As an individual in the helping profession, it’s important to me that my staff and I have a range of interventions to suit each individual. Of equal importance is having tools that are widely accessible and easily applicable – both in treatment and after discharge. One of the interventions that I enjoy when dealing with teens, young adults, and their families surrounds the idea of life moments. “Kodak moments,” as one of my staff once said, “with emotional context”.
This series of interventions comes into play at many points in the treatment process. These can also function as a set of useful tools for those who are supporting a friend or family member in recovery.
It is so common to enter the first family session with a client in treatment to find high tensions, anger, resentment, and – sometimes not so obviously – pain. There is often division in the family, along with an over-abundance of love: too much love, to the point it can create the division.
In the face of this division, and with all the proverbial “dust” and chaos, families often lose sight of the true goal of being alive and together in the first place.
One of the things that I find helps families reconnect and “de-fog” is simple and poignant: Family photos. Precious moments. If an individual had a childhood that was not a positive or standard experience, these can be photos that bring them back to a better, more simple time.
The process of reflecting on the past enables people to take a step back from their current turmoil, the lines they’ve drawn between each other, and the characterizations they’ve created – to see themselves and their loved ones for who they truly are.
Reflection on better times is a reminder that peace once existed, and it can exist again. This can refresh a sense of purpose in the family, during their struggle towards recovery that is long and exhausting for everyone. Among your own family, revisit these peaceful times and reinvigorate a sense of hope.
With the struggles of addiction and mental health disorders, it can be hard to see the forest among all of the trees. The sheer amount of shame and guilt – as well as plain old frustration – prevents many people from believing in themselves, or even recognizing the gains that they do make.
Additionally, self-sabotage is quite common. Fears of losing success can cause folks to preemptively throw in the towel.
To address this, I often encourage clients to take a mental snapshot of the good moments. Do you have a warm-fuzzy feeling after a good call with family? A feeling of camaraderie after sharing at a meeting? A feeling of success after accomplishing a goal or receiving a compliment? Store those feelings. Encourage yourself or loved ones in recovery to hold onto those feelings. The brain has an uncanny ability to remember the painful moments, but you can train it to store the good ones as well for those rainy days.
Follow the Documentary
More often than not, I find that my clients actually know the potential bad ending to their story – long before they choose a particularly harmful path. However, it’s easier to just jump in without ever contemplating the real potential of that unhappy ending than it is to follow the logical conclusion of that choice to the end before making the choice.
To address this, I encourage folks to play out their story in third person, almost as if they are that stodgy, English voice behind every BBC documentary. An example of this would go something like this: Dan is contemplating joining his friends for a drink at the bar. He is sure that he can drink a soda and be fine, despite that fact that he has only been in recovery for 42 days and historically the bar is the most intense trigger to drink.
As Dan thinks about this, a stuffy English voice fills his mind, narrating his story: “Dan contemplates embarking on a journey with his friends to the one place that would alter his destiny yet again. Little does he know, he will soon find himself alone, drunk, and on the street as his friends abandon him outside the bar and make their way back home to their families. No one parties quite like Dan…”
Playing the story through and being forced – perhaps comically so – to confront the true consequences of one’s struggle, though painful and “annoying,” can truly help dispel an impulse. In your own life or in support of a loved one, help to play this story through before making the decision that could result in that unhappy ending.