The ``FREE`` Concept Applied to Addiction
Community-Oriented Treatment (COT) provides interdependent support for individuals recovering from addiction, but it also promotes the health & growth of the community members involved. It honors that not only is the addicted individual recovering, but their family needs to recover, too. COT promotes four simple, no-cost ways to strengthen community along the journey of addiction recovery: Forgive, Relax & Restore, Expand Emotional Vocabulary, and Exercise Positive Communication — a formula that can be remembered easily by the acronym “FREE.”
When families and communities have FREE motives, they build trust for each other, appreciate and value each other more, and take more positive action toward each other. The FREE concept assists in healing broken relationships and strengthens existing ones. FREE guides recovering families out of a state of chronic misunderstanding and into a thriving space of open, honest, and free communion with each other.
Part of strengthening familial bonds is cultivating the ability to forgive others for not living up to your expectations of who you think they are or could have been. Forgiveness also includes forgiving yourself for past actions, thoughts, or feelings. When we resist forgiving ourselves or each other for perceived wrongs, we end up clinging to stale emotions, which keeps us stuck in past and nonbeneficial thought patterns. Forgiveness allows us to move forward from the past and live fully as ourselves in the present moment. The more positive thoughts we generate through practices such as Lactate-Conditioning and RFB/HRV, the more willing and capable we are to release the past and, therefore, to experience the present.
Forgiveness does not typically occur overnight, but is a process that may take a few days, months, or even years. It is not a treaty to be signed, but a state of mind that may or may not fluctuate depending on the circumstances. Forgiveness is not an instant result, and old hurts may be triggered by small, seemingly insignificant things.
Forgiveness takes daily conscious effort to let go of past hurts and failed expectations. It takes a commitment to a growth-mindset and to cultivating states of calm, caring, and contentment within relationships. For example, after a long, in-depth talk one evening, two people may agree to forgive each other for past wrongs. A few days later, however, one party may arrive home later than expected, or forget something at the grocery store; these actions may trigger fear, anxiety, and frustration in the other partner, and old wounds fly open. When we act out of forgiveness, we consciously choose to focus on the good in the other person, and allow them to be human. Forgiveness involves examining the expectations we hold for others, assessing how accurate and possible these expectations are, and releasing expectations that are not beneficial.
To exercise a state of forgiveness:
- Engage in Lactate-Conditioning exercises together. By supporting each other’s physical and mental health, you’ll demonstrate to each other that you truly do care. Lactate-Conditioning also cultivates BDNF, a protein which aids in mood, long-term memory, positive thinking, and produces an influx of endorphins and other natural opiates, so you’ll both feel blissful and more willing to listen.
- Practice Resonance Frequency Breathing (RFB). When you practice RFB individually, you practice establishing a state of calm within yourself so that you are less likely to have impulsive, reactionary outbursts that need forgiveness. You also become acquainted with a peaceful and controlled state of mind for times when another party is upset or unable to adequately communicate their needs. When families practice RFB together, they are actively supporting in each other a calm state of mind; this act expresses a genuine investment in the health of the family and promotes states of calm, caring, and contentment—necessary ingredients for a thriving home life. Both RFB and Lactate-Conditioning promote a clear mind so that all participants are better able to communicate their needs and desires clearly and intentionally.
- Give tokens of appreciation. To restore broken lines of trust and communication, try giving or exchanging small, intentional gifts that show you value the other person. These need not be large expensive gifts, but something low-cost and personal. Try crafting something from recycled materials or a few found at your local craft store, and give not to receive praise, but because you genuinely seek reparations.
Relax & Restore
The age-old adage of “time heals” holds much wisdom: the more time you share with someone focused on positive growth, the easier it is to gain independence from negative thought patterns and to release past resentments. When we are constantly in a state of distress, our bodies operate from our instinctual fight, flight, or freeze modes, which prevent us from adequately assessing a situation and another’s reaction. Healthy families & communities practice relaxation techniques to retrain the brain to maintain a balanced and peaceful state of mind, even during crisis.
Relaxation allows us to act less impulsively so that we can calculate the potential consequences of our behaviors, which allows us to then choose the path of least negativity and harm. When our bodies are relaxed, such as when we sleep, daydream, or meditate, our organs and systems have the chance to restore because they are not working so hard. Similarly, when families prioritize relaxation time with each other, negativity is released and the family unit has the opportunity to restore.
Relaxing and restoring entails valuing familial relationships above work. When family life is valued above work obligations, family members feel safe, protected, and closely knit together. Conversely, an over-emphasis on work over family often results in unspoken resentment, shutting down of the emotions, and negative communication patterns. When families relax and restore together, they cultivate a common love and appreciation for each other and for the family unit. In this way, family members feel they are genuinely part of a larger whole that cares and supports them no matter what. Relaxing and restoring as a family values each person’s thoughts and experiences and promotes individual growth as a means toward a healthy family.
To practice relaxing and restoring, try:
- Planning an activity that has several ways for members to engage, such as an aquarium or picnic. Stay focused on the experiences each member is having rather than the activities themselves. If someone is not enjoying themselves, ask what they need and be open to switching up the activity.
- If your family is typically busy and goal-oriented, plan a “stay-cation” in which everyone spends the day relaxing at home. Not having plans creates space for creative projects, stimulates conversation, and alleviates the pressure of a normal routine.
- Allow each member of the family to choose a day each month or so to be celebrated. On the chosen day, the particular member to be celebrated gets to choose what foods to eat and what activities to do (of course, parents are invited to introduce boundaries beforehand based on finances and accessibility of the activities).
- Try a new activity as a family, or between family members: mom and son might try gardening together, father and daughter might begin a jigsaw puzzle, or everyone might try rollerblading or hiking for the first time together.
Expand Emotional Vocabularies
Discussing how we feel takes courage, honesty, and a more robust dictionary of adjectives. Many of us have a limited vocabulary for describing how we’re feeling and frequently use the all-encompassing good, bad, happy, or sad, when really we experience a plethora of emotions daily. Like an onion, emotional states have layers: we may express a particular emotion on the surface while experiencing many much heavier emotions on the inside. For example, our boss may have dismissed our idea during a meeting, but we shrug it off and say “it’s no big deal” to our co-workers. We head to the break room to refill our coffee mug and spill coffee on ourselves in the process. Instead of shrugging this action off as “no big deal” too, we curse and chastise ourselves or another worker because we have not yet acknowledged the pain and hurt of having been rejected by our boss. Had we identified these emotions sooner, we could have wiped up the spilt coffee without crying and cursing over it. Stubbed toes, missed turns, and waiting in line all have a way of bringing to the surface repressed and undealt-with emotions.
The inability to accurately identify our feelings leads to either frustration or dissociation. In both cases, we exists in a state of denial and our main focus then turns toward maintaining this state of denial. Addictions often stem from a conscious or unconscious frenzy to stifle unpleasant emotions. However, emotions refuse to be rejected and, like a toddler, often become overwhelming and unmanageable when not attended. When we bring ourselves back to the present moment through mindfulness exercises such as RFB, HRV, and Lactate-Conditioning, we may find that we experience frustration, gratitude, and determination all at the same time. When we are able to expand and exercise a more mature and accurate lexicon of emotions, we can be more honest with ourselves, as well as with others who want to build truthful and meaningful relationships with us.
To cultivate your emotional vocabulary:
- Buy and use a “Today I am Feeling” poster, or create your own!
- Draw your emotions: worry less about how “good” the picture is and focus on the colors that attract your emotional state. After drawing, try describing your picture with words.
- Make a practice of viewing various art pieces. Visit a museum in person or online and take note of the feelings you experience while viewing the different pieces. What do you think the artist felt? Do others in your family or community agree, or do they experience other emotions viewing the same piece?
- Look up synonyms for the emotions you can name in a paper or virtual thesaurus, such as the one found on www.thesaurus.com
- Journaling; use a pocket journal to name it to improve recognition/awareness.
Exercise Positive Communication
Screaming and yelling always indicate a high-stress situation and uncontrolled emotions, and rarely do they ever accurately communicate our honest needs and desires. When we ground ourselves in our emotions by truly acknowledging what we feel, we can tailor our communication to be better received and to produce more positive results. That’s not to say that we’ll always get what we want, but that we’ll be more accurate and positive in our communication. Exercising positive communication skills ensures that we remain in control of our emotions and avoid behaving in ways that we later regret and/or that cause damage to our relationships.
Positive communication takes into account not only what we are communicating, but how we are communicating our message. When we commit to communicating in more positive ways, we learn to take into consideration our receiver’s emotions by asking ourselves questions such as how will s/he receive what I’m saying and/or asking? Does my tone of voice sound inviting or threatening? Am I expressing love nonverbally along with my message of disappointment or hurt? Would I want to be and/or do I enjoy being spoken to the way I’m speaking to others? Am I truly angry/ disappointed/ happy with this person, or could my emotions be askew from an earlier event/ experience? Have I communicated gratitude for this opportunity to grow as a communicator within this relationship? The more we are able to communicate with ourselves in a positive manner, the more skilled we will be at assessing a situation and communicating appropriately with others.