Communication In Active Addiction
Let’s face it: When you have a loved one in active drug or alcohol addiction, communication isn’t easy. Talks that often start out with the best of intentions can end in arguments, yelling, cursing, passive-aggressive remarks, indifference, avoidance, depression, frustration, tears – sometimes even threats.
Despite the importance of communication in relationships and life, the ability to talk to each other is one of the first skills that can be lost to addiction. Communication turns into a vicious cycle where we feel powerless and confused, while our addicted loved ones feel isolated and ashamed. As we lose the ability to share feelings, emotions and concerns with one another, our relationships can often become quite damaged.
Communication In Rehab
When a loved one enters treatment for drug or alcohol treatment, effectively communicating with him or her can pose additional challenge. After all, it’s likely that you’ll be feeling a flood of conflicting emotions of your own:
- Great Relief: You may feel relief in knowing that your loved one is getting real help for his or her addiction.
- Anxiousness: Will your loved one actually learn coping skills and how to work through the addiction? Will he “get better”? Will she embrace a sober life?
- Anger: Your loved one has caused you and your family a lot of pain emotionally, mentally and financially.
- Comfort: Knowing where your loved one physically is provides a form of comfort – you know he’s not intoxicated behind the wheel, shooting up in a bathroom, or in a sketchy neighborhood looking to buy her next hit.
- Sadness: How did life get to this point? You never imagined words like “rehab” and “medical detox” would be in your vocabulary.
- Defeat: You couldn’t save him on your own – and now he has to go off to rehab so someone else can help him.
- Shame: How are you going to tell the rest of your family? Your friends?
- Hope: Maybe this will be the starting point for change.
Despite all of the overwhelming emotions you may be experiencing, understand that opening a line of communication may help both you and your loved one. Establishing a healthy form of conversation can be important when it comes to his or her treatment process, helping your find comfort and creating space for a constructive conversation about love and forgiveness.
Many addiction treatment facilities, including our own, have phone rules and restrictions for clients – often based on how long they have been at the treatment center, their behavior and their work with their counselors in establishing healthy boundaries and relationships. The first few days of treatment can include what is known as a “blackout period” – where clients are not allowed to make outside calls, and instead must focus on themselves, their healing and their task at hand. If a “blackout period” is instated at the treatment facility your loved one attends, you may be unable to speak to your loved one directly over the phone.
Whether or not your loved one has phone privileges, it’s important to recognize other forms of communication – for example, writing a letter.
Writing A Letter To A Loved One In Rehab
Writing letters has always been my go-to choice when I’m too overwhelmed with emotions to really express myself in words. Writing helps me to express those emotions in a way that is controlled, instead of blurting things out in a jumble – and hoping that the recipient is able to digest it.
Writing a letter to a loved one in rehab will allow you to express your emotions and your support to your loved one. Giving yourself time to craft what you want to say will help you sort through things in a positive way. Plus, when your loved one receives your letter, you know that he or she will have time to read, re-read and fully hear what is on your heart and mind.
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It’s natural to want to communicate feelings of frustration, hurt and betrayal – however, it’s best to refrain from bringing up the past or judging your loved one. Instead, here are four of our best tips for effective communication:
Begin With Love
You may very well hate the addiction and everything that it has done to your family member or friend. However, your loved one is not his or her disease – and you can still love him or her. If your loved one is in rehab, know that there will be some part of him that is scared, anxious and disappointed in himself. Chances are, he’s already beat himself up – and doesn’t need reinforcing negativity from family or friends. Begin with love and you will set the stage for positive communication.
Forgiving doesn’t mean sweeping all emotions under the rug and moving forward without discussion. Forgiveness, instead, will help you find a sense of peace. It’s likely that your loved one made some serious mistakes, and you’re having a difficult time moving on. Forgiveness is about understanding that your loved one was sick with the disease of addiction when he or she said or did things to hurt you or break your trust.
Forgiving will be releasing those powerful, negative thoughts that have been stored in your head and your heart. Forgiving will also be a starting ground for rebuilding your relationship and communicating effectively.
Your loved one was at their lowest low when they entered treatment – and it’s likely that they are still harboring feelings of insecurity and shame. They need to hear that you believe in them. Build confidence by:
- Telling them how much you admire their accomplishments and decision to get help.
- Focusing on positive traits and qualities they hold.
- Letting them know you respect them.
Your are likely feeling very anxious – and so is your loved one. In fact, many of our clients express that they worry their parents, spouses or friends won’t understand why they haven’t been able to just “get sober”. Letting your loved one know that you understand their condition and their challenges will come as a huge relief to your loved one.
Offering support can also come in the form of looking forward to the future: Discuss doing something new together like taking a class, visiting a new place on vacation or taking up a new hobby. Let them know you’re interested in doing this together.