The Dance of Addiction

The long road of recovery is sure to bring one thing: change. Good or bad, change is always uncomfortable and exhausting. We resist change, for better or worse, and in doing so risk sabotaging our progress, or worse, our loved one’s progress.

Imagine yourself dancing with a partner in a well-choreographed dance. You don’t particularly like the dance or the music, but you know the steps and are completely in sync. Suddenly, one of the dancers changes the moves, or worse, the music.

A family system is very similar to a dance in that each person has a role. When a member of a family changes their behavior in a significant way, good to bad, it is difficult for the other members of the family to adjust and keep the dance going. This is particularly true with changes involved substance abuse.

A family system goes into turmoil when their loved one starts becoming healthier and exhibiting new ways of approaching the world and relationships. In essence, they stop dancing the old dance and try new moves that are unfamiliar to the other members of the support system. The very thing that they have hoped for can cause significant changes to the architecture of the family system. Within that flux, family members may subconsciously sabotage their loved one because the behaviors are uncomfortable. Let’s be honest, no one likes to be uncomfortable.  

The family members may actively exhibit behaviors that can be triggering to their loved one, unknowingly forcing them back into the old dance in order to re-establish homeostasis and comfort. It will prove difficult for their loved one to fight against the urge to revert back to the old dance. Frankly, the old dance feels comfortable to them as well and is just easier. Change is exhausting.

The solution to this dynamic is for the entire family to learn the new dance together.

It is unreasonable to think that a loved one can attend treatment and return in a nice, neat, “all fixed,” package.  Everyone has to put in the work, and it is HARD work. Involving the family in treatment is essential for a positive outcome and to help navigate the family system through many obstacles. Often times, awareness of detrimental behaviors and actively learning healthier behaviors will help resolve the conflict. Once everyone knows the moves, the dance becomes easier, more enjoyable, and more successful.

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