For 20 years now, they’ve come to Cornerstone of Recovery in Louisville, Tennessee, desperate for the answers, understanding and hope that our Family Fundamentals Program provides.
Their loved ones have been in Cornerstone’s various alcohol and drug treatment programs for days, weeks even, but back home, their family members have been picking up the pieces. Although addicts and alcoholics are sick people who need healing rather than “bad” people who need to be “good,” their actions, decisions and words while in the grips of their illness can cause a great deal of damage.
Family members are often the ones who bear the brunt of that, and the Family Fundamentals Program at Cornerstone of Recovery is a step toward repairing it.
“It’s a two-day intensive program that incorporates classes, lectures, activities and group processing to both educate the family on what the patients are learning while they’re here, as well as help the families and patients to process their individual roles in the recovery process,” says Bryce Nolen, a family therapist and the Family Fundamentals coordinator at Cornerstone. “Addiction affects every family differently. For some families, it’s something they’re extremely concerned about and want to be involved in. Other families would rather the patient handle it and come back home ‘fixed.’
“And then there can be a lot of resentments. Even if individual family members have not sacrificed much of their own well-being for the addicted patient, they may have some resentments that bother them, that worry them, that cause them anxiety about the future. Family Fundamentals allows us to address those in a way for patients to accept what they’ve done, and help loved ones move through that in a healthy way for both parties.”
Family Fundamentals: Supercharging Family Involvement in the Treatment Process
The Family Fundamentals Program began in June 2000, marking a significant shift in the organization’s approach to providing auxiliary therapy to the loved ones of patients.
“At that time, the Family Therapy Program didn’t exist — they did family education and a one-day education program where families received information and did one group with their loved one,” says Julie Hamlin, director of Extended Care at Cornerstone of Recovery who was hired in 2000 to build out the company’s Family Therapy Program. “With just one day, we were having a lot of chaos, frustration and problems that came out but didn’t get wrapped up or semi-dealt with in order to help the families begin to heal.”
Over the next two decades, Hamlin and others at Cornerstone began to implement Family Therapy as a central component of the addiction treatment process for patients. Families, after all, are involved throughout the active period of a patient’s disease, and as the afflicted’s condition worsens, the family’s worry, stress, frustration and anger all mount. Through residential inpatient treatment, addicts and alcoholics begin to process the pain they’ve caused themselves and loved ones, but providing healing for the entire family is critical for the patient’s long-term sobriety after leaving treatment, Hamlin says. While some therapy can be accomplished in one-on-one sessions, either in person or by phone, with one of Cornerstone’s therapists, the Family Fundamentals Program provides a two-day series of lectures, groups and counseling that has demonstrated remarkable results over the past 20 years.
“It’s a place to learn about how each person in the family interacts with the disease, because we, as families, don’t understand that,” Hamlin says. “It’s important to come, to be involved, to get the education and to learn how this is impacting the family as a whole, and what everyone’s individual responsibility is in dealing with it.”
“Addiction pulls not only from the addict, but from the individual around the addict — financial resources, emotional resources, community resources and spiritual resources,” Nolen adds. “Family Fundamentals helps them understand the best way to support the addict without enabling them and without sacrificing their own health, as well as how to provide a positive environment for the patient to take responsibility for their addiction.”
Nolen, who worked as a family therapist at Cornerstone for six months before taking over as Family Fundamentals coordinator, has a background in marriage and family therapy, and as the director of the two-day program, he not only organizes the lectures and group therapy sessions, he’s also one of the weekend’s presenters. It’s a passion — for him, and for all of the other Cornerstone staff members who speak and facilitate during the Friday and Saturday sessions, because they believe the education and therapy they provide helps to push back against the stigma still associated with addiction and alcoholism.
“We live in a world where addiction is just kind of pushed to the side. We don’t talk about it, and any time we do, it’s in a negative light, and we use terms like ‘drunk’ or ‘druggie,’” he says. “Nobody talks about the emotional impact to the family or the personal impact or the wedge that it really drives in relationships that need to be ones in which the addict can find comfort and support. Family members are the people who know them best — they know the person the addict can be, because they also knew the person they were prior to their addiction.
“By the same token, some members of those families are operating under the mindset of, ‘I’m not an addict. Why doesn’t my child or my husband or my parent just stop? I was able to stop after I was done with my party years; I just quit, so why is this happening to them? Why don’t they choose to stop?’ There’s a lot of general misunderstanding about how the disease works.”
The Nuts and Bolts of Family Fundamentals
Family Fundamentals is held three weekends a month on the Cornerstone of Recovery campus. All patients participate, even if their family members can’t attend — because the weekend provides information on how to adjust to a homecoming that may be awkward or, in some cases, even unhealthy because of dysfunction or simply the emotional chaos addiction causes.
“Even if their families aren’t here, we know that going back home isn’t going to be easy no matter what,” Nolen says. “But, by learning what their families are going through and what experiences they may have had, it hopefully prepares them as patients to handle these things better. Even if their families don’t have that information, that’s hopefully going to prepare the patient for when they return home.”
For Cornerstone patients whose loved ones are willing and able to attend, they can invite up to two family members to Family Fundamentals weekend. Families who transport their loved ones to Cornerstone for addiction treatment will be provided a family packet that contains all relevant information on the family therapy options that Cornerstone offers, and the patient’s individual therapist will work with families as early in the process as possible to schedule their attendance at Family Fundamentals.
And, if patients want to involve more than two family members, they’re allowed to return to Family Fundamentals up to 18 months after completing treatment at Cornerstone and bring as many family members as they would like.
“We know it can be hard for families to get here, because the patient is only here for 28 days, at most, so that’s not a lot of time,” Nolen says. “We encourage them to, even if they can’t attend, continue to educate themselves on the disease of addiction and take advantage of the resources in the family packet they receive, either when they bring their loved one to treatment or through the mail or email. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of attending Family Fundamentals if at all possible, however.
“By simply participating in this weekend, it will by and large hopefully improve the way families interact with their patients, but also the way they are going to go through a healing process for themselves.”