Being with a loved one while they go through recovery can be a very scary time. It’s natural to want to support the person you love, but it’s much harder do so when you can’t completely understand what they’re going through – or worse yet, how to help them. It’s normal to be worried about what you should say or how you should act, and whether anything you do will even benefit them.
To begin, keep in mind that you are important to your loved one’s recovery. They’re going to need all the help they can get to stay on the path to sobriety. More importantly, you will need to help them get back up if anything happens to knock them down.
Chances are that you know what it’s like to live a sober life, but that “baseline” is something that addiction takes away from a person, replacing it with a nagging inner voice offering an “easy solution” to every problem. It takes time to block that voice out, and some days are easier than others. With your help, your loved one can make it to the point where they no longer hear that voice (or choose not to listen to it), but they will need your help. Here are a few ways you can support your loved one while they go through the recovery process.
Talk About Treatment
A good way to help out is to let your loved one know that they’re not alone – you are there with them. Talk to them about their treatment and ask how they are doing. Keeping an open line of communication is critical. The best way to show your loved one that you genuinely care is by being around, and by wanting to know how they are.
Offer Your Help
Sometimes, it helps just to tell your loved one that they can ask you for help anytime they might need it. Knowing they have someone in their corner can reduce the fear and anxiety of being alone after rehab. It can be scary to have so much at stake after treatment and to be able to throw it all away if the urge grows too strong. Help them remind themselves that relapsing doesn’t mean throwing all their progress away, and that if they feel close to losing control, that they can ask for help.
Be There for Them
It’s not a bad idea to either live with your loved one or help them find a roommate to stay with while they are going through the first few months of recovery. Be sure to give them a way to contact you but be realistic about how available you can be. This is where it helps tremendously to coordinate with friends and family. Discuss how you might all be able to pitch in to help your loved one and ensure that they always have someone to turn to if things get tough.
Learn More About Their Addiction & Recovery
It seems simple but it is so important: The more you know about your loved one’s situation, the more you might be able to understand what they’re going through and why they’re acting the way they are. There’s a difference between intellectually understanding something and having lived through it on a personal and visceral level. However, it’s still better to learn about their addiction and their recovery process than be in the dark about what might be going through their head.
Speak with Their Therapist or Doctor
With your loved one’s permission, consider going to a few meetings or sessions and learning more about what their therapist is doing to help your loved one, or engage in therapy together. While information online can help you have a better grasp of the “big picture” of addiction in general, it’s best to talk to a professional directly regarding the mental health of your friend or family member specifically. Their therapist or doctor may be able to give you suggestions about what you can do to help them make progress in recovery.
Be Honest About Their Progress
There are very few saints, and the recovery process isn’t hallmarked by cheerful moments and rainbows. There will be times of frustration, and while you should never be mean or hurtful, you should always be honest. Think of it this way – although the truth can cut like a blade, it’s far worse to be dishonest, deceitful or insincere. Instead of diminishing your loved one’s progress, highlight how far they’ve come. Acknowledge that they still have progress to make, and that there is behavior they will have to curb. Criticism is important, but so is praise.
Help Them Make Healthier Life Choices
Healthier life choices can be tremendously helpful with maintaining sobriety. A big part of staying sober is staving off negative emotions and excessive stress. Getting enough rest, getting some exercise, and eating good food are all healthy ways to help minimize stress and to have a greater quality of life. Help your loved one by embarking on a life journey together.
Take Care of Your Own Needs as Well
It’s easy to get lost in the mindset that you’re there to help, and that your needs are secondary to those of your loved one. After all, what they’re going through is incomparable to whatever stress you might have piled up, right? Wrong. If you can’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others. Work with your family and friends to create a support system for your loved one, a support system you can be a part of but that doesn’t completely rest on you. Don’t take their entire burden onto yourself, and don’t make it your sole responsibility for them to succeed.
There’s no specific timeline for recovery. Everyone works through their addiction treatment at their own pace. While programs like rehab or inpatient treatment are often a smart first step in the right direction, the meat and potatoes of “recovery” comes from years of sobriety, and a fulfilling life that makes staying sober worthwhile.
Most relapses happen within the first year, with the bulk of those happening in the first six months. After that, relapses become increasingly rare. Surviving past that year mark is a big milestone for many – but it’s ultimately up to your loved one to know when they feel like they’ve reached a comfortable distance from their addiction, to the point where they no longer truly fear a relapse could happen anytime soon.