Parallel Recovery is the process of families activating their own personal recovery from the disease of addiction. Each month I explore resources, support and share my own journey to help the family navigate the challenges of loving and supporting a family member with Substance Use Disorder.
The Path to "Success" isn't Linear
For the first time in 4 years, my family spent Thanksgiving together in our home. Both of my kids were here, and both were healthy. For many years, this was not an option for us. We had holidays that we visited our son where he was living, and seasons when we met him where he was existing - with a plate of food and a hug.
While this year might be labeled as a success by many, I realize that those other years were also a success. The yard stick of measurement was a little different, but we had intentional connection with boundaries that allowed everyone to be their best in the short moments that we did share. They were a success because love was given and received. And the human experience was honored.
Leading up to Thanksgiving, my son spent 10 weeks at home with us working on building out a van with his dad. He had purchased a police transport van and had plans to build it into a livable vehicle. Over those 10 weeks, the van project changed and molded into something a little different than his original vision. My son beamed with pride over the finished project that was created by him, with many hours of blood sweat and tears. What he ended up creating is a really cool camper that is not yet finished (he ran out of money), but was built to his vision and beams in the pride of his determination and resilience. Much like the 2 1/2 years of meaningful recovery that he has also built.
My son decided that he would not stay to spend Christmas with us. He was able to express that "It was just too much" to stay. While I missed having him home, success to him is valuing what he needs to do to keep himself healthy and happy. That is his yardstick, not mine.
The recovery journey is much like this van project. Beginning with a used and scuffed transport van, big ideas gathered with lots of input from others, and adjustment after adjustment after adjustment to plans as the reality of the cost, time and work involved sinks in. In the end, what my son has is a something that he can enjoy now and build on in the future. Something that might seem home made and low budget for many but to him represents saving, intention, hard work and valuable connection with his dad. What he has is pride in the path and and road to his success.
The path to "success" is not linear and many times does not look in the end anything like the initial vision. That does't mean that what someone holds today is not "success".
Here is a beautiful video that I believe represents the crooked road to "success" for so many struggling with substance use disorder. I hope that this year you too can find moments to celebrate along the path.
Intentional Living-how it saved me
When I speak with families, one of the hardest concepts to express is the importance of living in the present.
It can seem dismissive to ask someone to leave the past where it belongs. The "what ifs..." and "If only I had..." haunt family members as they look back to how things could be different-if only... Sometimes sitting here allows us the space to place blame on circumstances or individuals for the situation that we are in today. That can provide comfort by giving the impression that there is a reason, and that reason is not us.
The problem with remaining in this space is that you have no ability to actually go back and change what could have been. When I look back at possible events or individuals that created trauma and led my son down the road he took, there was a time when I found solace in being in that headspace. But the reality of allowing myself to remain there was hurting me-and ultimately hurting my relationship with my son.
On the other side, it can seem negative and hopeless to ask someone to not live in future expectations and desires. Some call this HOPE, and what do we have if not hope?
While hope for future change and success is a positive headspace to have, there are some inherent problems with living in the future as well.
Hope is based in idealism and can set us (and our loved one) up for defeat. A flexible mindset will allow us to embrace the Radical Acceptance of the reality in front of us with understanding and resilience, and allows us to optimize our current experience.
Hope also allows us to sit in a place of "wishing" for something rather than "working" towards something. It allows us to turn away from a growth mindset and forfeit our personal power and control over our own actions and growth.
And finally, living in a place of hope can actually set us up for feelings of hopelessness. When hope is repeatedly defeated, we become vulnerable to continually be placed in the feeling of hopelessness. Fail after fail of hopeful expectations robs us of the small relationship wins and moments of joy in front of us right now.
I frequently share that my moment of life change was when I believed that my son was not going to live much longer in his addiction. There was an impactful moment of clarity where I asked myself the question "Am I OK with the last thing that my son saw, felt and heard from me?"
In that moment, I realized that all I had was THIS moment. The first, most important and hardest step in my own recovery became living each moment in front of me with intention. I made an intentional decision that I would slow down and recognize as many moments of peace, joy and connection in my relationship that I could.
That was a hard realization because it required me to let go of my comfortable space of toggling between the blame of the past and the hope of an unknown future.
What did I gain? Today ❤️
As the year comes to an end, and the worries and stress over holidays weigh us down, I wish for you to find;
Peace in a quiet moment
Joy in an unexpected smile
Beauty in a sunrise
Connection in a soft touch
The Essentials of a Treatment Plan
One of the first things that I have families begin to work on when they contact me in crisis is a Treatment Readiness Plan. This is a comprehensive plan for a years worth of treatment and support for their loved on who is in active addiction and not yet at a place to accept help. This was an essential part of my own son's willingness to seek treatment.
This plan does two things;
1. It provides the family members a valuable and needed task that helps them feel impactful, outside of trying to get someone to make changes that they are not yet ready to make. The Treatment Readiness Plan includes various levels of care and support with contacts and phone numbers. All vetted and verified for efficacy, fit, cost and insurance coverage.
2. It provides the person with Substance Use Disorder a list of contacts to initiate a conversation with, when ready, and begin discussions around what it looks like to engage in their program. Many times, the person making those calls hears from sober living programs or outpatient services that they would love to continue to support them after they have completed an initial 30, 60 or 90 program in order to establish a baseline of stabilization first. This can take away the burden of convincing someone that they need a higher level of care than they want to engage in. Good programs have admissions and points of contact that are people in recovery themselves. People who have gone through many or all of the challenges that your loved one is going through, and are trained to invite the change process in a safe way.
There are many paths to recovery and those paths do not have to look exactly alike in order to be successful, but one thing that all successful plans have is a long runway of support for those seeking help.
Experts agree that a one year plan of scaffolded support is a key component in long term recovery. Treatment should not be thought of as a jail term, or a diploma or degree program. There is not an end date. There are milestones, but recovery is a lifestyle and a life long commitment, not a piece of paper that you frame and hang on the wall.
If your conversation with your loved one can include the idea of a year long support network having the best outcome, it will be much easier for them to understand when the recovery support professionals provide that same information and suggest continued scaffolded treatment models.
Dr Kevin McCauley is a Senior Fellow at the Meadows in Wickenburg, AZ. He is the writer and director of the documentary, Pleasure Unwoven and is in long term recovery himself from Opioid Use Disorder. Below is an article that he wrote discussing some principals of successful treatment. Please know that there are many paths towards recovery and one size or formula does not fit all people.
Finding Freedom Through Inner Peace
Your life is priceless, and limited in time. How many hours, days or years do you want to spend worrying about something or someone, rather than doing something more actionable?
If you love someone struggling with SUD or Mental Health, you most likely spend an extra amount of time worrying about situations, or about them in general. I want to invite you to be intentional about making time each day to strive for inner freedom or peace.
To continually worry about situations or individuals is not good for your health. It disrupts your sleep, makes you more susceptible to colds and flu and sometimes more severe health concerns.
We all want inner freedom and inner peace. You can find space from worry and discover that peace if you set your mind to it.
Here are some tips;
1. Worry robs us of the present moment. We become so focussed on the worries of the past or future that we forget the now. Be intentional about living in the present moment. Live for now. That is all that we are promised.
2. Set aside a time of day to think about your concerns. Keep this time far from your bedtime and allow only an allotted amount of time to spend in this space. Focus on the concerns, then try to let them rest for the remainder of the day.
3. Journal. Set an allotted amount of time and keep your pen moving for that time. When the time is up-put the pen down.
4. Take a walk. Find enjoyment in nature. Ideas, solutions and calm may come your way.
5. Have compassion for yourself. Meeting your fears with compassion rather judgement is a way to move through that discomfort rather than staying in a ruminating process.
6. Keep a gratitude list. Try to write down 3 things that you are grateful for each day. This will help you remember what is going right for you.
7. Reflect. Find a few minutes to be alone in your thoughts. Reflection provides space to see what we did well and what we could do better. Reflection allows for growth, and in growth there is hope.
8. Do something fun. Sometimes we withhold fun from our lives when those around us are not living their best life. Love yourself as you want others to love you. Bring new things into your life-it will make you feel better.
9. Community. Reach out to others who share the same experiences. Find someone who has walked this path or a support group to process your feelings. with Community is essential in everyone's recovery process.
10. Meditate. Finding time to focus on the art of breathing will help you feel more calm and centered.
11. Is it true? Remember that most of the things we worry about never actually happen. The "what if's" that cycle through your thoughts are usually far worse than reality. How is that truth affecting your life and how could it be different if you did not carry that worry as a truth?
12. Educate yourself. We can feel weak and helpless when we are not informed. There are many resources around substance use and mental health. When you educate yourself, you have more knowledge and will feel more in control.
13. Remember and understand your values. Knowing who you are and what is important to you will help guide you with wisdom and insight to face any situation.
14. Embrace the uncertain. The future is unsure and some things are out of your control. Focus on what you can control and regain your power.
15. Step out of the role of victim. Things may not look the way that you planned. Don't add to the situation by soaking in how miserable you feel. It does not make the pain go away and you remain imprisoned in the story you are creating.
The video, The Time you Have Left ( In Jellybeans), puts our free time in perspective. It is a gentle reminder to consider the time you spend worrying.
National Recovery Month
Each year on August 31 the US honors those lives that were lost to an accidental drug overdose.
In 2020, the number of lives lost to overdose rose to an alarming 100,306 lives lost. That number shook even those in the treatment and recovery industry as it marked a 28.5% increase from the previous year.
The 2021 numbers are being reported at 107,622 as of May 2022.
These numbers are exactly why I do the work that I do. Every one of those lives lost are somebody's someone, and if one family can heal from this disease, one less person will die and those numbers may stop rising.
Each September, the US recognizes National Recovery Month. There are over 25 Million people living in long term recovery in the US and each day over 400 people activate their recovery from the disease of addiction. Those numbers speak of hope.
What can you do?
Activate your recovery from the disease of addiction. (learn to separate behavior from person, communicate with kindness and meaning and honor your values when you take care of yourself and show up for you loved ones as your best self)
Use person centered language and work to end stigma in your communities. (people with substance use disorder are people who need help not hate)
Support Harm Reduction efforts to mitigate risk of use and keep people alive long enough for them to choose recovery.
Support legislation that expands evidence based mental health and addiction support. Access to treatment is essential to finding long term recovery and needs to be widely available and affordable to everyone.
Here is is an article written by Ryan Hampton, a person in long term recovery and national advocate and organizer for mental health and substance use recovery and services.