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Recovery Month Is a Time for Family Members to Invest in Their Own Health, Relationships, Purpose, and Community

Ellen Van Vechten


by Ellen Van Vechten
The theme for Recovery Month, September 2018, is to Join the Voices for Recovery: Invest in Health, Home, Purpose, and Community. This theme is based on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) definition of recovery. SAMSHA defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential” in all aspects of their life: health, home, purpose, and community. The challenge to invest in our health and future applies to those of us who have been impacted by another’s addiction.
The first step of recovery for family members is the acceptance that we are “powerless” over another’s use of drugs or addictive behaviors and that our lives have become unmanageable. No amount of love for another person will cure his or her disease. No one can control another’s addictive behavior, and the attempt to do so wreaks havoc on the lives of those who try.
The process of recovery for family members mirrors that of recovery from active addiction. At the outset, all of us focus on the basics—finding support and coping strategies to get us through the immediate crises and return to equilibrium. Over time, as our recovery progresses, we start to work toward personal growth and the achievement of individual goals. A plan for recovery is self-designed and highly individual. It addresses personal needs and draws on individual strengths to foster healing, resilience, and personal growth.
The four major components of recovery as identified by SAMHSA (health, home, purpose, and community) provide a roadmap for family recovery. In the same way that our loved ones put together an individualized, holistic plan to support a new lifestyle and enhance their personal growth, those of us whose lives have been totally disrupted by another’s addiction may need to restructure our own lives to achieve our full potential. Our recovery plans, like theirs, should promote growth in all aspects of our lives.
First, we can take steps to support our physical and mental health and well-being. Second, we can broaden the SAMHSA definition of home as a need for safe and stable shelter, to a goal of stabilizing and strengthening our family and personal relationships. Third, we can focus on fostering our purpose, which, according to SAMHSA includes engagement in meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors. Having been consumed by another’s disease and, perhaps, neglected our work, plans, goals, or dreams, in recovery we have a chance to reexamine our mission and our purpose. Recovery provides an opportunity to redefine ourselves, try something new, or return to what we gave up. Finally, SAMHSA identifies the importance of finding and maintaining a supportive social network or community to support our own recovery. Recovery month thus offers us a time to focus on our own health, relationships, and purpose, and to foster a community of support as we strive for acceptance, serenity, personal growth, and the achievement of our full potential.

Based in part on her own family’s journey, Ellen Van Vechten explains the science of addiction, the theory of treatment, and the twelve-step model of recovery, providing sensible information and tips for reasoned action in support of a loved one while fostering personal growth and recovery.