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When progressing in recovery from any addiction, every person faces challenges. One of those challenges is a reaction from someone closest to them.

No one starts recovery with a “clean slate;” everyone in recovery has a history that includes denial, secrets, excuses, manipulations, impaired thinking, compulsive behaviors and more. Their past behaviors may have eroded trust from others, and they often have a long road to rebuild what was lost.

Because of eroded trust, the recovering person frequently can experience seemingly knee-jerk reactions from those close to them in response to conversations or behaviors, even when there has been no “acting out” activity. These reactions would seem to come from nowhere, but they’re actually a normal response from those who have experienced the recovering person’s previous life of addiction. These reactions can be likened to what is called a hair-trigger. Webster defines a hair-trigger as “immediately responsive to the slightest stimulus.”

When family and friends of people with addictive disorders are exposed to something that reminds them of the past, they often have an immediate hair-trigger reaction that takes them back to the sense of pain, betrayal and loss they have experienced in their relationships. In response, the recovering person often will resent and reject the response, and become defensive and argumentative. This unhealthy response does not promote a trust-building environment, but rather continues to erode trust.

Instead of becoming defensive and argumentative, the recovering person can employ a simple acrostic developed by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. and the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). It outlines a healthy way for recovering people to respond when they experience a hair-trigger reaction from others.

S:  Stop and give him/her undivided attention.
U: Understand where he/she is coming from. (Listen.)
P: Provide empathy. (“That must feel awful to you.”)
P: Provide validation. (“I can understand why you feel that way.”)
O: Openness (Be open and honest if he/she has questions.)
R: Remorse (Demonstrate remorse and accountability.)
T: Touch. (Provide physical comfort, if the individual is open to it.)

By following this simple acrostic, those in recovery will be able to better communicate with their loved ones and help create an environment of reestablishing trust and promoting growth and healing.

The Chemical Dependency Recovery Group at New Leaf Center meets on Mondays from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The group process addresses the root of what drives chemical dependency; tools to strengthen multi-level recovery; and relapse prevention. To join the group, call our office at (407) 644-8588 to schedule a screening appointment with the group facilitator.

Yale Kushner, M.A., RMHCI, CSATC