Support, Not Enabling: How to Support a Loved One Through Recovery
Recovering from substance abuse is a long and arduous battle. The journey to sobriety is trying and, for some, littered with speed bumps and pitfalls. Those with addiction recovery experience understand that it is never as cut and dry as simply quitting using drugs or drinking; the misconception that people suffering from substance abuse disorders simply don’t have enough willpower is far from true.
But addiction doesn’t only affect the afflicted. Substance abuse leads people act in ways they never would without the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is also a form of self-medication for unresolved emotional traumas and undiagnosed or untreated mental disorders. Friends, family members, spouses, and children also suffer when a loved one is addicted.
Social consequences of addiction can include physical and emotional scars, dissolvement of marriages and romantic relationships, tension and loss of friendships, disowning by parents and family members, loss of child custody, and more. Though these measures may seem for the best, sometimes they do more damage than good.
While it is understandably difficult to deal with a loved one’s addiction, abandonment is never the answer; people suffering from substance abuse disorders or in recovery need support more than ever. Feeling as if one has nowhere to turn often only serves to compound the issues, driving them further from the help they need and deeper into the throes of their disease.
Most people have no idea how to deal with someone suffering from addiction, let alone through detox and recovery. Maneuvering around extreme mood swings, fear of overdose deaths, and complicated emotions of love, anger, and disappointment is no easy task. However, understanding a few things going in and understanding the recovery process to the best of your ability can help make it easier for both you and your loved one.
You’re Not Perfect- That’s Okay
No one expects you to be perfect; as a member of a support system for someone in recovery, being open and available can make all the difference. Understand that, just like the person going through withdrawal and recovery, you will get angry; you will face hurt and disappointment and frustration. That’s okay, too. It’s all a part of the process.
What’s important is how you handle these emotions. While the focus is getting your loved one healthy and sober, you’re feelings are still valid and allowed to be expressed. Doing so in a healthy and constructive way is the key; screaming and cursing will do nothing but complicate what may already be a fragile relationship and set back the recovery process.
Professional Mediation Helps Both Sides
Therapy, addiction counseling, and rehabilitation are best for dealing with the underlying causes of substance abuse disorders. Not only do these programs provide an enlightening outsider perspective, the professional help increases the likelihood of long-term success.
As a member of a support system, you can benefit from professional help as well! Getting involved in support groups specifically for non-addicted people affected by substance abuse can help one cope with the residual effects of substance abuse. They also offer encouragement, which is vital for all those involved. Learning from others in a similar situation is enlightening and helps one understand the realities of addiction.
We’ve all heard about AA and NA, but have you heard about their counterpart programs? Al-Anon Family Groups and Nar-Anon Family Groups are for those coping with a loved one’s substance abuse. They also provide useful literature and other resources for support and education.
It All Begins with Forgiveness
As I stated before, addiction causes people to act in all manner of ways. They may become physically violent, emotionally or verbally abusive; they may lie, cheat, and steal, or rack up a mile-long list of criminal offenses. Understand that these are the actions of addiction, not your loved one. Forgive.
Do not misinterpret me: this is not encouragement to make excuses on behalf of your loved one. But forgiveness begins the journey to recovery. By releasing the past, on both sides, one begins the healing process necessary for substance abuse recovery. While some deeper traumas may require professional mediation to overcome, it is a necessary step in the path to recovery.
It is exceedingly important not to hold on to the past as a member of a support system. The most detrimental thing one can do to someone attempting to improve their lives is continue to remind them of their past mistakes. This only serves to reinforce insecurities and negative self-images with a message of “this is who you will always be.” As a member of a support system, your message should be one of encouragement, not dejection.
Do you have any advice for members of a support group? Let us know in the comments!
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About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.