Who's Going to Take Out the Trash?
The day-to-day life of a recovering addict is going to look very different from his “using” days. It will look different for his family also. In the beginning, neither the recovering addict nor his family may know what to expect. There may also be lingering resentments and blame held by family members who had to pick up the slack prior to recovery.
Even after recovery begins, the addict may be so focused on the process of recovery (attending support groups, outpatient therapy, and so forth) that family members may feel that nothing has changed in terms of household responsibilities. A time for clearing the air is in order.
Taking on excessive commitments at home, or at work, out of guilt because of irresponsible behavior while engaging in one's addiction is counterproductive. One should also beware of trying to pay back family members with gifts, promises, or taking over their chores. If possible, part-time responsibilities are appropriate as recovery is being established. Balance is the key.
Depending on the severity of the situation, family therapy may be helpful in working through painful feelings. The recovering addict will need to take responsibility for not being present, physically or emotionally, to take out the trash, repair the dishwasher, and help with laundry. A parent will need to own up to the fact that he didn't take time to help children with their homework. Family members will need an opportunity to respectfully express feelings they've held toward the addict around these issues.
Family members also need to take responsibility for behaving disrespectfully toward the addict, for purposely hurting her to get even for their own pain, and for not taking care of themselves emotionally. These are only examples of the dynamics that will likely need to be worked through before a realignment of household responsibilities can take place successfully. At this point, a family meeting will be helpful to discuss with one another each member's responsibility for managing the household. Expectations need to be clear and understanding affirmed.
Lying and unkept promises may be used to try and smooth over difficult family situations and painful emotions. These are old and familiar coping mechanisms for the addict, and therefore comfortable to slip back on. However, for the addict in recovery, these tactics won't work.
While the recovering addict may fully desire the establishment of a healthy household, he may also have feelings of fear and ambivalence. He may fear that he won't measure up, that he'll fail, or that he'll relapse and spoil everything once again. The ambivalence is that, in spite of his fears, he wants more than anything to move forward with recovery. And recovery means taking responsibility.
Initially, the recovering addict will need to be honest about what he's able to do around the house. Solid recovery is still the primary objective for the recovering addict. He may have therapy sessions to attend, twelve-step support meetings to attend, medical appointments to keep, legal issues to attend to, and/or community service to perform.
There may also be a learning curve to consider as the recovering addict is learning how to do household skills never before attempted. Patience, understanding, and kindness will be necessary for everyone to get through this phase of change.