Tips for Helping a Loved One in Recovery
Family members can play an important role in a relative’s recovery journey. If you want to be of help, but not sure exactly how, start by learning about addiction, mental health, treatment, and living in recovery. Coming from a place of knowledge will give you a better chance of connecting with your addicted relative about their sobriety journey. It will take more than just a quick Google search and reading through some articles, but here are a few tips to get you started:
- Don’t Try to do the Recovery Work For Them
You can’t babysit someone’s recovery. Even for those who ultimately maintain their recovery long-term, relapse is a constant threat and a common part of the process. It’s not unusual for those struggling with addiction to needing multiple episodes of treatment the same as it’s not uncommon for those with other chronic diseases to need subsequent treatment. It’s work to maintain their recovery and they have to do the work. You can’t do that for them. You can be a participant in their healing. You can be optimistic.
- Be a Positive Force
It’s important to be a positive force in your loved ones’ lives as they continue to work through recovery. You don’t need to be a sugary phony, but don’t dwell on the negative. Just as your loved one must learn to stay grounded in the present moment as they work on living sober, happy lives, so too must those who surround and support them. Try not to dwell on bad memories or drudge up hurtful things like “it was really hard on the family when she was an addict.” Instead, refocus that energy into being there for your loved one and your relationship now.
- Resist the Urge to Smother
In the early stages especially, but also at other times throughout their life in recovery, it may be necessary for you to monitor certain aspects of your loved ones’ recovery. But part of their recovery is learning to embrace a sense of independence and self-responsibility. It may be necessary to establish boundaries from the outset, so both you and your family know how far is too far when it comes to “checking in”. In many cases, this may not be best achieved alone. A support professional or group like Al-Anon is a good place to seek guidance together.
- Help Your Loved One Build Good Coping Skills
Stress is a part of life whether you’re in recovery or not. But people living in recovery learn that trying to avoid all stress doesn’t work. They learn that it’s developing strategies for managing it that lets you cope. You can help a loved one deal with stress and avoid stress-induced relapses by being there to listen, talk, and help them process stressful experiences. If it’s in your power, work with them to help solve practical problems that lead to stress. But most importantly, remember #1 above. You can’t do the work and coping with stressors is part of the work. Many times the best help is to gently remind your loved one of the coping strategies they’ve learned for dealing with distressing symptoms or cravings.
- Take Care of Yourself
The importance of being good to oneself regardless of how your loved one is coping with their addiction is well established. You can’t control another person, but you can make healthy decisions for yourself. And you must in order to have any hope of being able to support and encourage your loved one.
- Don’t Go It Alone
Everyone’s situations may be different, but families of addicts have at least one thing in common: your lives have been affected by another person’s addiction. People find understanding and support when we share our common experience with each other. Seeking out the help of groups like Alanon and Nar-Anon Family Groups or individual professional guidance is important in supporting you while you help your loved one living in recovery. That support often starts with simply hearing about situations and relationships that are similar to your own. Over time, you’ll find that you will benefit from immersion in the principles and processes that have helped so many others.