There are many lessons for recovering alcoholics and addicts to learn. An ongoing lesson that you may have to learn and relearn is how to relate to your family without the influence of drugs or alcohol. In most cases, you don’t get to choose your family. Whether you see them frequently or only occasionally, dynamics that go on between families can cause extremely volatile emotions. Uncontrolled emotional reactions can be a dangerous trigger and can lead to cravings for any substance that can change your mood or numb your pain.
Families, including spouses, parents, children and siblings, have a tendency to know how to push each other’s buttons. You may have to interact with them at family functions, or you may even live with them. In some cases, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and in-laws may also cause you to feel reactive.
How can you relate to members of your family without becoming emotional or picking up a drink or a drug?
Here are some tips for relating to your relatives—the people who may make you want to drink more than anyone else.
- Create a chosen family among people in recovery. You may wish you could choose your family, but you can’t. You can choose your friends, however. You have the opportunity to surround yourself with new people who genuinely care about you. Many of them will give and take unconditional love and can be thought of as your new family.
- Practice looking for good in the people who drive you crazy. If being around your family members makes you see only bad things, make a conscious effort to look for something good in each of them. When you are feeling angry at a particular family member, think of at least one good thing to say about them. You don’t necessary have to say it to them. But if you get in the habit of writing down good thoughts about your family members, you will begin to realize that, in most cases, they are not all bad.
- Pray for them. Some recovering addicts find it healing to pray for people who have hurt them. By repeating words wishing good things for the other person and doing it for several days or weeks at a time, you may find that after a while you come to mean it.
- Avoid or limit interactions for now if you need to. Family dynamics can be very destructive for someone in recovery. If you know that at every family function, every single member of your family is going to end up drunk or using drugs, being in the environment may not be safe for you. Bring a sober friend with you if there’s a function you have to attend. But if being around family members threatens your sobriety, you may need to avoid this type of event for a while. Remember that you only have to decide today what you are going to do on this one day. You don’t have to make any decisions today that affect the rest of your life.
- Consider family therapy. In many cases, wounds can heal if you want them to and if you and your family members are willing to work at it. Family therapy can put a third party in between you and other members of the family who may be in the middle of a destructive dance. Allowing professionals to help may be all that is needed to grow toward a healthier relationship with members of your family. Healing won’t happen overnight, but you can start to move in a positive direction.
- Remember to put first things first. Your sobriety has to hold the No. 1 position in your life. Without sobriety, the rest of your life will most likely unravel. Sometimes there are family members who keep bringing up the past or keep trying to get an addict to resume old behaviors. If that’s the case in your family, you may need to step back for now. It’s time to take care of you.
The members of your family are people who have shared much of your life journey with you. It’s worth learning to relate to them sober.