Recovering from alcoholism is extremely difficult, and quitting drinking is only the first step. If you are in recovery, you know that you have been through many changes. Your brain is healing from the effects of alcohol. You have had to deal with and face life circumstances without being able to rely on having a drink to release the stress or numb the pain. You have had to start to think about yourself and your life in a new way. As equally important, is that your family relationships have had to adjust to your new sobriety.
We all exist in a “system” of relationships, whether that is a marriage with children or your relationships with co-workers. The most common relationships we have are those of you and your spouse or you and your parents. That relationship and communication system was established before you stopped drinking and you are used to having a third partner in the relationship; alcohol. Being drunk or regularly drinking can put you into certain patterns that are hard to break and it can be difficult to know how to change those interactions now that you’re sober. Not only that, but your spouse and parents learned how to relate to you while you were drinking and will also need to learn how to adapt. When you stop drinking, the old rules of the relationship do not apply anymore.
Most commonly, the person struggling with addiction is identified as the “sick one” in the family. The rest of the family compensates to deal with the consequences. This is often an enabling spouse who takes care of things while hoping that one day the alcoholic will change, or a parent to steps in and takes control of the situation. Typically, the family is very supportive of the recovery process in concept, but the challenge becomes the changes that they need to make in the relationship to help you overcome your addiction.
By being placed into the sick role, the one struggling with addiction will be seen as the weak member in the relationship. Your family may not value your opinions, or question if they are really your thoughts or just something you heard at an AA meeting. Your family may not give you more responsibility as you recover. These can be very frustrating to you, the one in recovery, who is doing all this hard work, trying to improve, and then to have everyone treat you like you are sick or mentally incompetent. This has lead to countless arguments and break ups of marriages. This is due to asymmetric growth.
Asymmetric growth is when one person in a relationship is changing much faster than the other and the relationship becomes ‘uneven’. To be clear, no relationships are truly equal; one partner will make more money, one will be more attractive, one might work harder around the house, etc. That diversity can make or break a relationship depending on how the differences are perceived by each other. When you’re suffering with an addiction or are in recovery, the differences between you and your spouse may seem to be great and ever growing.
Your recovery process is incredibly challenging and even though it might feel like you are going nowhere, you are making HUGE changes in yourself. You are working on changing your perspective on life, how you deal with stress, how you communicate with others, removing triggers from your environment, and you may be struggling every single day to keep on track. Your family may not appreciate or respect the work you are doing, they may expect you to do more, or they may even grow resentful of the changes and progress that you are making in your life. These changes are going to change your relationships.
Is your family, spouse, or parents growing with you? Often this is not the case, or the growth is not at the same pace (asymmetric). Your family can become stuck in old relating patterns. They are used to you being sick, and know how to deal with that. However, they may not know how to relate to a new healthy and empowered you. It is not that they are trying to hold you back, they are just stuck in old relating patterns.
Over time this will either work itself out or the divide will become too vast to repair. To help you and your family grow together it is recommended that you work with a trained addiction treatment specialist. They can work with you and those you love to make sure that you are all working on healing and your family can pull through this stronger than ever.