From Dysfunction to Resilience: A Good Road to Travel © Tom Ersin 2023. This is the current installment from the serialized publication of this distinctive self-help book.

Chapter 3: Recovery


The first step toward recovery from any disorder is to become educated about that disorder. This especially is true for stress-related issues. The most important purpose of recovery education for families with substance use disorder, emotional/physical abuse, etc. is not to fix the bad behavior. It’s to help the other members get well, no matter what path the principal takes. This may or may not involve “letting go with love,” that is, separating from the perpetrator.

Chemical dependence and codependency education for the family might increase the chances of recovery for the principal. It also might have no effect on that person. The goal is for family members to learn how to get well: to learn that they have no control over this person, but they can control their own reactions.

Good sources of information are educational materials from, and attendance at, support groups such as (for people in relationships with alcohol dependents), (for people in relationships with [other] drug dependents), (Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families), (Co-Dependents Anonymous), and (for family and friends of anyone with chemical dependency or other dysfunction). There also are many books on the subject by authors such as Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, Charles Whitfield, Janet Woititz, Robert Subby, Ernie Larsen, and Pia Melody, to name a few.

Many people also choose a combination of individual and/or family counseling, even if not all members are willing to attend. A competent therapist can provide education about relationship dynamics and an unbiased, unemotional sounding board to help clarify a path forward.

Avoid Isolation

One characteristic of living in a household with dysfunction is social isolation. Often over time, partners and children find themselves avoiding other people because of shame and embarrassment. It’s also common for friends and acquaintances to avoid the family to avoid the boorish presence of the principal.

Living in a state of social isolation causes the troubled home life to seem normal — because this is all family members see. They rely more and more on the principal for approval and may begin to believe a negative view of themselves and the world. In isolation, the person with codependency loses the contrast of seeing how other people, those unaffected by the presence of serious dysfunction in the home, interact in a healthy way with each other and the world.

Consider support group meetings as a key antidote to isolation. These groups are a reminder that you’re not alone and that others have experienced and recovered from the same issues you’re currently going through.

Refuse to Enable

Enabling refers to activities that make it easier for principals to continue their damaging lifestyle. Examples range from buying liquor for them to calling in sick for them because they’re too hungover to go to work. Making excuses for the person’s poor behavior while intoxicated or in a rage is enabling. Making excuses to the kids for broken promises is enabling. Acting like nothing happened the morning after a night of violent uproar in the home is enabling.

Enabling is anything that helps — enables — a dependent to use chemicals or abuse people, and helps — enables — that person to avoid the consequences of that use or abuse.

Stopping enabling accomplishes two things:

1) It shows the principal you’re not going to condone the poor behavior and pretend it’s normal, which might help that person see the reality of the problem sooner.

2) It’s a way of taking back control of your own decisions, emotions, and perceptions.

Maybe you can’t stop the damaging behavior, but you can refuse to support it and refuse to act as if it is acceptable. Interfering with the lie and encouraging the truth helps you regain self-confidence and self-esteem.

Seek Help

If a loved one breaks a leg or becomes infected with a dangerous virus, you would seek help. A loved one who perpetuates harmful activities should be no different. In fact, it’s more important in this case to seek assistance because the entire family is affected by this disorder. Though its onset is slower than a broken bone or dangerous infection, chemical dependency, rage, or emotional/physical abuse is no less serious. People can become severely injured and children can be scarred emotionally for life.

Again, legitimate support groups are helpful. This is not therapy, but it can be guidance from others who have been through what you’re going through.

Some people choose to add professional family counseling to this mix. These therapists are trained experts who can answer your questions and provide a detached, objective view of your situation. This is important because in homes with substance use disorder, emotional/physical abuse, or other harmful conditions it’s easy to lose sight of what is normal.

If any family member’s employer offers access to an employee assistance program, aka an EAP, this is a great resource for free and confidential counseling, education, and referrals. The boss (or anyone else), by law, cannot know who uses the EAP. Consult the employer website or human resources department for more information.

Al-Anon and CoDA

The most effective format for talking with others who understand is the loosely organized, free, and nonprofessional support group. Al-Anon has been the model for helping family members affected by alcohol use disorder. Like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon learned long ago that talking and listening to others who have been through the same challenges is a powerful aid in facing those challenges.

Seeking support through groups like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, CoDA, or Families Anonymous may or may not help the principal recover. This is not the group’s primary purpose. Its purpose is to provide education and support for the emotional well-being of parents, guardians, spouses, partners, and children, no matter what the principal’s outcome is.

There are myths surrounding Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, CoDA, and other family groups:

  • “Al-Anon pushes you to leave your spouse or partner with alcohol use disorder.”
  • “CoDA pushes you to stay with your spouse or partner who is abusive, for the kids’ sake.”
  • “You become dependent on the group.”

These all are false. There is no one answer for everyone, however, different group members share what has worked for them. Some information might not resonate with you. Or one of these stories may be just what you need to hear. A common saying at meetings is, “Take what you can use and leave the rest.” Additionally, some people stay with the group for long periods because they value the support. Others go for only a few meetings or go only periodically.

Check out these groups’ websites for educational information, meeting directories, and other resources. Find a group that fits your needs based upon geography, culture, language, accessibility, and scheduling.

Interventions for Chemical Dependency

An intervention is an attempt or opportunity to interrupt the dependent’s addictive cycle. The goal is to break through the denial and create a moment of clarity, a glimpse for the principal of her or his true dependency problems.

Regarding chemical dependency interventions, you might have seen examples on TV of a clinical “Johnsonian Surround” 3-1 (named after Vernon Johnson, MD), which have the dependent tricked into a meeting with family members, friends, and a counselor who confront the person with chemical dependence about the harmful compulsion.

There are other types of interventions: 

  • Occupational: Due to poor job performance (intoxication at work, excessive absences, etc.), dependents might be presented with a choice of seeking treatment or losing their job.
  • Judicial: Due to legal problems (driving under the influence, theft, domestic abuse, etc.), an enlightened judge might offer the dependent a choice of treatment or jail time.
  • Medical: Due to medical issues (liver disease, lung damage, etc.), a doctor might tell persons with chemical dependency that they either must quit drinking/using or face premature death.
  • Domestic: Due to relationship challenges, the spouse or partner might present the dependent with the choice of seeking treatment or losing this relationship.■

[Tom Ersin holds degrees in communications and counseling. He’s examined long-term dysfunction from both sides of the counselor-client relationship and from within his own nuclear and extended families.] Click here to purchase book. Please leave a rating.