“A best friend is the only one that walks into your life when the world has walked out.”
― Shannon L. Alder
Everybody knows someone. From your own family, from your circle of friends, from your workplace, from the community you live in – someone who is struggling with addiction – alcohol, social drugs, prescription drugs, so the list goes on. I know plenty of “someones,” but those are the circles I move in. In a way, I always have.
I, too, have the disease of addiction. For years my life was a simple yet torturous journey from one fix or drink to the next. I was that someone described above. Now, over 5 years into my recovery and of being sober and clean, I have a truckload of hindsight and plenty of varied experiences, especially with regard to the different ways people react to you and your addiction, once it is known.
Knowing how to fully and properly support and help a loved one who is now free from the substance they have been abusing, the one that they are addicted to (and always will be), is not a simple case of being on the end of the phone if they need to talk on occasion late at night. It’s really about letting them know you are there 100% for them, and that their struggle to stay sober and clean is just as important to you as is it to them. The only thing that varies is the ways in which you can demonstrate this, and be proactive in their recovery.
What follows are 6 tips to support a newly-sober loved one. Before putting them into practice, however, there are a couple of things you need to know:
To become clean, your loved one will have gone through the detox process, either in rehab (as I did) or, at least, with some sort of medical supervision. Physically, this is very demanding upon someone whose addiction has left them in a pretty unhealthy state in the first place. They may have regained some of their physical well-being afterwards, but, believe me, there are not going to be as bouncy and energetic as a spring lamb for quite a while, that’s for sure.
Mentally, detox is probably harder than its physical effect. Your mind goes into overdrive, with no substances to use to hide from your demons, your memories, as you did before. This sense of being in a very raw state takes a long time to go – having those around you be aware of that is important.
6 Tips to Support Your Loved One During Recovery
You Are No Expert
As someone who is desperate to support and help your loved one in their recovery, it is important for you to realize that you are no expert on the subject of addiction. And that is ok. Your loved one has seen plenty of medical professionals, therapists, and fellow addicts to last the proverbial lifetime. What they do need is someone who loves them (and lets them know that), and who is there for them on this new journey they are starting, someone who is happy to share the road with them.
Understand Their Sense of Loneliness
Your loved one is going to experience problems connecting with the outside world, now that they are in recovery. These problems, and I can testify to this, are going to give them a sense of loneliness, however hopeful for the future they now are. They will have been told to avoid certain elements of their past life (primarily, places and people) intrinsic to their previous abuse. They will also experience difficulty in being around those that have been hurt by their addiction (family and friends, mostly). Lastly, they will be experiencing a sense of guilt to some degree. That, in itself, can create loneliness.
Simply spend time with them, even if it’s just being with them for no particular reason. The connection they have with you is solid; it won’t be broken because of the past, or how their recovery is progressing.
Recovering addicts are suddenly presented with a serious amount of time to fill – time they used to fill with their addiction and all that it entailed. Sharing that time with them in a new, positive way is so beneficial to their recovery. Here’s some ideas:
Meetings: Your loved one will probably be attending regular meetings (AA/NA) to assist in their recovery. Go with them. Many meetings are open and will appreciate your being there, as will your loved one.
Activities & Hobbies: Do something entirely new to both of you, something that you can do together. It may be exercise-related or something a bit more chilled. Whatever it is, it will demonstrate to your loved one that fun, free from alcohol or drugs, is there to be had.
Simplicity: Enjoy time together on a regular basis, even if it is just a chat and a coffee.
This, too, is simple. There will be times when you need to be firm. Let your loved one know that this is because you love them and want to see them well.
Don’t Lecture, Just Listen
Everyone has opinions. We have no choice in that, because we’re human. It’s what we do. We judge too. Being supportive and of help to your loved one going through recovery can be affected by these two things. Both of these, opinions and judgment, can lead to the tendency of being someone who lectures. Believe me, your loved one is doing enough of this on their own about themselves.
Your priority is to listen, without being opinionated or judgmental. Yes, you can offer guidance, but that’s it. Just listen.
Don’t Forget Yourself
Helping a recovering addict can be an exhausting process. Yes, you want to be as much help and offer as much support as you can, but this will mean nothing if it is taking too great a toll on you personally. Always try and keep yourself as well as you can. Remember the advice they provide on airplanes about the oxygen masks? Yes, put yours on first. Always.
The Way Forward…
We don’t know the future. However, if there is one thing your loved one needs to know, it is this: the future will involve you, as a part of their life that they can depend on, one that will help and support them when they really need it. These 6 tips – you are no expert, understand their sense of loneliness, new activities, be firm, don’t lecture, just listen, and don’t forget yourself – provide the framework within you can be a person your loved one can depend on.
If there is something you would like to share about supporting a newly-sober loved one, please feel free to leave a comment below. Are there other things you need to bear in mind, other things you can do? Let us know your thoughts – they are most welcome.
Oh, and remember to laugh. Together.
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