Yes Virginia, There is Family Recovery

It has been a long delay since my last blog entry, a very busy year professionally and personally. I do hope to keep momentum going with raising the issue of relationships and addiction recovery.

The blog title is taken from a piece of Christmas folk lore. In 1897 little eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun asking for the truth about whether there really is a Santa Claus, because  her friends told her there wasn’t. The editor, Francis P. Church, wrote the following:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds… Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

Churches response was an instant sensation and has become one of the most famous editorials ever written. It was reprinted in the Sun annually, until 1949 when the paper went out of business.

So what does this have to do with couples and recovery? The long-held belief in the addiction recovery field has been to keep recoveries separate, each individual is encouraged to work their own program and “stay on your own side of the street”. As a recovery therapist, I can’t argue with the emphasis that should be placed on individual recovery. However, by adding a relationship focus in the recovery process you address a way of helping couples and families in the transition through the stages of recovery, in my opinion, is core to a more holistic approach to recovery. My research on successful long-term recovery processes points to the very important role of couple and family relationships can have  in successful outcomes.      

My colleague and friend, Dr. Virginia Lewis is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Family Recovery Project, at Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto. Additionally, she is Senior Research Fellow at MRI and an excellent clinician in private practice. Virginia invited me to continue my research on couples in recovery and together we co-founded Center for Couples in Recovery, at MRI. Virginia’s emphasis on family recovery as an essential component of successful long-term recovery, focuses on the importance of relationships in recovery, describing the complexities and difficulties families encounter, and normalizing those challenges.

There are many in the field that don’t believe in a relational approach to addiction treatment. To them I would say, “Yes, Virginia is right, there is family recovery: It’s exists. Let’s work together to help couples and families manage better, and educate those who don’t believe.”