How do people change? Over time. With stops and starts, along a crooked line. With practice. With a little help-sometimes a lot of help. With anguish. With effort. With joy. The point is that change is hard for everyone.
Over thirty years ago, two psychologists developed the "Stages of Change" model that we use today to help clients and families gain insight into making changes in behaviors. It's important to remember that people do not move between these stages in a straightforward way. Instead, they tend to move back and forth, so it helpful to think of the stages as a spiral rather than a straight line.
Stages of Change
For you, this stage is sometimes termed "denial". There is a complete focus on trying to change the behavior of the addict and being unaware of any reason to change your own behavior. For the client, they choose to believe that "ignorance is bliss" and aren't aware or even considering their behavior is a problem. The client needs support with self-exploration and personalizing the apparent risks.
You begin to reflect on your reactions and responses and wondering if they are even helpful. You begin to question your own behavior and begin to explore some alternatives. The client starts considering change and weighing benefits and cost of change; mostly remaining ambivalent by "sitting on the fence". The client receives support with evaluating pros and cons and identifying new, positive outcome expectations.
You decide change is needed upon realizing that nothing else has been helpful.You develop a plan of action while seeking help and support. The client decides to make a change and appears ready to participate. Mostly "testing the waters" and experimenting with small changes. The client receives support with problem solving - overcoming obstacles and small initial steps are encouraged.
You put your plans into effect. You are evaluating your new behaviors and observing what is working and what is not. You are actively working toward your goals. The client is modifying behaviors and taking action by attending meetings, calling a sponsor, reconnecting with family, getting a job, etc. The focus in on restructuring cues and social support and combating feelings of loss while reiterating long-term benefits.
Finally, things don't seem so difficult anymore. You see the benefits of changes you've made and are much more intuitive when making decisions. The client has some level of stability and has made a continued commitment to sustaining new behaviors. The old symptoms and behaviors are gone. Establishing a plan for follow-up support, reinforcing internal rewards, and discussing coping with relapse are all part of the support given to clients.
Relapse and Recycle
Despite best intentions, you slip back into old ways of responding. Don't beat yourself up as this is quite normal. Learn from your mistakes and get back on track. A relapse for a client is not a sign of failure; it is a learning experience and time to evaluate what went wrong in the maintenance plan. A need to evaluate triggers, plan stronger coping strategies, and reassess motivation and barriers are areas the client explores in treatment and aftercare.
"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves".
For the family, a program of recovery challenges us to change ourselves by learning new ways of coping with our own situations. We change our words, feelings, attitudes, actions and reactions, so that serenity can enter our lives despite problems that may remain unresolved. When we change ourselves, we provide an opportunity for our addicted loved one to also choose recovery.