Addiction Recovery: Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead at Recovery: What do you see?

I remember as a kid, we would be on vacation at some scenic observation area on the way, and there they were: those coin-operated binoculars. I also remember being absolutely fascinated with those things, thinking how cool they looked, all metal and indestructible, those beauties could swivel to move the viewing area vertically and horizontally. All it took was an available binocular and 25 cents.

Somehow, I couldn’t seem to appreciate the view until I was able to take a turn. If they were all being used I would feel impatient, scanning for the one that seemed to have the shortest line. Except, there weren’t really lines typically, it was more like people milling around either not interested in using the binoculars and simply standing close to one, or people actually waiting for the next opening.

Even as a kid I knew  it was good to have strategies when hoping to get some coveted time with the viewer on a popular vista. I would scout for the people looking for change, men digging deep in their pockets and women opening their purses, find something away from where they are standing. Next, I would check out where the kids were, they always wanted to use the binoculars. I would be on the lookout for people hitting the binoculars and yelling out something like “Hey, what’s the matter with this thing? It just ate my quarter!” Somehow losing 25 cents to a machine becomes very important to our sense of injustice in those moments. Well anyway, avoid that machine. Finally, when I would actually get my cherished time on the binocular, I would really want to make good use of that time, zooming in on every area within that view. You never really knew for sure just how much time you had, so every second counted. A little trivia – the average time ranges from 1.5 minutes to 2.5 minutes. These devices have been manufactured since the early 1930’s by a company called Tower Optical, they are still in operation and only make about 35 devices a year. The basic design has never changed and I think they still charge 25 cents.

It turns out that about the same time Tower Optical began producing their viewers that theories about alcoholism began to emerge. As early as 1930, long before the advent of family therapy as a field, treatment concerns for the alcoholic focused on the importance of family interactions in influencing drinking patterns. In the 1940’s and 50’s psychoanalytic theories focused on the wives of alcoholics, speculating a relationship between the wife’s personality functioning (usually described in negative terms) and her ending up in a relationship with an alcoholic husband. It wasn’t until the late 1960’s when family therapists began applying concepts and theories again to alcoholism treatment specifically.

When I look ahead at recovery I see us rediscovering what the theorists started with in the 1930’s – relationships as a core issue when treating chemical dependency. Looking at addiction as a “family disease” should mean treating the whole family. There is a circular relationship between the addict/alcoholic and the family: each affects the other. There has been a lot of research on that relationship, and only now are we beginning to see the importance of that circular relationship in recovery as well. Recovery means so much more than not using the substance – more on that in a later blog.

Let’s imagine that you are standing with other people at an interesting vista. Let’s make the vista the future of recovery and trying to figuring out what’s helpful to you (if you are in recovery) and to other recovering people. Let’s further imagine that we all have a viewer available. Wouldn’t it be great if we could share what we see? What part of the scene jumps out? What is the vision we can share with others. Looking out, what do we hope to see? I’m betting couple recovery is out there, ready to be seen and rediscovered.

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Yours, Mine & Ours (Recovery)

You may remember or heard of the old movie, “”Yours, Mine and Ours”, with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda (1968). A remake starring Dennis Quid and Rene Ruso came out in 2005. The movie was loosely based on the true story of Helen and Frank Beardsley who had 8 and 10 children respectively at the time their former spouses died. They ended up marrying and became  an instant family of 18 children, an endless interest to an amazed public. Most of the original movie was shot in San Francisco by the way.

In a most unlikely scenario, apparently things worked out fairly well for the Beardsleys.  They learned how to adapt their life styles and make things work, requiring creativity, perseverance, and learning what works. So what does this movie have to do with recovery and couples?

Last Friday I spoke about couple recovery at a speakers luncheon sponsored by Bayside Marin Treatment Center. The setting was a wonderful sample of a beautiful sunny day in San Francisco – sights, sound and food – right on the Embarcadero. The venue was at the Delancey Street Restaurant associated with Delancey Street Foundation, the leading self-help residential program for those who have hit bottom around alcohol, drugs, including the  homeless and those who have been in jail or prison. Volunteer efforts from some of the best chefs, restaurant owners and wait staff launched the resident staff who then in turn trained those after them. This is a core philosophy of Delancey Street, learn and pass it on.  The residents learn success, productivity and ultimately contribute back to the community. Another unlikely scenario that has worked out because of creativity, perseverance, and learning what works. A model community.

I believe that we are at a new era in addiction recovery. Bringing the relationship into the process of recovery adds an important dimension of recovery that has the great potential for each partner to feel support and understanding in their own recovery process. At the same time relationship issues no longer need be ignored or avoided. By developing a couple recovery three recoveries are addressed: each individual recovery and the couple recovery. Several of the therapists I spoke with after the talk expressed excitement and enthusiasm for this concept and the need to include the relationship in recovery.

To some, this idea will seem like another unlikely scenario, but we now know through research that couple stability predicts long-term sobriety. We also know that there are certain tools and relationship skills that all couples can benefit from and will greatly influence relationship stability.  I am suggesting that we put the research together with creativity, perseverance, and learning what works for each couple.

I want to thank Bayside Marin Treatment Center for sponsoring the luncheon and providing the opportunity to share ideas on helping recovering couples.

For more information on the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco Click Here