The recovery process can be arduous and draining, and while recovery is the journey of an individual, it’s often only possible through the combined efforts of an addict’s family and friends.
Supporting a loved one through the process of addiction recovery requires an understanding of their emotional needs as a recovering addict. Without the right support, the recovery process can be wrought with periods of pain and uncertainty. But with your help, your loved one’s journey through recovery can be made much smoother.
Addiction and addiction recovery both affect a person’s mental health. Whether through fading feelings of self-worth, thoughts of guilt and shame, or anger and frustration at past mistakes and current challenges, the process of recovery can often be an overwhelming rollercoaster of moods and emotions, especially early on. Aside from the social consequences of addiction and the stigma attached to being an addict, addicts also face a very confusing and difficult brain chemistry that seeks to undermine their recovery at every step of the way. Only time can heal that wound, and it takes a lot of time. Any ounce of emotional support offered by close friends and loved ones, especially in the early days of recovery, can take a serious weight off a recovering addict’s shoulders.
Effective forms of emotional support include affirming a loved one’s positive qualities, supporting their efforts in recovery (whether it’s the decision to seek individual therapy or an attempt to start investing time and effort into a new hobby), or taking the time to help them separate their anxious and fear-related thoughts and statements from reality.
Availability and Listening Skills
Just being there can make a significant difference in some cases. Addiction is very lonely business, and it’s the fear and feeling of loneliness that often fuels relapses and drives recovering addicts to seek out old habits. Understanding that they have a purpose in life and mean something to someone else can often help a recovering addict make a proper commitment to sobriety.
You don’t have to be constantly available to make a difference. While having a support system can greatly help a recovering addict sidestep relapses and prevent major setbacks during recovery brought on by temporary emotional upheaval, it can be very demanding and emotionally overwhelming to be a person’s singular outlet. Work with your loved one’s relatives, best friends, and mental health care providers to figure out the best way to help them always have somewhere to turn, without putting all the burden on yourself.
An Understanding of Recovery
The recovery process is often misunderstood, and addiction itself is not always very clearly defined in the minds of many people trying to help their loved one. Addiction is a chronic illness, in the sense that it is recurring and can has a high chance of relapse within the first few years of recovery. Continued long-term sobriety lessens the chance of relapse over time, but an addiction is never really “cured”. It takes a continuous commitment to thoroughly place it in the past and keep it there.
That is why the recovery process is not a matter of weeks or months, but a journey that will span a recovering addict’s entire lifetime. The first few phases of recovery often involve recovery programs because these help recovering addicts organize themselves and prepare themselves for the changes they have to make in the wake of their addiction. Being sober is easy for most people, but after an addiction, staying continuously sober is very difficult. Recovering addicts struggle with pent-up emotions left hidden for years, cravings that come and go, temptations and sudden urges triggered by smells, sounds, and memories, as well as a rollercoaster of emotions as the brain continues to struggle to right itself, with a host of accompanying and highly uncomfortable withdrawal issues.
For most addictions, there is no pharmacological cure to speed up this entire process. Addiction recovery is still a branch of medicine centered mostly around helping patients abstain from drug use and helping them psychologically and physically cope with the transition into a sober life. It’s not always a successful process, and it can take several tries before the changes really begin to stick. Being aware of all this can be the difference between losing hope in your loved one and knowing that it’s all just part of the process.
Encouragement Vs. Enabling
A recovering addict needs someone around them to bring out the best of them and help them overcome the worst. Whereas encouragement would mean doing your best to convince your friend or loved one to make small changes every day to further bring them closer to their ideal sober living conditions, enabling would be giving their old habits even just an inch on which to grow and fester again.
Enabling behavior includes lying to others about your loved one’s condition, keeping secrets for them in order to keep the peace and keep things quiet, or protecting your loved one from the consequences that should follow a slip-up or a relapse. Yes, relapses are quite common, but the only way to reduce their likelihood is to immediately address them when they happen, rather than sweeping it under the rug as a “last mistake”.
Be an encouraging force for positive change and a form of accountability that your loved one can rely on, rather than helping them find ways to escape the consequences of their actions, thus undermining the help they could be getting.
Making Healthier Choices Together
One last need that many addicts struggle to fulfill is working towards a healthier and stronger body. Exercise and diet are two very beneficial and effective ways to work on sobriety, as they both help the body and mind recover from the effects of long-term addiction, while making the mind more resilient to falling back into old habits. But it’s much harder to make an effective healthy change in your life when you’re the only one bothering to make it. Join your loved one and observe new dietary changes and exercise regimens together.
A lot of recovery is a joint process, rather than a journey for an individual. Once you find the best way to accompany and help your loved one make the progress they need to make, you will begin to see major changes happen.