As an addict, you lied about taking drugs. You lied about your where you had been and the company you kept. You manipulated people into giving you money for more drugs. You denied, blamed, diverted, avoided and changed any discussion that involved honestly admitting that you have a problem with drugs. Thus one major aspect of addiction recovery is learning to communicate in an open and frank matter. According to a 1999 article from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, not communicating is quite typical in families undergoing substance abuse treatment. Moreover, a 2014 article from Psych Central indicates that addicts can get better and achieve sobriety, but it requires honest communication among loved ones and family.
Why Does Open Communication Matter?
Open communication is critical in maintaining sobriety because deceit is at the heart of addiction. To stay clean and sober, you must be willing to answer the hard questions about your addiction and your abstinence from drugs: Are you still going to meetings? Are you still being held accountable by a sober coach or a sponsor? Are you using again? Questions like these—and honest answers to them—are signs that you are striving to continue in your recovery. However, when you begin to hide information, dodge questions or provide half-truths instead of full disclosure, this shift in your communication pattern is a warning sign of impending relapse. If you continue down this path, you are setting yourself up returning to drugs.
What Are Elements of Open Communication?
In rehab, you will hear about the importance of open communication. However, not all rehabs clarify the elements that are necessary for open communication to exist and grow. It is important to remember that without these elements, honest and fruitful dialogue is not likely to take place. Elements of an open communication environment include the following:
- An inviting environment – According to a 1991 article from Bentley College, a good climate for open communication will include at least three characteristics:
- Support – This means that you and others feel supported when you express your thoughts and feelings.
- Participation – This means that everyone involved is willing to participate. There is no place for cold shoulders, guessing games, manipulating or silence in open communication.
- Trust – This means that those with whom you communicate can trust you, which reinforces the importance of open communication. The more open you are, the more trust you develop.
An inviting environment does not mean an absence of conflict. Rather, an inviting environment means that you are all committed to honesty, transparency and resolution even when you have a conflict.
- Transparency – A 2014 Forbes article indicated that transparency is key for open communication. In business, this means sharing the same information to every person in the organization. In recovery, it means that you share openly, not hiding a part of yourself from others.
- Safety – An article a 2013 from the business site Inc. indicated that safety is a critical element of open communication. This means that you should seek out people with whom you feel safe to be open. This also means becoming a person in coversation, too. Becoming irritable, defensive or angry when others try to talk with you will kill any communication.
Improving Your Communication Skills
Whether you are new to sobriety or you’ve been clean for years, you can always develop better communication skills. The more skills you learn, the more tools you will have in your toolbox in dealing with others and communicating what you want and need.
According to a 2009 article from Psych Central, you can create better communication by implementing the following principles:
- Stop and listen – Admittedly, stopping to listen in the middle of a heated discussion or argument is not first-nature. Listening means setting aside your own agenda so the other person feels heard. The feeling of not being heard stifles open dialogue.
- Reflect what you hear – This is the act of rephrasing what a person just said so that both of you understand the issue at hand. You can start the sentence by saying, “What I’m hearing you say is…” and finishing the sentence with what you think you heard the other person say. This simple act will help everyone involved feel valued. This fosters more open communication.
- Stay on subject – Too often, talking with a loved one or friend about a particular issue (like finances) can turn into a discussion about everything else but the issue at hand. When you are talking about finances, for example, it is not appropriate to bring up the other person’s failure or weakness in another area. When sentences begin with, “well, at least I don’t…,” open communication is stifled.
- Be willing to give in – If you start a conversation with the intention of “winning,” such an attitude will kill open communication. Open dialogue means having an attitude of acceptance and a willingness to recognize when the other person’s point or perspective is right or valid. Think of discussions as a means to deepen the relationship, not to win an argument.
Honest and open dialogue is difficult. It means talking about thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences that you’ve never talked about before with anyone in your life. It means being vulnerable and real, which can be scary. However, the only way to maintain sobriety is to make open communication a way of life.
Getting Help for Your Addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, you are not alone. We are here to help. You can call our toll-free helpline any time. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can talk with one of our admissions coordinators about your addiction, and together, you can determine the best treatment options for you. Don’t stay trapped in your addiction any longer. Call us today, and start on the path of recovery.