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Two ways to make coleslaw

By Toni Tufo, spiritual care counselor at the Betty Ford Center

By Toni Tufo, spiritual care counselor at the Betty Ford CenterIn the world of recovery from alcoholism and addiction, the words ‘family' and ‘relationships,' can evoke images of conflict, power-struggles, codependency, unhealthy attachment, abuse or abandonment.

When we begin to take the long walk to a healthier home and healthier relationships, it is often enhanced by a commitment to recover by more than just the alcoholic/addict in the family. We learn about the roles played by members of a dysfunctional family; i.e. hero, rescuer, scapegoat, rebel, lost child and mascot. They are familiar because we recognize ourselves and the members of our own families.

"Changes That Heal" can require grace, truth and time, according to Henry Cloud. We learn about healthy boundaries and conflict resolution. We learn about releasing with love and emotional detachment. Mostly, we learn to let go and let God and to practice the principles in all our affairs. We learn to put away the telescope and get out the mirror. We learn to stop playing the blame game. And one day at a time we begin healing the hurt, or - as John Bradshaw - wrote, "Healing the Shame that Binds us."

When we have an alcoholic/addict parent, spouse or child, it is only human to believe that we need to save that sick person, fix him/her and take better care of them if that were even possible. But the amazing thing that happens, the miracle we experience, comes only when we stop taking care of him/her and begin to take better care of ourselves. When we realize that it doesn't have to be "my way or the highway" and we don't have to just give in or give up, we are free to negotiate and compromise, or even - in some cases - let go absolutely and give in to our loved one some of the time.

The example shared with me was of a mother visiting her daughter, and the daughter was preparing coleslaw. The mother silently observed for a while but finally interrupted and said, "No, no, no, that isn't the right way to make coleslaw!" The mother proceeded to jump in and make the changes she perceived needed to be made, and the daughter made a healthy choice to avoid a major conflict by saying, "Thanks, Mom, now I know two ways to make coleslaw!"

We do receive the promise of a new freedom and a new happiness in the family and in all of our relationships when we "get that new pair of glasses" and treat our family members the way we want to be treated, even if they are not behaving the same way to us. We realize that we can even express our own true feelings and opinions even though they may be different from the alcoholic/addict's. As we become our true selves, we can speak up in a new voice. We can "mean what we say and say what we mean if we don't say it mean."

This is what our recovering family calls the language of the heart; sharing feelings and being the people we want to be - authentic, genuine, fully human and fully alive. Discovering that God can restore us and will save our families if He is sought.

We sometimes make the mistake of believing we have completed the work, but if we are good students, we hear that there is no graduation and no recess. We are wise to continue to grow healthier and happier by staying active in the fellowship and adding support with attendance at conventions, recovery retreats, couples groups, conferences, classes and assistance from a good marriage and family therapist.

Even if we do all of that, some families do not reunite, and some marriages are not saved, but we usually feel happier. We learn that we are not alone; we have a permanent support group and are able to attract healthier people into our lives.

Nothing written here is original. It is simply what was given to me in the past, and I now have the opportunity to pass it on. Giving back what we were given is the final piece of the puzzle, and many people do not continue attending meetings post-treatment. I believe it is really important to continue our growth and recovery in Twelve Step meetings. As one retreat slogan states, "Be a better whatever you are today." I usually like to add "Please be good to you."

Recovery Matters, June 2014

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