From the very beginning, family members are part of the drug and alcohol treatment process at Cornerstone of Recovery, because they’ve been a part of the disease and all of the pain that goes along with it.
They’ve watched as drugs and alcohol have progressed from a habit to an addiction, wondering when to step in and say something. They’ve lain awake at night, waiting for the phone call that their loved one has been arrested or wound up in the hospital. They hover in the doorway at night, waiting to see if children or siblings or spouses or even parents are still breathing. They’ve screamed, shouted, wept and raged, been stolen from and lied to, taken every grievance as both a personal betrayal and a mark of shame.
They have, in other words, bore the brunt of the shockwaves that addiction and alcoholism cause, but they haven’t given up … because of the very ties that have stretched to the breaking point. And when their loved one finally acquiesces to their entreaties to get help, those same family members are the ones who drive them to treatment, pace in our lobby and wring their hands as they wonder how things will ever get better.
“Families are intimately involved in trying to get patients well and getting them to treatment. And once the patient is here, they’re usually very concerned, hurt, upset and angry along with a multitude of other feelings,” says Joanna Mansur, Assessment and Orientation Director (A&O) at Cornerstone of Recovery. “They’re often in as much pain as the patient; they just don’t have drugs or alcohol to mask it.”
Family Therapy: The Journey Begins
Fortunately, Family Therapy at Cornerstone of Recovery can begin the healing process. Family members who deliver their loved ones for treatment receive an informational family packet upon arrival, which contains information on Cornerstone’s Family Fundamentals weekend, as well as general information about the treatment process at our facility and recommendations for resources though which family members can receive support.
“I encourage them to go to Al-Anon (Family Groups, a 12 Step program for the family members of addicts and alcoholics),” adds Danyelle Smith, one of several therapists who works with the patients of Cornerstone’s residential programs. “I encourage them to go to individual therapy. I encourage them to come to Family Fundamentals weekend and get as much information as they can to educate themselves on the disease concept of addiction.
“We are here for the family as much as we are for the patient, providing the patient has given permission for family members to be involved in the process. My goal, and I explain this to family members when I talk to them on the phone, is to include them. They have been impacted by the alcoholic’s or the addict’s journey, and the patient is the one getting all the help. They’re left with the effects, the pain, the consequences, and they’re not getting any help, and often there’s resentment there.”
Part of the family therapy process involves navigating those complicated relationships. From the moment the patient walks through the door at Cornerstone, the clock is ticking: A 30-day residential stay is a best-case scenario, and with most families relying on private insurance to cover treatment, that’s not even a guarantee. That means, says Cornerstone therapist Hannah Cole — who works with patients in the Young Adult Program — that time is of the essence when it comes to involving family members in the process.
“This is going to be a tough journey,” Cole says. “Trust is broken, and the pain of watching your loved one suffer and become someone you don’t recognize is immense. I would encourage them to connect and engage in the healing process for themselves. They can start the processing by accepting that they cannot fix the addiction or the patient in any way, because that is the patient’s journey. But there is hope, and working on themselves is the absolute best and most helpful thing they can do for their addicted loved one.”
Family Therapy and Treatment at Cornerstone
If family members live out of town or don’t accompany the patient to Cornerstone, they’ll be contacted by A&O family care counselors within the first week of the patient’s arrival, often while the patient is in Medical Detox. In order to learn more about the extent of the patient’s problems, A&O counselors will ask a series of questionnaires to compile what’s known as a family assessment. This 30- to 45-minute conversation is the catalyst by which the Family Therapy process at Cornerstone begins, according to Mansur.
As the patient progresses through treatment, he or she will be assigned a therapist, who will then be in touch with family members to arrange for family therapy sessions and schedule the participation by family members with their loved ones at Cornerstone’s Family Fundamentals weekend. While the patient is the focus of concern, the goal of Family Therapy is to address issues, expectations and fractures in the family dynamic that may be detrimental to the goal of treatment: long-term sobriety once the patient returns home.
“It’s a beginning, and it’s not a cure-all, for sure, but it’s very important,” says Cornerstone therapist Joel Bain. “If a person gets better but they’re going back to a home life or a situation where the problem hasn’t been broached, they can go right back to drinking or using. The potential for relapse is a lot stronger unless they’ve at least had a basic conversation that lets family members know what a program of recovery is all about and what you can expect from it.”
“Toward the end of a patient’s treatment, before they discharge, I have a heart-to-heart with them and their family members to break the ice for when they go home,” Smith adds. “It can be awkward to figure out what the starting point is and where the boundaries are. One of the things I do is suggest a contract, in which both parties write down what they wish from the other, and we go over that on the phone. And if there’s anything one of them doesn’t agree with, we work out some kind of compromise. That way, when the patient gets home, they have a starting point — they know what’s expected of them and where their boundaries are, and vice-versa.”
Although it’s difficult to see when the pain is fresh and the path forward seems so uncertain, the healing process begun during a patient’s drug and alcohol treatment can be transformational — for the individuals, and for their family members. Cornerstone’s therapists make every effort to include family members throughout the process, so that patients and their loved ones can begin laying a foundation for a new relationship going forward.
“Our goal is to get the families involved and allow them to be heard, because part of their healing is knowing and feeling that they’re important, too,” Mansur says. “We open the door and give them space to start a conversation about how this has impacted them. We want them to feel heard and cared about, because they are, and we do understand how big of an impact this has had on them— because it truly is a family illness.”