Overcoming Barriers to Communication in Recovery

May 22, 2017
Johann Kassim

The disease of addiction clouded how addicts related to others.  It was a disease of perception. Isolated and lost in the self; they did not know how to communicate as addicts. But, in recovery, we learn how to overcome barriers to communication. It's like learning how to talk once again.

Recovery is a second childhood. Addicts learn how to be part of society and live with life as it stands. They do this by understanding themselves and others. Like everything else, they get good at it over time. It will be a painful, scary, and embarrassing process in the beginning. As they progress, they'll realise like with recovery, it was all worth the effort.

As a result of active addiction, addicts have lost the ability to communicate with others. It's for this reason why training addicts in communication is essential. A great majority of relapses have resulted from poor communication skills. Addicts have been unable to relate to their loved ones in mutual understanding. Hence, communication training is vital in any treatment centre.

At The Solace Sabah, we train our clients to communicate through group therapy. Here, addicts are able to understand why they were misunderstood in the past. What actions create problems, and what actions are helpful. Also, they learn how to be honest in both motive and expression. When there is clarity in communication, recovery becomes that much easier. Addicts can enjoy the love and support of others. It's because communication is at the core of relationships.

What is recovery?

Addiction is a traumatic and traumatising illness. It came from a painful, unresolved past. As long as it continues, it traumatises. It leaves the addict in the unresolved past, stuck in the pain of living. The longer this goes on, the harder it is to live. It's for this reason that addicts need to get treatment as soon as possible. This disease gets worse, never better, over time. We have written an article about "How Childhood Trauma Affects addiction." Click on this link to know more.

Recovery is not about being free from the drugs and addictive behaviours. These were solutions to a painful life. The addictions medicated the existential pain of past trauma. If the trauma goes unaddressed, the addiction will crop back. Hence, addicts relapse in this disease.

Recovery is about freedom from this painful past. It's about addressing the issues of the traumatic past. What went on? How did I deal with it then? Can I change? Am I willing to change? Recovery is about overcoming trauma by changing how we communicate with others. It is about addressing the barriers to honest, fulfilling relationships.

A good start in this direction is by understanding the barriers to communication. Once known, these barriers will no longer function as the blocks, they once were. With that, relief from much pain will allay the need to return to active addiction. In other words, effective communication is the key to lasting recovery.

Barriers to Communication in Recovery

The pain of life, which is the pain of not existing is known as “existential pain.” Barriers to communication were the blocks that made life painful. It stopped us from being who we were. When we deny ourselves the right to be, we will suffer pain. In truth, there is nothing that can treat this pain except honest communication. But, in our past, we found that addiction did the trick, until it couldn't do it anymore. It was at the core of addiction and comprised the following barriers:

Low Self-Esteem

We didn't like the people we had become. We felt ashamed of ourselves. These feelings created low self-esteem. With a low image of ourselves, we acted in ways that pushed people away from getting to know us. We ran away from intimacy. We did not want to be vulnerable for fear that others would confirm our lowly state. At other times, we encouraged this view from others by the way we acted. All this happened because at one time or another, we had lost the right to exist due to past trauma. In other words, the shame of that event had kept us in a limbo of worthlessness.

Perfectionism

We felt we needed to be perfect in everything we did, even in our communication towards others. We saw that every interaction needed scripting. It was a planned process. We were not ourselves. Nor did we know what being ourselves was. We were rigid and interacted with others based on context and not on relationships. We had to get everything right, or else it was wrong. There was no humanity in our thinking. All this happened because we did not feel that we were deserving of unconditional love. We experienced love as being conditional on whether we obeyed the rules or failed at it. It's exhausting to communicate when one exists this way. Being perfect or a failure was what isolated us from the world.

Dishonesty

We did not tell the truth. We didn't even live the truth. We were in constant denial of our reality. The trauma was so devastating that we had convinced ourselves that we had to act, to play our role right. We manipulated others to suit our agenda. We made stories up about the world, ourselves, and others. These stories justified our using/drinking behaviour. In the end, we even lied to ourselves that our life depended on addiction. Our dishonesty was born out of fear of the truth. It's because the truth was too painful to face that we continued to use/drink. Dishonesty was our way of life. In the end, nobody would believe us because they knew what we were all about. It's hard to communicate with others when you're the target of suspicion.

Lack of Boundaries

We were either walled up or a loose cannon. We did not want others to have any concern or love towards us. Nor did we show any concern or love towards others. It wouldn't be too jarring to say that we were living on a separate planet to others. There was no interaction. This was the condition of walling ourselves up to the world.

We also went to the other extreme. We were all over the place. We had no boundaries. We got involved in affairs that did not concern us. We personalised everything. We were hyper-sensitive and judgmental about the world around us.

Our lack of boundaries happened because others had crossed our boundaries. Either through abuse or other traumatic events, we felt that was how the world worked. Not knowing who to trust and who to keep away from; we were afraid of communicating with others. We had yet to learn that love came in trustworthy relationships.

Shame

We felt ashamed because of what we did in the past. We would belittle ourselves when others spoke to us. We allowed others to persecute us. We did not stand up to our rights as human beings. We wallowed in senseless guilt and shame because our lives had not been up to par. Yet, our standard was nothing but perfection itself.  We did not show compassion for ourselves or for others. We could not communicate because shame silenced us. It hid our reality from the world. We had yet to find dignity in being alive. Instead, we found false pride in our splendid isolation.

Inauthenticity / Masks

We were not what we showed. We had become specialists in masking our truth with roles. At some occasions, we could be the rescuer, gangster, or even the clown. At others, we could be the lecturer, prophet, or master. What was clear was that we were never ourselves. Every interaction had a scripted presentation based on an accepted character. We were everything to everyone. We wanted to please to the point of self-sacrifice. We did this because we did not believe that others would accept us as we were. Again, relating to past hurt. It's difficult to communicate when all that is present is an actor/actress.

Aggression / Timidity

We were either aggressive or timid. We were rageful with others. Or we were placid to assert ourselves. There was no middle-ground. We felt entitled to get our own way. We either sought our wants through active pursuit. Or we went around in self-pity, passively hoping that others would give in. We had yet to develop assertive means at getting our needs met. Some of us confused needs with wants and vice-versa. A need is an essential for life. A want is what entitles us to something. Addicts only want what they want, and they want it now. To live in recovery, we need to separate what we need from what we want. It's only by doing this that we can communicate those needs with those we love. There is no communication when you go about scheming for things to go your way all the time.

How to Overcome the Barriers to Communication in Recovery

In recovery, we learn how to overcome these barriers to communication. We want to be different people. We want to grow up and have mature, intimate relationships. We do not want to harp back to the days when we shunned ourselves from others. The pain of that drove us to madness.

It's important to hone these skills so that we are open to the world. Though, open in our own, unique way. Not in a way that's fashionable or as a means to please others. The only way to overcome the barriers is to be uniquely "you" in every sense of that word. Below are some of the skill-sets you will need to do this:

Self-assertion

You need to assert yourselves. As human beings, you have needs. But, your wants had been clouding what they were. You need to be clear about what you need from others. Honest expression about your needs as well as your vulnerabilities will help you. People can begin to know what makes you tick and who you are. For some, it may mean moving away from dependent relationships. While for others, it may mean beginning one with a trusted individual. In establishing healthy boundaries, each person gets their needs met in mutual respect.

Self-compassion

Have compassion for yourself. Fill yourself up with loving kindness. Say positive things to perk yourself up. It's important to start by loving yourself first. Only then can you begin to extend that love for others. What's evident in the barriers is a lot of self-sacrificing behaviour. Stop sacrificing your well-being for the perceived "benefit" of others. Nurture yourself and let the rest happen.

Engage with others

It's only through actual social engagement that we learn the "dos" and "don'ts" of society. It's a language in and of itself. Learn to read nonverbal social cues like body language and facial expression. Learn when things are appropriate to say and when they're not. Have the courage to make mistakes and the open-mind to accept feedback. Such changes are painful, but in time, it's doable.

Humility

Life is an equalising force. We don't always get our way. But, we do get what we need. Understanding this, we can learn to let go and surrender. Humility at first may be embarrassing. But, later you'll find that it is the bread and butter for honest, open relationships. People want to approach individuals who can accommodate others at their level. It's the best antidote for hubris and isolationism. It doesn't mean that we go around pleasing people to no end. It means that we discern where we can and where we can't. We’ve written about humility in recovery. You can access it from our in-house article, titled: Recovery and Humility: The dispatch of the ego.

Have empathy for others

Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is a personal connection with the troubles of others. Sympathy is a feeling of pity for a troubled person. The difference is where you place yourself. Do you feel the plight or are you a bystander? Empathy involves getting to know people at the level of their heart. Doing that takes letting them into your own heart.

Communications Training at The Solace Sabah

The Solace Sabah is a community detox facility. It means that you will have the company of peers in recovery. These are individuals who are struggling, like yourself, to get treatment from their addictions. We have found that community detoxification is most suited for treating addiction. Healing together has immense power. And it also teaches addicts how to socialise. In that respect, we train our clients communication skills through the following:

Community of Recovering Addicts

Your peerage will be your support group. Interactions will take place and will get processed at group therapy. The Interpersonal Group Therapy (IPGT) is an arena for learning about social interactions. There, you will learn how your actions have affected others and vice-versa. There's much insight from these daily sessions. At the same time, it encourages healthy interactions between clients as a peer group.

Lecture-Workshops

Various lectures or workshops will get conducted with the theme of social immersion. They consist of workshops on the various masks we've used in active addiction. Also, there will be weekly peer review sessions. These sessions allow us for honest feedback from our peers. It's also a place where we can plan social goals and have them reviewed the following week.

Solace Transitions "Levelling"

Levelling is an advanced form of interpersonal group therapy. It's conducted in the Solace Transitions Program. This program is for clients who wish to stay beyond their primary treatment. As these clients live in a sober dwelling, they will need to process their issues more intimately. Levelling allows clients to express their feelings with each other. There are pointers on how to do that. A strict format is observed.

Solace "Aftercare Group"

The aftercare group is an important venue for sharing current trials in recovery. It is a forum for those who have been discharged from our facility. In this group, feedback is given based on the challenges faced in the outside world. It’s mostly conducted online by our in-house clinical support staff. It’s important in the early days to be accountable for one’s actions. This forum enables addicts to get that support they need for up to 18 months’ post-treatment. The aftercare at Solace Sabah is free of charge and inclusive with the treatment.

The Pain of Relating & Finding the Real You

What addiction really is, is the pain of relating to others. In life, we have failed to establish any meaningful relationship. In that, we have failed to have a meaningful life. It's because life without others is a meaningless existence. As you've seen in active addiction, life needs company. We need people who can support us and love us in that journey. You or a loved one can begin that process with us at The Solace Sabah. We will accept and love you till you learn to do the same for yourselves and those around you. At The Solace, you will learn how to make peace with your past and live in a life worthy of you.

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