drugs, I urge you to take action. There is a great deal you can do to help yourself and those you love. You will not be alone on your journey, and you will find that many people will be there to help you, once you reach out for help.
Keep it simple, follow the directions, and trust the process. You may be able to save someone’s life, as my parents saved mine.
This article copyright ©2000 by Jeff Jay. Excerpts from “Love First” copyright © 2000-2008 Jeff Jay and Debra Jay. Excerpts from “Alcoholics Anonymous” copyright©1939, 1955, 1976 Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.