Progress, Not Perfection: What I Learned in Family Therapy

My son went to an alcohol treatment facility, and our family went into a type of treatment ourselves too — family therapy. Members of my family had tried therapy in the past, and others had not; some loved it, and some preferred not to continue. But, together, we knew that, this time, we really had to try. We needed to stand strong as a unit if my son was going to survive life post-alcohol treatment; that is, we needed to come together to help him remain sober in the real world. My son’s counselor had suggested family therapy to me, and I emphatically agreed. It took some twisting of arms to get the rest of my family to agree, but it has been, undoubtedly, worthwhile thus far.

Being that he is the only member of our immediate family who is in recovery, we needed to do some addiction treatment education of our own before he was scheduled to return. I had been reading some addiction literature before the therapy, but what was discussed in therapy was much easier to grasp than any of the literature that I had read. All the literature talks about is statistics; it is all very daunting for someone who is new to the whole process. But our counselor, who is in recovery herself, has used the phrase: “relapse is a part of recovery.” It is my understanding that this line of thought it not shared by all those in the profession, but she herself subscribes to it as a means of understanding how to prevent relapse. She explained to us that if we never discuss the possibility of relapse, we cannot begin to prevent it. She helps, too, with suggesting specific literature. Really, I would like to be a sponge and soak up all of the information that I possibly can before my son returns, but I have to keep reminding myself that this is a journey, a lifelong education of the recovery process, and we cannot expect to be magically “healed” overnight.

In one of the pieces that our counselor shared with us, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explained a research finding where about one-third of those in recovery will remain sober; meaning, two-thirds of people will have at least one relapse. When I first read this, it was enough to make me lose my lunch, but then I realized that this is what she was talking about all along. If we are not armed with the education and prepared with a response, we will not be able to prevent a potential relapse. First thing we did was decide to make our homes a sober environment. There will no longer be any alcohol stored in our home. It is simply not worth the risk we are creating for his temptations. We will help him build a support system of sober friends and encourage him to get a sponsor as soon as he returns home. We will attend meetings with him and attend our own Al-Anon meetings without him; as he is working on his recovery, we will remind him that we are working on our own recovery right alongside of him. And, we can have a plan in place if we need to intervene on a relapse.

I also tell myself regularly that just because my son’s alcohol treatment might be completed will not mean that he is cured. There is no switch. We didn’t send my son to an alcohol treatment facility to “fix” him; we sent him there to learn the work and the way of life that will aid him into leading a sober lifestyle.

Angela S.
Roseland, NJ