What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate
By: Tammy Clevenger
Therapist, White Sands Treatment Center
Communication is the key ingredient of any relationship. Communication between family members becomes impaired when a family member has a substance use disorder. The family members stop communicating with one another directly and adopt the unspoken rule (do not talk about anything related to substance use).
Most of the family members thoughts, feelings, and behaviors center around substance use, yet no one talks about it. Are the family members and the addict/alcoholic are in denial? If we pretend there is no problem it might go away. If we talk to the addict/alcoholic about the problem they may become upset. We surely cannot disrupt the silent harmony “walking on eggshells” in the house. The family members begin to shift to blaming, accusing, and other defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the shame, pain, and terror of addiction.
The entire family is affected by substance use therefore; the entire family can learn how to commutate without reverting back to the blaming, accusing, and other defense mechanisms. Adopting new language may be a difficult practice at first because many individuals have difficulty distinguishing the difference between thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs. When we shift our communication styles and take ownership over our thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs; we are empowered.
Many people and couples believe they have “good” communication because they talk to each other. Talking is only one part of communication. Talking and communication are different. Talking is an oral projection of your voice; a giving of information. Many people do not talk to you they talk at you. Communication is verbal and non-verbal exchange of information.
Incorporating new skills will help you communicate with others. Listening to what the other person is saying is important. Practice active listening skills to gain understanding of what the other person is saying. When the other person is speaking do not interrupt. When the person is finished speaking paraphrase your interpretation of what you heard for clarification. Paraphrasing shows the speaker you are listening and you are attempting to understand what they are saying (how they feel). Are you empathizing with the speaker?
When you are listening to a person speak use body language effectively. Body language includes eye contact, posture, and positioning. Are you facing the person you are listening to? Are you closed off with your arms crossed? Are you using gestures? Are you using appropriate humor for the listening audience? Applying these new communication styles takes work.
A common suggestion for the first year of recovery is no new relationships. Why all this insistence in waiting a year? Part of the reason for waiting is learning who you truly are. If you have old behaviors that are not conducive to recovery these old behaviors and communication styles can hinder the new relationship. Take the time out and stop placing blame, accusing others, and other defense mechanisms. Practice acceptance, honesty, and open-mindedness. Learn healthy communication skills with family members first.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the White Sands Treatment Center at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.