6 Ways to Support a Loved One in Addiction Recovery
by Carl Towns
“All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes
From not realizing you already are
What you are looking for.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn, U.S. Professor of Medicine Emeritus
My wife and I love this quote. It captures beautifully what we’ve been telling each other for years, and it has proved to be particularly poignant in the previous few months to my writing this. Why? Simply because my wonderful, unique and often crazy (in a good way) wife has spent most of that time going back and forth from a rehab facility about an hour or so drive from our family home. She was going because an addiction she suspected I was suffering from, one day, it just up and grabbed me by the soul, and sent me hurtling down its seemingly bottomless pit.
Our marriage, a good and strong marriage our friends apparently envied, started crumbling to dust, and every day brought new problems, new situations, and real conflicts that neither of us was prepared for. Our kids, both under the age of 10, professed a deep desire to go and live with their grandmother. And our house, our home, before full of security and care, became like an insecure foreign land we had been exiled to, full of unforeseen and unknowable dangers.
Alcohol, if you’re wondering. That addiction came first. For how long exactly, I’m inclined to think it slowly started when we got married. Actually, I kept it all so cleverly hidden, so well disguised and covered up, that she, my wife, was as clueless as the next person. Yes, there were clearer signs towards the eventual surrender, but, by then, it was too late. Way too late. Somehow, I was “sourcing” diazepam too. The dual effect on me truly was frightening. You think you really know someone. See them addicted, and you will see and know someone else.
This article (the act of writing, I hope, will clarify my thoughts and feelings) is based upon the sound advice given to me by our rehab’s medical professionals (psychologists, therapists, doctors and nurses), our own family doctor, as well as my discussions with the families of other incumbents there, and, yes, my own experience, growing daily as it is. I love her and she was (and still is) my rock during this time. It’s that simple. This is how we do it now and how we will continue to do it: 6 ways to support a loved one in addiction recovery.
Before we begin, remember this:
- Treatment in a facility, such as a rehab center, is about getting clean and sober.
- What comes after you leave there, something much harder for the recovering addict is about staying clean and sober.
In the very early days of my days being home, my clear sense of loneliness was hard to truly understand for her. She constantly strove to lighten my mood, to try and make me laugh and smile. Most of the time, to be truthful, I either gave her a fake laugh or a fake smile, just to keep her happy. How hard was it to understand? Very. As my therapists told her later on, my need to reflect and think about what my addiction recovery truly meant, the impact it would have on my life and those around me, takes time to digest, to ponder, and to comprehend.
My connections with my wife, the kids, our extended family, our friends, even the world beyond our front door, all of them had to be looked at in a new and different way for me. Yes, back at the beginning, my wife and I were hopeful, and we remain so, it was my way of getting used to everything again, but differently. I remember explaining her once, “It feels like they’ve peeled back my skin and exposed every single nerve ending.” Basically, I felt raw. To an extent, I still do.
I feel guilty. I can’t take it back, whatever I do, and I know it. I sit with her when we talk about what happened, and all I can do is offer my complete understanding, she gives me forgiveness. It wasn’t me, it was my addiction. Always let your loved one know this. Guilt is one of the main reasons your loved one will feel lonely, and isolated in some way.
She tried her best at the beginning of my recovery, however, she soon realized that she was no professional addiction expert, not by a long way. “Don’t expect to be,” one psychologist told her, “Leave that to us.” And so she did, even though I’m back at school, learning as much as I can about addiction, its contributing factors, and its recovery. The best education you can get is studying the writings and thoughts of other addicts and their loved ones.
Remember, you don’t need to be an authority on addiction to help and support your loved one. You simply need to let them know as clearly as you can that they are still loved, still cherished, and still such a significant part of your life, as you wish to be in theirs.
The New Activities
One of the best ways my wife found and pursued in helping me reconnect with the world was through encouraging new activities for us to share. Exercise is one of the most important parts of a recovery from addiction; it provides important daily structure for an addict, as well as showing them the fun that can be had without the stimulus of the substance they abused.
Get this. My wife actually got me designing my own exercise program for us to share, which now involves running with the dog, cycling with the kids, 3 trips a week to the gym, and extra washing-up and laundry duty for me. Not so sure about that last one.
Additionally, I attend a number of local AA meetings every week, and she goes with me to the “open” ones. Through these, I am slowly building a support network and making all-important new connections.
Listen, Don’t Preach
You and I, as we have discussed, will never be experts. Therefore, you are in no position to lecture or preach, even if you occasionally get the urge to. My wife resolved to never throw blame at me for anything that happened during my active addiction, and I implore you to adopt the same stance.
I also implore you to hone your listening skills as she has done. That’s one of the best ways to offer your loved one the support they need. Be there when they need you, listen when you need to.
There will be days where you also need to be firm. Simple as that. You are doing this because you love them, and their recovery and health, both mental and physical, is your concern too. Remember that your support and your help is vital during the rehabilitation process of your loved one. Stay strong.
I’ll admit, there have been nights my head has hit the pillow, utterly drained from the day, my body too; and if that was me, I cannot imagine how hard it was to her. It takes a toll and you pay a price, one that you are glad too.
However, you need to remember that you’ll be no help, no support if you don’t care for yourself at the same time. Think airplane oxygen masks falling down. Yours first, then your loved ones. If you can’t breathe, how can you help them do the same?
We have no assumptions, no real answers for the future. We live day-to-day. We love each other and that will never change. Anything she can do to help me in the right way, she will. I know this. I’m grateful for it. She’s just grateful I’m in recovery, with our life together continuing, different but intrinsically the same.
So, there are my 6 ways to support a loved one in addiction recovery – understanding their loneliness, self-education, finding new activities, listening, firmness, and the importance of you. If you have anything you’d like to add, born of your own experiences or those of another, please share in the comments below. How did you support a loved one in a time such as this? Please, let us know.
Lastly, she confessed, that she, too, feels a sense of guilt. Guilt that she did not see beyond the cover-ups, and the odd lie. Guilt she didn’t see the addiction as it bore down on me, and, in the end, us all. However, we’re both grateful we can talk about it all now, openly, honestly and without blame. So, take good care of each other.
I’m Carl Towns a 28-year-old wanna-be writer; I am also a recovering addict in the path of self-discovery. My goal is to learn as many things as possible and to seize every single moment I live, pretty much trying to make up for all that I missed on the years I was lost in drugs and alcohol (among other things). I’m in love with tech, cars and pretty much anything that can be found online.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles. You may also find some great inspiration, support and resources at the bottom of this page.