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8 Steps To Improve Family Communication During Recovery

We always hear communication is an art but that’s a watered down version of reality. Communication is not an art, communication is a martial art. And what’s common between communication and martial arts? They need daily practice. Communication needs discipline. What is discipline? Doing something you want to do even when you don’t want to do it. And over time, we start to develop these psychological and emotional muscles that we’re able to articulate what’s inside of our head and what’s inside of our heart to those around us in a way that they can understand and that’s where the closeness happens.

Why Do We Have Communication Issues?

If you are someone who is struggling with communication and you have a hard time connecting with your family members around you, or connecting with the world, it is not something you can just fix overnight. So first and foremost, you have to accept, understand and acknowledge that you didn’t get here overnight.

Oftentimes, our problems with communication in our family unit doesn’t have anything to do with the family. It has to do with our own upbringing within our own family unit long before you ever had a family, long before you had kids. These issues and challenges actually existed inside of us. There’s a lot of different cultures, backgrounds, and parenting styles. If you come from a house where kids were supposed to be seen and not heard, or if you come from a house where the elders are always talking down to the children, or if you come from a house where showing your emotions was a sign of weakness, if you come from a household where you were experiencing some type of abandonment, loss, or trauma, that person, long before they get into their own relationship, long before they have their own kids, already is in an impairment and is a disadvantage with their communication skills. We think our communication issues are due to our current relationship but it actually has to do with where our relationships were formed/originated.

Every individual in your family is each living and experiencing a different world.

That may sound abstract, profound, or controversial, but the reality of it is that even though we all live in the same world, this planet Earth, we are all experiencing different worlds within that world.

How Recovery Can Help With Communication

In older times, families did not sit down and talk about emotions and feelings. With the new movement of addressing addiction and mental health challenges, communication issues are coming to the forefront. We are starting to realize that not communicating takes a toll on the mind, body and spirit. In recovery, you begin to understand the importance of it because it’s all about connection and communication is the bridge that connects two people to each other. When you acknowledge that everybody is on their own individual journeys, each individual in their own different world, we’re practically aliens to each other. Our mind tells us that because a person is related to us, that we should be able to communicate with them, but that is not true.

The goal of communication is to be able to learn how to bring all of these worlds together. When family members and loved ones start working a recovery program doing the self-awareness work it creates a common language of recovery that you can actually start to vibe and talk to each other a little bit better. That’s why oftentimes family members are suggested to go and do their own recovery.

Step #1: Communication Starts With The Self

The #1 step to do if you’re struggling with communication with your family, whether that’s with your spouse or your loved ones, is to remember that communication starts with self. If you want to learn how to communicate you have to start with yourself.

How well do you communicate with yourself?

What does it mean to communicate with yourself?

How well do you actually know yourself?

Do you know yourself in a way that you look at yourself and you recognize who and what you are, how you ended up where you ended up, why you ended up the way you ended up?

Do you have all that awareness about the human being, that self?

How well do you understand your emotions when you’re feeling sad, when you’re feeling angry, when you’re feeling frustrated, when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

Can you internalize all of that and can you understand it?

How well do you manage your own emotions?

If you recently got into recovery, within the last year, you probably don’t know yourself well. As you start to gain a deeper understanding of self, you start to become at peace with yourself.

It is only when you are at peace with yourself that you are at peace with the world.

Most people don’t want to do that inner work. We’d rather just fix something externally. But it always starts with self, ends with self.

Step #2: Go Deep Within Yourself First

They say a clinician will never ever be able to take a client as far as they’re willing to go themselves. People are incapable of going places with others, having conversations with others that they’re not willing to have or have had with themselves. So if you stay on the surface level but you want your kid or your spouse to go deep that’s not likely to happen. You must go deep first because then you’re able to take people down there with you. When you can model it, you can show that you can be vulnerable, you can talk about what you’ve discovered, what you’ve uncovered, and what you’ve discarded. You can talk about what you’ve learned through the journey of self-exploration.

The reason why our family members don’t talk to us in specific situations is because they haven’t felt comfortable or safe enough to do so.

Step #3: Curb Your Expectations

Allow people to be where they are in their journey. If someone’s really not talking to you it’s not just about you – it’s their own world, their own experience, what they are going through, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, the lack of connection that exists.

Oftentimes, when there’s addiction involved, it really separates people. Addiction disconnects people from their loved ones. A lot of addiction happens in the dark where there’s a lot of shame, guilt, anger, pain and trauma. When someone hasn’t dealt with all that stuff they can’t communicate well. People are in different places at different times of the recovery. Some recover faster, some recover slower, some don’t recover, some just won’t recover, some don’t care about communication as others care about communication so control the things you can control, which is self. Your expectations should be based on your understanding that everyone comes from a different world even though we’re all living in the same world.

Expectations can kill communication with others, especially family, especially with family. Because the closer you are to people the higher the expectations. The higher the expectations, the lower the level of serenity.

Step #4: Set Up Weekly Family Dinners

In recovery it’s really important to have a home group, a place that you go every single week, no matter what. This is important because people can see you week to week and see how you are once you get comfortable enough, you start opening up more, and being more vulnerable. They may not be comfortable at the first meeting, but slowly they open up, start communicating with people, they give out their phone numbers, they connect, they go do social things together, they become a part of something. That’s because of their commitment to continue to show up at their home group.

A family dinner is the same way. If you live at a distance from your family, set up a family Zoom call for once a week. Communication doesn’t flow the first time, or the second time, but overtime, family dinners help thaw out people’s ice.

Only talk about here and now when you’re at family dinners. Don’t talk about the past or the future that can lead to anxiety or guilt or stress in the people around you, especially if they are in recovery.

Step #5: Small And Gradual Improvements

When you start making an effort to establish communication with your family, it may be tempting to look for big changes, wanting your loved ones to open up immediately. However, it is best to look for small and gradual changes. If they are showing up consistently, that’s a win. If they say hello and ask how you’re doing, that’s a win. If they offer to help you with something, that’s a win. Overtime, these small changes add up to bigger changes. Anything done consistently gets better.

Step #6: Don’t Get Discouraged If Not Reciprocated

If your loved ones don’t seem to appreciate your efforts, don’t be disappointed and give up. Many times family members back out completely when they feel like they are putting in effort but it is not being reciprocated. If you consistently model what you want to see, despite the outcomes, eventually the other family members will start to show up too. They start to trust you, and they feel safe knowing that you are there for them.

On the other hand, codependent family members may go to the other extreme and try to pull their loved ones forward. That kind of behavior can be draining. Instead, do your part in the relationship, control what you can control, and model what you want to see.

Step #7: Model What You Want To See

There’s a simple key to successful communication. If you want your loved ones to talk more about their emotions, you talk about your emotions. If you want your loved ones to talk about their goals, their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations, you talk about your goals, hopes, dreams, aspirations – not theirs, yours. If you want others to realize the things that are important, you want them to talk about the things that are important to them, talk about the things that are important to you.

Eventually when people realize that someone is primarily focused on themselves and their own stuff they’ll start sharing a little nugget about their own. If they want to tell you they’ll tell you. It all starts with self. Model what it is you want to see. Learn how to communicate and be honest and authentic and sincere with yourself and then watch the ripple effects come in your world.

Step #8: Family Is Not Everything

Knowing that this is difficult, challenging, and hard work, it’s very important to make sure that you have your own outlets and communication like support groups, counseling, sponsorship, therapy, journaling because it can get lonely. When you feel discouraged, go to your support group where they may be willing to listen, or go write in your journal about your frustrations, or go out at night time and tell the stars. These are all ways to get your frustrations off your chest. This way, you don’t lose your connection to yourself.

Sometimes it’s not the family communication that we truly are looking for, it’s just the fact that we want and need to be seen, we want the need to be heard, we want the need to be connected. Sometimes when that connection comes from an external source it may not feel as deeply meaningful as it is with your family, but it still fulfills the need for connection, being able to articulate your feelings, and not feel as lonely.

Some people have extended family, some people have family of choice, sometimes you might be closer to a friend than you’ll ever be with a partner or spouse, you might have a best friend in life, you might have a person – a support person – a peer that you’re able to open up to and have deep level conversations that your spouse or your loved one or your child will never have, so why not embrace what we can get and have those and be fulfilled?

All Things Communication

What is up, everyone? It is Saturday April 8th of 2023. We’re officially turning into the spring season. I’m excited. I’m tired of the winter. I’m looking forward to the sun and the warmth that will proceed. So welcome back to another family education and support group. This is a live weekly live stream that we do here at Buckeye Recovery Network and it’s for all to attend if you are interested in learning anything about… What’s up Kenny? Oh man, I’m the blessed one, you guys ain’t blessed. I’m happy to be with you and the crew over there. And Jim, good morning as always. Everyone else that’s going to come on, good morning. So this is a free resource for the community. This is a free resource for anyone who is interested in learning anything about themselves, learning about mental health, learning about addictions, learning about communications, about recovery, about healing, about trauma, about boundaries, about self-care and a little bit of everything in between.

So my name is Parham. I host this every week and I’m usually this excited and passionate on a weekly basis – I rarely ever fluctuate. Good morning Jess, good morning Kathleen, good morning Bita, the topic today is actually something that you asked about so hopefully it’s what you were hoping to get and I’ll talk about the topic here in a second. But my name is Parham. I have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, I’m a licensed addictions counselor, I’m a high school basketball coach, college teacher and you know, a bunch of other cool things over there and I’m also in recovery myself. So June 13th of 2008 is when I decided to go on a different path of life and that path has led me. It’s a very healthy path and it’s led me to a lot of healthy destinations, let’s call it that. And Mom and Dad, what’s up? and Cheryl, welcome back from Tennessee. You know, I start my family group next week so everybody that is a local over here in California, Orange County, every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m we’ll call it from 6:30 to 7:30 or maybe 6:30 to 8, depending on how many people are there and what we’re processing. It’s a free support group in the community. If you are a professional in the field, if you’re a counselor, if you’re a therapist, if you’re a psychologist, if you are a family member, if you’re a mom, a dad, a sister, a brother, a spouse, a grandparent, you’re all welcome to come. It’s like I said, free of charge. I facilitate it myself every week in person. I wish I could do it on Zoom but for the confidentiality reasons of those attending the group I’m probably not going to do it. So if you’re local come see me, hit me up and I’ll give you the directions and the address.

So today you know, I want this to be a user-driven platform because I can sit here and talk all day as you all know, but sometimes there’s things that you might want to hear about that are kind of more what you’re in need of learning. Maybe you want to learn, maybe it might help your world and your family’s world. And so we had one of our group members who’s been watching this for a couple years now reach out and say, “Hey I just kind of want to know how I can improve or we can improve communication between spouses, communication between the family and a loved one that might be going through the recovery process. How can we just have a healthy family dynamic?” That’s a really loaded question – how does one have a healthy family? I mean, there’s so many moving parts there but I’m gonna do my best so pretty much what I did was (and this is all original, this is all new, so it’s like it’s not one of my old talks) I kind of just put it together real quick and we’ll go with it and hopefully you get what you need out of it. Because here’s the thing: we all need to learn how to communicate.

We always hear communication is an art but I want to say that’s actually watered down. Communication is not an art, communication is a martial art. And what’s common about martial arts? Well, they need daily practice. Communication needs discipline. What is discipline? Doing something you want to do even when you don’t want to do it. And over time, like everything else, we start to develop these psychological and emotional muscles that we’re able to articulate what’s inside of our head, what’s inside of our heart to those around us in a way that they can get it, that they can understand and that’s where the closeness happens. So what I want to first say about communication if you’re watching this and you’re struggling with communication now is whether communication is… (What’s up? Let me say what’s up to Marina Harbor over there – Marina Harbor in the bay, welcome, happy to have you aboard). So if you are someone who struggled with communication, you have a hard time connecting with others, you have a hard time connecting with your family members around you, you have a hard time connecting to the world, I want you to first and foremost understand that you didn’t get here overnight. When someone says I struggle with communication it’s not something that you can just fix – there’s no key to fixing it and all of a sudden communication gets better. So first and foremost, you have to accept, you have to understand, you have to acknowledge that you didn’t get here overnight.

Oftentimes, our problems with communication in our family unit doesn’t have anything to do with the family. It has to do with our own upbringing within our own family unit long before you ever had a family, long before you had kids. These issues and challenges actually existed inside of us. What I mean by that is there’s a lot of different cultures, there’s a lot of different backgrounds, there’s a lot of different parenting styles, there’s a lot of different parents. And if you come from a house that kids were supposed to be seen and not heard, if you came from the house where always the elders are talking down to the children, the children aren’t supposed to have any type of thing for them, if you come from a house where showing your emotions was a sign of weakness, if you come from a household where you were experiencing some type of abandonment, loss, trauma, that person, long before they get into their own relationship, long before they have their own kids, already is in an impairment and is a disadvantage with their communication skills. Then they get in the relationship and they wonder why can’t I connect to people? See, we think it has to do with our current relationship but it actually has to do with where our relationships were formed/originated. And here’s the thing, when you get with somebody, so now you have something called a spouse or a significant other or partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever the dynamic is, you say why can’t we communicate well?

Guess what’s happening? You and your entire life story just came into that relationship. Then their entire life story just came in that relationship so now it’s two people that even though you speak the same language, it might be called English or it might be called Spanish or Farsi or Ukrainian whatever you want to call it, whatever language you speak, it might be common but you don’t even speak the same language. Foreign languages just came together and you’re wondering why can’t we get each other.

So you have to understand that every individual in your family is each living and experiencing a different world. Now, I know that sounds a little abstract, I know that sounds maybe even a little profound, maybe even sounds a little bit controversial but the reality of it is that even though we all live in the same world, this planet Earth, we are all experiencing different worlds within that world. We have all experienced different worlds within this world and now we’re here together in this moment saying I can’t connect with x, y and z. So that’s the first thing I got to tell you to do. Before you even start considering how do I improve the relationship, my communication with my loved ones, with my children, with my spouse, you have to first see, “Okay I am the end result of a journey I’ve been on this long. In that journey I’ve learned or haven’t learned how to communicate. Nobody ever taught me.” You know what I mean? This whole communication in the stigma of mental health and all this kind of stuff that’s out right now it’s a newer movement. You know, when you go back to times, when I talk to my parents, like when they were younger and this and that? You just don’t sit down and talk to your parents about emotions. You just talk about the family trips and you talk about what’s going on and you talk to the other kids but nobody’s really talking to each other about serious stuff. And now as we started to realize that if you don’t do these things it starts to take a toll on the mind, the body, the spirit, the soul. We’re learning how to start communicating. So when you come in the recovery world you really start to understand the importance of it because it’s all about connection and communication is the bridge that connects two people to each other. Communication is the bridge that connects two people to each other so if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re frustrated with the dynamics of your family, the communication, that’s not happening first. You got to acknowledge you didn’t get here overnight okay? Then you got to acknowledge that based on everybody’s individual journey we’re all living in different worlds, we’re all aliens to each other. And you might be saying, well, what do you mean? We have the same last name, we have the same blood in our veins, we live in the same area, so what? I know 10 people that could be living in the same exact area that I’m living that are having completely different life experiences. It’s not even related if you really think about it but our mind tells us because this person is related to me I should be able to know how to communicate with them and they should know how to communicate with me. That’s categorically false.

So the next thing that happens is the goal of communication is to be able to learn how to bring all of these worlds together. When family members and loved ones start working a recovery program doing the self-awareness work and doing the identification of feelings work and doing all that kind of stuff it does create a common language of recovery that you can actually start to vibe and talk to each other a little bit better. That’s why oftentimes family members are suggested to go and do their own recovery. At first they’re like, “What do you mean? My loved one’s the one with the mental health issues. My loved one’s the one with addiction issues. Why do I have to do my work?” Because when they start working on themselves and improving if the family member doesn’t keep up you’re not going to be able to communicate with each other the same way when you were healthy. You wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other. So what happens here is that I want you to do this, so I’m going to tell you all the steps here so hopefully they help.

The number one thing you got to do if you’re struggling with communication with your family, whether that’s with your spouse or your loved ones is to remember that communication starts with self. If you want to learn how to communicate you have to start with yourself. What do I mean by that? Well, how well do you communicate with yourself? And this is not directed to the person who asked this question. This is for everyone watching – what does that mean to communicate with yourself? Well, how well do you actually know yourself? Do you know yourself in a way that you look at yourself and you recognize who and what you are, how you ended up where you ended up, why you ended up the way you ended up? Do you have all that awareness about the human being, that self? How well do you understand your emotions when you’re feeling sad, when you’re feeling angry, when you’re feeling frustrated, when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Can you internalize all of that and can you understand it? Can you get it? How well do you manage your own emotions? You see, at this point I’m not even talking about a spouse or a kid – focus on yourself. Here’s the thing – if you’ve recently gotten to recovery in the past year or two I promise you don’t know yourself that well. I promise you don’t know yourself that well. And what happens is as you start to gain a deeper understanding of self and you start to become at peace with yourself because remember this, it is only when you are at peace with yourself that you are at peace with the world. For example, if a parent has some guilt and shame about the way that they raised their kid and they’re not at peace with it, maybe there was a lot of moving, maybe there was an ugly divorce, maybe there was some trauma, abuse and that kind of stuff, and the parent feels bad that their loved one is struggling with anxiety and depression, and they’re not okay with themselves about it because they haven’t done their own work, that parent will always struggle with communicating with their kid. Because guess what, their own stuff shows up in the relationship – their own guilt shows up in the relationship, their own feeling of “Hey, I messed up” shows up in the relationship. So the first thing you got to do if you’re trying to learn how to communicate is you gotta start with yourself. You got to be a master communicator with yourself. And that’s the part that most people bypass. They say, “I’m going to learn how to communicate with someone else first,” and guess what happens? They get frustrated, they get overwhelmed, they get anxious, they get pissed off, they get annoyed, and all of a sudden they’re like, “Yeah, we just can’t communicate.” And most people don’t want to do that inner work, by the way. We’d rather just fix something externally. So it starts with self, ends with self.

The next thing that I got to tell people and this is something that clinicians learn in the clinic, in the clinical world. And I’ll relate this to the non-clinicians in the clinical world. They say a clinician will never ever be able to take a client as far as they’re willing to go themselves. So I can’t get a client or someone I’m working with to go really, really, really deep unless I’ve gone really, really deep. People are incapable of going places with others, having conversations with others that they’re not willing to have or have had with themselves. So if you stay surface level but you want your kid or your spouse to go deep it’ll never happen. You got to go deep first because then you’re able to take people down there with you. Because you can model it, you can show it, you can be vulnerable, you can talk about what you’ve discovered, what you’ve uncovered, what you’ve discarded. You can talk about what you’ve learned through the journey of self-exploration. Without doing that, how are you going to want someone to get deep with you?

Let’s see what Jim said here: “I have to learn to listen to understand and not listen to respond.” Yeah, I mean how about this? Just let’s listen at first – it’s not even to understand or to respond. The most powerful thing at first you could do is just listen. People show what they need to say, what they want to say and all that kind of stuff through listening and sometimes what is not said is also a message that it’s important to listen too. I had a parent one day say recently (actually I was at some family group and some parents said) “I’m so uncomfortable to talk to my kid. I don’t know what to say to my kid.” And I was like, “Well, first of all, you gotta go backwards – how about you just listen to your kid? Second of all I want you to know that your kid is probably even more uncomfortable to talk to you.” And the lady was like, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.” You know, a lot of times when we get into these mindsets like “I can’t fix this,” you just got to look back at yourself. And so it starts with self – how well can you communicate with yourself? How well do you know yourself? How well do you understand your emotions? And then conversations in life typically only go as deep as you’re capable or comfortable of going. What I mean by comfortable is, maybe your kid wants to share some things with you but they know that if they share them with you you’re going to get angry, you’re going to get pissed off, you’re going to get sad, you’re going to get scared, so guess what that kid’s gonna do? Not say anything to you. You know how many times in a therapy session people open up to the therapist of things they’ll never tell their family and you ask them, “Hey, why don’t you just bring this up with your family?” “Oh no no no no it’ll scare my mom,” “No no no no no it’ll piss off my guy, I can’t say these things to them.” So that’s what they’re working with and you’re wondering why are they not opening up to us and where do people come up with these visions and ideas and all that kind of stuff – stories from their past events, from their past incidents, from their past. There’s a really important thing to look at here and understand. Here is the reason why some people don’t talk to you in a specific situation – it’s because they haven’t felt comfortable or safe enough to do so. Why is that the case? Each person’s story is different and maybe you know why yours is.

So that’s the next one right there (and by the way, if anybody has any questions about what I’m saying, if you want specifics, if you have an example, if you have a question feel free to ask these, whether you’re in one of the detoxes watching this or a family member watching this or a loved one I don’t care, just ask the questions and I’ll answer them, I promise) So then the next one is after you understand the conversations are only going to go as deep as you’re willing to go or capable of going the next one is curb your expectations of what others should or shouldn’t do as it relates to communication. Curb your expectations. So if you think that someone should be opening up about X Y and Z on the timeline that you expect them to just curb that a little bit. Allow people to be where they are in their journey. There’s nothing wrong with someone being more open and receptive to communicating because maybe they’ve done their own work. Because remember, if someone’s really not talking to you it’s not just about you – it’s their own world, their own experience, what they are going through, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, the lack of connection that exists. And oftentimes when there’s addiction involved, my friends, addiction really separates people. Addiction disconnects people from their loved ones. Why is it? Because a lot of addiction happens in the dark there’s a lot of shame, there’s a lot of guilt, there’s a lot of anger, there’s a lot of pain, there’s a lot of trauma. When someone hasn’t dealt with all that stuff they can’t communicate well. How is somebody that’s super depressed about where they are in life or super pissed off about where they are in life going to sit there and just openly have a conversation? It’s not that easy. We want them to tell me everything, tell me what’s going on in your life, tell me what you know, but for them it might not be anything that they want to share and that’s okay because people are in different places at different times of the recovery. Some recover faster, some recover slower, some don’t recover, some just won’t recover, some don’t care about communication as others care about communication so control the things you can control, which is self. Your expectations, your understanding that everyone comes from a different world even though we’re all living in the same world. And then probably the best way to get the wheel going for any type of communication is to actually watch the improvement.

Yeah, that’s actually that’s a good one, Martha. First of all, Martha, Hi, what’s up Michigan fam? The best conversation seems to happen when there are no expectations and low stakes. I absolutely think that “the low expectation one is no expectation one” is wonderful because anything that happens is better than what you thought was gonna happen. And then low stakes, I mean that that could vary – some conversations could have even higher stakes but no expectations part 100% I agree. And again, it’s when we’re in the mindset to be able to be big enough and gracious enough to go into a conversation with no expectations. Do I think a recovering addict or an active addict can still learn to communicate well? I think it’s difficult and here’s the reason why – unless you have a really, really deep understanding of what active addiction is, unless you’re able to not take the behavior personal, as if you’re able to separate the person and their behavior, if you’re able to accept someone’s using and within some boundaries that you’ve established, maybe. But what I’ve learned is when someone’s in recovery and someone’s in active addiction there is going to be a conflict with how they live their life and what’s okay and what’s not okay in the emotional rollercoaster the recovering addict goes on. Because of someone’s relapses or because of someone’s behavior and this and that. So I think it takes a very very very unique dynamic to be able to do so. But I’ve seen it done. I mean, I know parents that, for example, the parents are in recovery and the loved one is not fully in recovery but they’re just kind of on and off on and off and they have like a decent relationship. I’ve seen it happen before but it’s not because that just happens automatically, it’s because the family’s done so much freaking work on themselves that they’re able to separate the person and the behavior. It’s nothing that can happen in early recovery – it’s practically impossible. And because it needs boundaries and I don’t think any family member or any recovering addict in early recovery has boundaries, not that they’re not capable of having boundaries – they just don’t know what they are. They don’t know what they will and won’t tolerate, they don’t know what they will or won’t accept, they don’t know why they even need to set up boundaries, but once those things are in place I think there could be some type of a communication that exists between human beings, for sure, but not right off the bat. I hope that
answered your question.

So I think one of the easiest ways to start improving communication in a family – so this is kind of where the the positive stuff starts to happen here – it’s for family members to come together and all agree on a specific day of the week, whether it’s weekly, whether it’s bi-weekly, whether it’s monthly, I wouldn’t say anything more than monthly because the consistency won’t be there, but it’s to have a family dinner. A lot of cultures are very big on family dinners, a lot of cultures really are. So for example, they say in recovery it’s really important to have a home group, a place that you go every single week no matter what. You know why it’s so important? It’s because people can see you week to week and see how you are once you get comfortable enough, you start opening up more, and being more vulnerable. I’ve never met a person that the first time they go to their home group they trust everyone and they communicate with everyone honestly and they’re open, they’re transparent – they’re vulnerable. Not one person. But that same person a year later raises their hand and cries to a group of people, raises their hand and says, “I’m scared, I’m lonely, I’m lost please.” Afterwards they start communicating with people, they give out their phone numbers, they connect, they go do social things together, they become a part of something. It didn’t happen the first time they went to the home group but over time because the commitment to continue going to the home group was there. Eventually it transformed. A family dinner is the same way. I mean, I’ve been going to my mom and dad’s house every single Sunday for at least 10 years without exaggeration. It’s not that every time it’s really good conversations and sometimes they’re more, sometimes they’re less, sometimes the conversations are vulnerable, about important life transitions that are happening, sometimes they’re just shooting the [ __ ] and joking around but it’s consistent, it’s consistent. And through this I’ve even watched my parents be able to talk about things and you know we say, “Hey, I just want to understand this better, I just want to learn this better, I want to learn your perspective.” We got into a really cool conversation last night about this. No one was right, no one was wrong, it was just different perspectives of the same situation and it was super respectful, super productive, but again we wouldn’t have been able to do that 10 years ago. So that’s why I’m saying you got to curb your expectations. If my mom or dad wanted to have a conversation we had last night 10 years ago everyone would have got frustrated, pissed off, annoyed, agitated and all that kind of stuff. So set a family dinner because I don’t know what your situation’s like, if there’s a distance maybe it’s like a family Zoom or a family FaceTime or something like that and it’s not like all the time, it’s just once a week. I think Italian culture does a really good job with family dinners. But whether it’s once a week family Zoom that everyone gets together and maybe the communication sucks the first time – it’s kind of like that piano you sit in front of it and you play Mary had a little lamb and you’re like, “Oh I don’t know if I can stomach too many more of these and then you go on the next family Zoom maybe a week later, maybe two weeks later and it still sounds like Mary had a little lamb. And you’re like, why is nobody improving, why is no one getting better? And then you go for the next month and the next month and the next month. Before you know it all of a sudden a Chopin song or like a Mozart song is being played three years later. It didn’t happen overnight – it was an accumulation of those family dinners that eventually thaws out people’s ice – it eventually thaws out people’s ice. And most people in the family, as long as there’s some type of a level of respect they are always able to say, “You know what, I can commit to 30 minutes on a family Zoom,” even if they don’t want to. Remember, there’s got to be some discipline in doing things you don’t want to do when you know you want to do them.

Yeah, expectations can kill communication with others, especially family, especially with family. Because the closer you are to people the higher the expectations. The higher the expectations, the lower the level of serenity. A lot of bad things can happen so when you are doing those family dinners I would strongly suggest that you talk only about the here and now. Don’t talk about the past. Let them deal with their own ways of dealing with their past. Nobody ever resolves the past of someone asking questions about it. You know you’re a clinician yourself – don’t talk about the future stuff that’s stressing you about their relationship or their life. You can talk about your own future stresses but don’t talk about their school schedule, their work schedule, their relationships, their finances, none of your business. If they want to talk about it they will, if they don’t want to talk about it, it’s cool, but stay in the here and now. Most families like going in the past, they like going in the future, they don’t want to be here right now. And if you’re someone in early recovery the last thing you want to do is start talking about your future with family members and stuff like that, when you’re just barely finding out which way is up. Sometimes you just need people to listen.

And then I would say to look for gradual and slow improvements, not significant ones. Gradual and slow improvements, not significant ones. Because a lot of times people look for the big changes. “Oh, my kids, oh I can’t wait for my kid to open up to me and tell me everything.” Trust me, they’re not. I mean, that’s the truth – they rarely open up and tell everything to a therapist they don’t know, let alone to a mom or dad that knows them – you know that’s not gonna happen. It’s like a dream that people like myself with my mom and dad – I’m open, transparent – there’s 25% of my life that I’m not sharing with my parents. There’s no need for them and imagine if they’re like, “Oh, I just need that last 25%,” so there you have to accept the fact that is small and gradual. So someone’s showing up consistently for the call when they wouldn’t do it before is a win. Someone’s asking you, “Hey, how you doing?” it’s a win. Someone’s saying “What can I do to help you out this week?” is a win. It doesn’t have to be significant changes because remember over time it will change. That’s just the way life works. If you do anything consistently it gets better.

And then the next one right here is don’t get discouraged if it is not reciprocated. Continue to model what it is that you want to see. So let’s say you come on the call and you’re talking about yourself, you’re here and now, maybe you’re able to get a little vulnerable because you’ve been doing some work on yourself, maybe you’re able to share some emotions because you’re doing some work on yourself, and on the other side the person’s just like, “I’m good, this week was good, everything was good,” don’t get discouraged saying, “But I’m trying so hard, how come you’re not trying?” Because remember maybe they’re not doing the work that you’re doing, maybe they aren’t investing in themselves the way you’re investing, so how could the outcome be the same during communication? It can’t be. We want it to be but it can’t be. Maybe your upbringing was healthier than their upbringing. You know those are the two different worlds we live in and so you can’t get discouraged and say, “Well I tried, I did my part, nobody else wants to try, so I don’t want to do this anymore.” Guess what’s going to happen in that case? Continued communication problems within the family. And by the way, when you do that you disconnect from yourself too – you’ll start to go inward, you’ll start to suppress, you’ll start to disconnect, you’ll start to isolate, and you’re back to square one.

I have this analogy that I love teaching and it’s called the 50 yard line. In relationships I want you to think of a football field – an American football field – it has an end zone which is where the touchdown happens on both sides and then it goes 10 yards, 20 yards, 30 yards, 40 yards and 50 yards right down the middle. So relationships are like a football field – it’s got a hundred total yards, the 50 yard line’s in the middle. The goal of every relationship, the goal of every communication when it comes to families (I’m not talking about professionals when it comes to families) is to come to the 50-yard line. We are responsible for showing up, to getting on the field and showing up to the 50-yard line, not the 51, not all the way the other side. You stand there and you communicate. If your loved ones on this side don’t come on the field you did your part. Sometimes we want to go grab them and say, “Hey, come over here, that’s codependency,” but let them be where there are. You come to the 50-yard line and then the next day you go to the 50 again, whether they come on the field, or don’t come on the field, whether they meet you at the 50 or don’t meet you in the 50, it’s out of your control. There is nothing you can do to force somebody to come talk to you the way you want them to talk to you if they don’t want to do it. If they don’t want to do it they’re not going to do it. Now what happens is people say, “I’ve been coming to the 50-yard line all this time, you never make an effort, so you know what, I’m not coming on the 50-yard line anymore. I’m just going to do exactly what it is you’re doing.” People do this all the time and guess what? No one’s on the field and what I’ve noticed and what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced is that people who continuously, despite of the other outcomes, show up to the 50-yard line, eventually people start to come too. Because guess what, they look and they know that they’re going to be there. They trust that they’re going to be there they feel safe knowing that they’re going to be there and what happens in that case is eventually communication happens, eventually it gets better. A lot of codependent families go and not only do they go to the 50 they go to the tunnel, they go to the back and they go to the parking lot, trying to find their person to pull them on the field. That’s going to get drained, that one gets tiring. So in any relationship you got to do your part. Control what you can control and just model what it is that you want to see. If you want your loved ones to talk more about their emotions – ready for the key? You talk about your emotions. You want your loved ones to talk about their goals, their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations? Guess what you do? You talk about your goals, hopes, dreams, aspirations – not theirs, yours. You want others to realize the things that are important, you want them to talk about the things that are important to them, talk about the things that are important to you. Talk about the things that are important to you. Eventually when people realize that someone’s primarily focused on themselves and their own stuff they’ll start sharing a little nugget about their own but what people want to do is like, “Hey, so tell me what’s important to you, tell me what your goals are, what your dreams are.” If they want to tell you they’ll tell you, that’s the whole thing I’m trying to get at here. It all starts with self. Model what it is you want to see.

Tony, Tone, what’s up? Martha, yeah the parking lot – you’ve been to a few parking lots yourself. Just show up to the 50-yard line – if your loved one shows up to the 50s on your part then. So what I’m saying right here by the way, I understand is difficult – it’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow because you know people want to go look at the seven steps to effective communication like, listen, be calm, have respect – I mean I get all that stuff but none of it says look at your own self first. None of that stuff you find online says get to know yourself and learn how to communicate and be honest and authentic and sincere with yourself and then watch the ripple effects come in your world. So knowing that this is difficult, knowing that this is challenging, knowing that this is hard, knowing that this is work, it’s very important to make sure that you have your own outlets and communication like support groups, counseling, sponsorship, therapy, journaling because it can get lonely. It’s like, if I’m the one trying and nobody else is trying at least the way I’m trying it feels a little discouraging but guess what, go tell the support people that are willing to listen, go right in your journal about all the frustrations, go in the night time and start telling the stars – you might look a little crazy but get it off your chest and the hope is that they’re also doing the same. And if they’re not, at least you don’t lose connection to yourself. Just remember that sometimes it’s not the family communication that we truly are looking for, it’s just the fact that we want and need to be seen, we want the need to be heard, we want the need to be connected. I promise that connection sometimes if it comes from an external source and not a family member it’s not the same, I get it, but it still fulfills a little bit about that need of being connected to others and being able to articulate and not feel alone in this thing called life. Somewhere along the line we thought that in order to not feel alone you have to have a specific family unit. Some people have extended family, some people have family of choice, sometimes you might be closer to a friend than you’ll ever be with a partner or spouse, you might have a best friend in life, you might have a person – a support person – a peer that you’re able to open up to and have deep level conversations that your spouse or your loved one or your child will never have, so why not embrace what we can get and have those and be fulfilled? And then when we hang out with the loved ones and stuff we just have communication that improves. By the way, I’ve yet to meet any family member that communicates with each other all the time doesn’t have good communication – we just want it to come quickly. Always remember, if you’re having a hard time communicating with your loved ones (this is a Sandy family member) I promise you, your loved one, especially if they had eviction problems, they have a much harder time communicating and relating with you than you’ll ever understand.

I just typed this one up – I don’t know if any of it made sense – I hope it did but I want the takeaway from this talk was to realize that it doesn’t happen overnight and if you want to improve your family communication start with self. It is only when you’re at peace with yourself that you’re at peace with the world and the people, places and things in it, including your family. So if you guys want, whoever’s watching this, maybe write a few takeaways from today’s talk, just write a comment of like, “Hey this this part helped me or this part I need some more clarity or clarification and just like our friend Bita did, she wrote me a message Facebook and said, “Hey, I have a suggestion for a topic.” She didn’t say do this – she just suggested it – which is really really cool. If you have a suggestion for a topic that you want me to talk about send it to me. I will follow through and I will create something for you that will hopefully help you out. By the way this talk wasn’t just for Bita – every single person watching this, including myself, benefited from a talk on communication, and a polite reminder that instead of looking for it elsewhere start with self. So yeah, there you go – “focus on self, yes made sense, I’m good.” Eileen, you’re my checks and balances to know if the rambling that I do for 40 minutes straight makes sense or not but I’m really glad it was. And what did Cheryl say? “focus on self first, family dinner next week.” Damn right, that’s cool and by the way if it’s like I just have a vanilla family dinner and it’s not that exciting it’s okay continue doing it over time and watch the trust build in the family. Oh man, “If I did at home what I do at work I’d be good.” I know, we’re so much better in some different aspects of our lives because what happens Martha is, at work we’re voided of emotions like the deep emotions? At home we are triggered by emotions. What did Tiff say here? Good! Share it with your clients. Hey, you can share any one of my talks with your clients and stay committed to the path and thank you for what you do in the work of healing others. “No rambling, great sharing.” Good, Jim. Thanks again, Paul, you’re welcome my man, thank you for being here every week. Jess, welcome back consistently again, hopefully this helped you. Love and appreciate all of you. I will see you back next week – same time, same place for another family education support group. Take care, everyone!

Kelsey Gearhart

Director of Business Development

Kelsey carries multiple years of experience working in the substance abuse and mental health treatment field. Her passion for this field comes from her personally knowing recovery from addiction.

Prior to Buckeye she held titles of Recovery Coach, Operations Director, and Admissions Director. Kelsey was brought on at Buckeye Recovery as the Director of Business Development. She has a passion for ensuring every individual gets the help that they need, and does so by developing relationships with other providers.

Kelsey also oversees our women’s sober living environments – The Chadwick House for Women. She is committed to creating a safe, nurturing, and conducive environment for all women that walk through the doors of Chadwick.