How to Reconnect with Family Members After Rehab

Getting into rehab was an adventure. Getting through rehab has been an awakening. Getting on with a sober life is an awareness.

And a big part of that newfound awareness is acknowledging where you’ve been, understanding where you are, and having a vision of where you’d like to be. You’ve taken inventory and have a list of amends that need making. It might be lengthy — the deeper the pit of despair you’re climbing out of, the longer the list will be.

It is worth remembering the old adage that “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” The odds are high that your journey to rehab has left some significant carnage in its wake, and a great deal of it will be in your family. The emotional, psychological, financial, and environmental impact your addiction has had on your family cannot be minimized or wished away.

If you’re a parent coming out of rehab, ask yourself what the impact of your addiction has been on your spouse, your kids, your siblings, and your own parents. If you’re a teenager or young adult, think about the damage you’ve caused your parents, your brothers, your sisters. There is a high likelihood that you’ll be dealing with some resentment. They too will have complex feelings about you and your experience.  You’re probably dealing with some of your own regret and resentment, but you need to be prepared to deal with the feelings that those closest to you are harboring as well.

Create the proper context of relationships for yourself. Have a plan. Engaging with one’s family is a very complex dynamic. You need to appreciate and acknowledge that not all family help may actually be helpful. You should, for instance, identify the different types of family relationships you have: your immediate family (ideally those who have seen you through the rehab process), distant family members (who know you but might not have been intimately involved in your treatment), or those who have disowned you (who have a very different conception of you and your recovery). Focus first on family members who won’t stress you out. If you are fresh out of rehab, lean on the shoulders of the family members who have been there for you. It will take time for you to heal, and it will definitely take time for your family to heal too.

Here are a few things to consider when reconnecting with your family.

  • Prepare them. If you’ve been out of touch for some time, send a handwritten note (not email or a text message — get intimate). Make it personal. Ask for the opportunity to pick up the phone, and make time for a long overdue conversation.
  • If there is damage and distance between you, consider having your sponsor or counselor help facilitate the reconnection.
  • Consider finding a neutral site for the first meeting. Physical locations, such as home, can evoke negative feelings, and certain memories are best not to bring up immediately.
  • Let your family choose where to meet, and set the terms of engagement.
  • Help educate them. There’s a lot that your family might not know about addiction. Make them aware of support groups such as Al-Anon, Alateen and Nar-Anon, and consider sharing the relevant parts of your experience with them.
  • Rekindle what was good, but do not fear acknowledging what was bad.
  • Consider involving them in your support group. Ask, but don’t expect.
  • Manage expectations — yours and theirs. You won’t win everyone over, and don’t try to win everyone over all at once.

Family is an important and lasting structure in a recovering addict’s life. By taking ownership of your past, and reconnecting with your family in a sound and meaningful way, you can help create a smooth recovery and develop a more fulfilling future for your family.

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