5 Tips for Talking to Family about Recovery

There’s no one size fits all approach when talking to your family about recovery. Depending on the family dynamics and relationship, it can be an intimidating experience. For some, it may feel like avoiding it all together is the better option.

Even so, there are ways to approach this sensitive topic with grace and self-compassion. Instead of avoiding the subject (as tempting as that may be), talking openly to your loved ones about what you’re going through can be essential in long-term growth. 

Here are some ways to talk to your family about your journey through recovery:

1. Learn the Vocabulary

What is “withdrawal syndrome” anyway? When going through recovery, initially it might seem overwhelming. You’ll see words and phrases that you wouldn’t come across in your day-to-day life. These words may be brought up during one-on-one or group therapy, doing your own research, or figuring out ways to approach recovery through your own network. Learning vocabulary associated with recovery will help describe the process to your family. 

Consider writing down recovery vocabulary, statistics, or larger thoughts from therapy that you feel comfortable speaking about with your family. When you put it through a larger lens of how the recovery process works, this can give an opening of how your family can better understand your situation. 

Whether it’s about enabling, relapsing, or dependence, getting the terminology down is a great way to communicate your needs accurately. 

2. Address the Elephant in the Room

When talking to your family about your recovery, remember that your substance abuse affected them in some capacity. Many of your relationships have likely been strained because of dysfunction or neglect that comes with addiction. Part of your recovery and the way you can address it directly is acknowledging the hurt or pain you may have caused during the time you were using substances. 

Being vulnerable about the pain you may have caused is scary, but in some circumstances it’s the only way to start mending relationships. If there are still unresolved issues with your family, it would be much more difficult to ask for help or support if those issues haven’t been addressed yet.

3. Be Prepared for Advice You May Not Want to Hear

Everyone internalizes someone in recovery differently. Some of your closest family members may not even think you had an issue, while others may believe they know what’s best for you and your healing. For the most part, your family is processing information through their own lens and it has nothing to do with you. 

Be as gracious as possible with your family as they may be in denial, ask questions or offer resources that ultimately won’t help you in your recovery goals.

4. Create Boundaries while Being Open

Though you may be willing to discuss your recovery with family, this doesn’t mean you open up the floodgates. Your family members may have concerns they’ll address, but it’s completely within your power to give as much or as little detail as you want. In fact, you may not have the answer in your recovery process currently, as it might come months or years later.

Creating boundaries means knowing when things are turning from helpful to nonproductive. Loved ones in your life may seem flippant or irritated by your recovery process as your behavior has changed. You are not obligated to be in a situation you find may trigger reactive behavior on your end. Once you have said what you needed to say, it’s okay to give yourself space to reflect. 

Boundaries come in different forms as well. There may be certain family members or loved ones that are best loved at a distance. Don’t be afraid to create the distance needed during your recovery. This isn’t necessarily about breaking ties, it’s about creating space (however temporary it is) so you can focus on yourself. 

5. Ask for Outside Help

If you need to address your family, especially a family that isn’t particularly open with their emotions or supportive of your recovery journey, you can ask an addiction counselor or mental health professional to assist you. Having a professional sit with you and your family could also help bring validity to your concerns for your recovery, and a greater understanding for your family members who may have more complicated questions that you can’t answer easily. 

Having a counselor there to facilitate means your family can get coaching on how to create boundaries for themselves too. 

Marcus Shumate, the Clinical Outreach Director here at Green Hill, has a few suggestions for people in recovery trying to talk to family. 

“When sitting down with your family, a professional can help coach them into not being emotionally reactive towards substance use, to provide positive reinforcement to non-using behaviors, and identify ways in which family members may unwittingly be supporting the person’s substance use.” 

Shumate continues, “Coaching family members into taking care of themselves instead of allowing their quality of life to be bound to their loved one is another essential tool in the recovery process.”

There is nothing wrong with asking a professional to help facilitate a conversation. This is a big step in your recovery, and there are many community resources for you to help assist you along the way.

Green Hill’s Transitional Living and Community Outpatient programs offer a hands-on community of support, ready to help with the recovery process. With a knowledgeable clinical staff that specializes in young men’s recovery and other mental health issues, our team is dedicated to working through any questions and concerns you or your family may have, and to be a long-term support system for those who need it.

Want to learn more about recovery options in Raleigh or elsewhere in North Carolina? Give us a call at (984) 204-1106 and we’ll help you find the right resources.