Shift the Focus: Recovery comes in stages for family
— The Action Stage is where the caregiver realizes that the things they tried in the Preparation Stage did not work.
Detachment started here for me. I knew I did not cause my son’s substance use illness. I accepted that I needed to learn how my actions were either helping or hurting him to get well. Educating myself was huge at this stage.
I learned I could not control his substance use, nor could I cure it. I could only control what was in my hula hoop — me! I had to take action to get life back. Self-care became a priority. If I was not well, I would not be able to make sound decisions to direct my son toward recovery. I started individual therapy to address the trauma that substance use was having on my life. I sought out spiritual guidance. I reconnected with my friends and family that I pulled away from.
After his second totaled vehicle, I got the dreaded call, “Mom, I need help.” I was able to remain calm. As hard as it was, I responded with, “I will help you but my help means in-patient treatment followed by six to nine months of sober living. Take some time to think about it and call me back.”
I waited and was grateful for the choice he made. He knew he needed to take action to change. By changing my actions, I was able to influence his actions. I did not pay for his attorney. I made it clear no more money would be spent on wasted college credits. I supported him toward recovery actions. I was there for him emotionally.
He chose the deal and is almost four and a half years sober. The fourth stage of action and rebuilding for a spouse is much different. The dynamics in the relationship and the home cause additional resistance. How will your loved one get out of work? Will there be less income during this time to pay household bills? What will we tell our family and friends? How will you handle the inner workings of your family if your spouse is away for six to nine months?
These are all valid fears and complications. The reality is their life is at stake. Rarely can a loved one get well without the research-based methods of recovery. Rarely will a loved one enter into long-term recovery without a strong network of peers. Regaining a spiritual foundation or set of beliefs is also an integral part of this stage. It is challenging for the all members of the family to upset the structure within the home.
Wasn’t this already happening though? Was your loved one engaged in family interactions? Were they emotionally available? Could you rely on them financially? Do you want to settle for this type of life with the added fear that death could rear its ugly head?
Stage five is the stage loved ones have been waiting for. The final stage of Maintenance where a state of well-being is reached.
For your loved one, the changes made in the Action Stage are being maintained. Their words and their actions begin to match. You hear the language of recovery become a part of their daily conversation. Recover y is the most important part of their day. Their desire to stay sober outweighs their desire to use. Time is spent at daily support meetings and a sponsor obtained. New friends will once again appear, but these are sober friends with a common goal: a life of recovery.
For most caregivers, this stage of change is a welcome sight for the family. For others, this is not always the case. If you did not start to educate yourself and make changes for yourself during the process, this is an “unexpected” difficult time. Why do I feel so uncomfortable when they are finally sober? Why am I suspicious of everything they do? Why am I angry?
Your loved one will return home to a family that is still full of tension, resentments and mistrust. Innocent actions by your loved one may trigger memories in your body that you have not let go of. If you do not seek change during the fourth and fifth stages, your loved one will get well and you will remain sick. This is a difficult place to be.
This Maintenance Stage leaves caregivers vulnerable. Some leave their guard down and get complacent. We fall back into trusting and believing. Our loved one is doing the right things and we want to believe they are doing better. The risk is we return to this comfort zone out of habit of how we used to be. We begin to regain hope and our loved one knows it.
If they are doing the work needed to remain sober, life begins to improve beyond your expectations. If they are beginning to falter, they will capitalize on our hope. They will upset our comfort zone.
It is for this reason caregivers must recover while their loved one recovers. We, too, must do the work to reach a state of well-being that will help us to remain on a path of recovery. No two journeys will be alike. You will go backward at times. But once you begin to recognize the Stages of Change, you will have a new awareness of how to move forward.