Communication Skills: Essential to Rehab and to Life
The list of losses an addict suffers is long: jobs, money, prestige, marriage or relationship, car, driving privileges, friends. It can be a long road from beginning substance or alcohol abuse to rock bottom, and facing up and entering treatment is a huge step. Often the biggest issues in the losses are not the high dollar ones; they involve facing loved ones and owning up to some pretty big indecencies.
The road to recovery most often means learning to talk about the most difficult things you have ever had to face. This may be the first time you’ve ever talked about anything like this. Some might even tell you that avoiding emotional pain is the reason they used in the first place. Communication skills have long since gone by the wayside or never existed at all.
It’s no wonder that people with alcohol and substance abuse problems rarely make it on their own. It’s not a matter of just saying no – it requires skills that take real learning, practice and support, skills that can often best be learned through a treatment center. A 2012 study found that 65.4% of surveyed mental health and addiction practitioners found communication skills training to be a necessary facet of treatment when seeking placement.
Difficulties Faced in Recovery
The same study found that newly recovering drug addicts and alcoholics report similar problems in communication:
• Issues related to conflict resolution
• Communication skills deficits
• Difficulty maintaining boundaries
• Poor social skills development
• Social anxiety and social isolation
Counselors likewise reported them to have problems in the following areas:
• Difficulty with problem solving
• Inability to communicate personal needs and feelings
• Difficulty setting and following boundaries
• Difficulty getting along with others in general
This is not new information; the study simply documents what counselors and addicts alike have known for years. Good social and communication skills affect three major areas of recovery in life:
1. The ability to say no to alcohol or drugs in any setting
2. The ability to interact appropriately in social settings where drugs or alcohol will be present
3. The ability to get along socially with friends, family and co-workers
Five Skills to Develop
Survival post-treatment depends on the development, practice and adaptation of effective communication skills:
• Develop listening skills
• Learn to hear yourself
• Take yourself out of the center
• Learn to compromise
• Respond with honesty and integrity
Develop Listening Skills
It’s essential to stop reacting to what’s being said. Defenses have built up over the course of use and it’s been a long time since listening happened. This is about slowing the process way down until you can hear all of what’s being said, the language, the feelings and the intent, before you respond. It takes time and it takes a lot of practice in a group setting to learn to truly hear again.
Learn to Hear Yourself
It’s hard to imagine how you sound to others. Through the process of video-taping and working in a group, you can learn to see how you truly appear. It can be hard to face. But with this information, you can make active decisions about whether this is truly the person you want to portray to others and make adjustments accordingly.
Take Yourself Out of the Center
For the addict or alcoholic, life has become “all about me.” That’s not how the rest of the world feels. Learning that you are not the center of the universe and readjusting your world accordingly can be very difficult work. Learning how to be one part of a whole is an important social skill to learn before you go out into the world again.
Learn to Compromise
Conflict resolution skills are important to every aspect of life. Making decisions, setting goals and working with others all require the skill of compromise. Working in groups in a rehab setting is great training to learn this valuable skill, and it will serve you in more ways than you can imagine.
Respond with Honesty and Integrity
Beginning to get in touch with these inner qualities is the beginning of re-establishing trust with others. Often the process of obtaining and securing drugs and alcohol has worn away your core values. Beginning to stand for something solid again in your life will go a long way in building relationships with your loved ones.
Good communication skills will form the basis for a successful rehab experience. Then they will carry you forward into life afterward. They will provide the grounds for saying no to drugs and alcohol on an ongoing basis through the ability to assert yourself in difficult situations. You will have had occasion to experiment with who you are and want to be socially within the treatment milieu. Before you leave treatment you will have begun to establish a support network with friends and family and had the opportunity to begin expressing your honest needs and thanks for the people who are there for you. Now the real practice begins!