When your loved one is on the way home from a drug addiction treatment program or living with you while they work their way through an outpatient program, it is normal to feel heavily invested in the outcome. In most cases, family members in support of loved ones in recovery have sacrificed greatly over the years, giving of their time, money, and other resources until it feels like there is nothing left. When their loved one finally gets into treatment, many supportive friends and family bring a great sense of urgency and pressure to the situation, fearing relapse above all else.
Unfortunately, while these feelings are normal and concern is valid, many family members inadvertently go too far in trying to encourage their loved ones. Instead of being perceived as helpful and supportive, their loved ones in recovery feel smothered and irritated, and for some, this can be a trigger for relapse in itself.
If someone you love is going through treatment and recovery, there are a number of things you can do to support them in their recovery.
Focus on the positive parts of recovery. Rather than dire warnings about the risk of relapse, death through overdose, or loss of freedom if arrested, let your conversation with your loved one focus on all the good things in life that are available to them now that they are sober. For example, if they invite a friend over, rather than interrogate them on their friend’s sober status, offer to make dinner for them or express genuine interest in the friend or how the two of them met. If they start going to yoga regularly or staying late after a day treatment program, instead of accusing them of getting high, ask to join them at yoga or inquire about the new friends they are making in treatment.
Notice progress. It’s normal to celebrate the first 24 hours, the first week, the first month, and every month thereafter in sobriety at AA and NA meetings. Why not celebrate 10 days, 37 days, or 4 months and 1 week? Every day in sobriety is a day to celebrate. When you notice your loved one is doing well, and you don’t take their recovery for granted, you remind them of the gift they are giving themselves.
Be genuine. No need to be over the top with your positivity. Exuding cheer during tough times or constantly pointing out the silver lining doesn’t allow for honest processing of challenges as they come up. You do not have to polish everything up to make it palatable. Instead, be genuine and support your loved one in whatever they are facing without judgment.
Let anger go. If you are still angry and distrustful after all that happened during active addiction, early recovery is not the time to work through these issues with your loved one. This does not mean you have to pretend that everything is fine. Instead, work on it with your personal therapist first, and focus on supporting your loved one’s recovery at home. When they seem stable enough to address the important relationships in their life, suggest going to family therapy and resolve only to discuss these difficult subjects in the context of therapy.
Join forces. If there is something the two of you can do together that has nothing to do with recovery, go for it. Depending on your situation, this could mean fixing things up around the house, heading out to all the museums in the area, or venturing to all the local diners in search of the perfect omelet. It doesn’t have to be deep or remotely related to relapse prevention to be a good way to build a positive connection.
Delete stigma. Addiction is a disease, and as such, it can cause a cascade of negative physical, emotional, and interpersonal consequences. When shame is added to this mix, the person in recovery can begin to feel hopeless and be more inclined to give up. At home, it is important that there be no stigma against addiction, recovery, or the ups and downs that are a normal part of the process of healing. You can play a large role in keeping the environment supportive.
If your loved one is in recovery, you can begin your own process of healing and learn more about the nature of addiction and what it takes to heal. What are you bringing to your loved one’s healing process?