Addiction Recovery:Yellow Lines
A Therapist’s Take on Risk in Addiction & Codependence Recovery
I’m about to attend a conference on Addiction & Behavioral Health. As I wait for the train into Center City Philadelphia from my counseling office in Chestnut Hill, I observe and photograph the yellow line. Yep that’s it below. OK so I’m not an artist.
While standing for the train we all position ourselves back at least a few feet from the tracks.
There is a bright line warning us how close we can get without risking peril.
Yet we go back even more than that. We note that parents with young children stand back even farther.
We understand about risk. While we know it’s highly unlikely we’d fall onto the tracks once we hit the yellow line we appreciate that the closer we get the possibility increases. A bump from another passenger or perhaps a strong wind or our own sudden onset of dizziness or fatigue could do us in.
Many times with my counseling or coaching clients this concept seems relevant especially in relation to addiction or codependence recovery.
Risky Behavior in Recovery from Substance Use Disorders
When I work with therapy clients who are trying to begin or deepen their change or recovery process, we discuss how people need to define that yellow line. If they have a substance use disorder their brain or “addiction” may underestimate the pull of the yellow line.
Over and over again those with alcohol or drug concerns, even those in long term recovery, find themselves learning the same lesson of the yellow line.
Their mind tricks them into thinking the yellow line is meaningless. It doesn’t apply to them.
After all sometimes they’ve hung out on the yellow line without consequences.
If you go over the line, no need to beat yourself up. Change is an up and down process. Some lessons are learned in bits and pieces rather than quantum leaps.
Family members and loved ones of someone with alcohol and drug concerns or an addiction, who may identify with the term “codependence”, recognize the yellow line.
Codependence. I have mixed feelings about that term but it’s the best we have for now to conceptualize the effects on family members and loved ones of someone struggling with alcohol or drug issues, including adult children of alcoholics.
Codependents can be hyper vigilant. Their radar is up. Way up.
Some ACOAs and people with so called codependent traits become obsessed with the yellow line. Worrying about a love one’s, child’s, or parent’s alcohol or drug use can lead to an amplified perception of danger.
They try to warn the person with a potential or actual substance use disorder or addiction. Point out the yellow line.
That doesn’t usually work.
Even once the alcoholic or person struggling with a substance use disorder is working on their own recovery or change process the loved one feels compelled to focus on threats.
In fact, this can result in the opposite effect of what is intended.
If we are unsure of what constitutes a yellow line and how close one can get to it without too much threat, perhaps we should consider allowing input from others to help us recognize risk and evaluate it appropriately.
In the early stages of change from any unhealthy behavioral pattern or recovery process we may need to ask others whom we respect and trust to help us understand risk.
A support group like Al-Anon, NA, AA, SMART, WFS, or parent groups, a sponsor, healthy friends, a spiritual guide, or a licensed counselor, psychologist, or therapist can offer wisdom. Help you figure out how to negotiate the yellow lines of life.
Some are unavoidable. Some are clear and bright.
We need to learn to pay attention to them. Proportionately.
Deb Owens is a licensed counselor and certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor providing online, phone and F2F individual or couples counseling or coaching in Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia and in Montgomery County. Deb specializes in helping those in longe term recovery including ACAs. She also specializes in relationship therapy and anxiety.