It may be easy to understand the concept of ‘supporting’ someone. We have all been supportive to many people and situations in our lives. For example, we support our child’s first show and tell by being there and listening to their presentation with a smile on our face and our phone snapping away taking lots of pictures. We support our spouse or friend while they are grieving over a loss of a parent by listening to them, being a shoulder to cry on and trying to make them laugh and not think about the sadness for a while. However, supporting a loved one completing addiction treatment can be a more difficult situation to navigate, but it is worth it. It takes can take patience, education, and especially behavioural changes to provide a good support system to a recovering addict. If you want to learn how to be an effective support system for them, here are some important points to keep in mind.
Knowledge is power: Spend some time learning about how addiction impacts the brain. We suggest attending a residential or outpatient family program designed for those impacted by a loved ones addiction. It is helpful to come to understand the interactions, how it affects brain chemistry, what part of the brain is involved in forming an addiction, and the brain’s reward system. More importantly, if you start to understand the neurological effects of addiction on the brain, you will start to look at the addiction from a new perspective, it might even take some of the emotional and subjective feelings around your loved one’s addiction away so you can focus on helping them in the best way possible.
Stop enabling: Understand what enabling behaviours and avoid them. Enabling an addict is helping them to not have to deal with the consequences of their actions. If you ever catch yourself covering up for your loved one, making excuses for them, apologizing to people on behalf of your loved one and basically not allowing them to take responsibility for their own actions, you are enabling them and it is not helpful to recovery. The recovering addict needs to be responsible for their own life and actions, having you with them to support them is very important, but you need to allow them to be responsible for their own recovery. It may seem difficult, but it will ultimately be very freeing for you.
Recognize signs of relapse: If you plan ahead by recognizing the signs of relapse, and having your own action plan in the event of a relapse (setting boundaries, limits, attending Al-Anon or similar family support meetings, attending therapy) you will be much more prepared and able to cope. There are many signs that your loved one is in the process of relapsing. Emotional signs and symptoms are: moodiness, anxiety, depression, erratic eating and sleeping habits, romanticizing drug use, meaning positive discussions surrounding previous drug/substance use etc. It will be extremely helpful if you research and stay informed on relapse signs and symptoms – and more importantly have your own support in place.
SOME WAYS WE SUGGEST SUPPORTING A LOVED ONE COMPLETING ADDICTION TREATMENT:
Supporting abstinence: Abstinence is a key component to long term recovery. Practising abstinence yourself and expressing to your loved one that you are doing so and that it’s the best way to recover is a very powerful and healthy support for them. Having substances like cannabis or alcohol in the home can be triggering for a loved one recovering from substance use disorder, especially in early recovery. Abstain from alcohol, drugs and maintain a healthy eating and healthy exercise lifestyle will be the best example for your loved one and you just might find that the freedom sobriety brings is a healthy lifestyle choice for yourself as well!
Be supportive of their recovery: A common mantra for family members impacted by loved one’s addiction is “I will do anything to support your recovery, and nothing to support your addiction.” Some individuals find it helpful to even write down what this mantra means for them. Spend some time reading about the difference between supporting and enabling Perhaps you want to be available for them if they need to attend a meeting. Make sure they know that they can reach you, that you are just a phone call or text away.
Be honest: Let your loved one know how you feel when their behaviour, both positive and negative, impacts you. Honesty is an essential part of recovery. If you feel unsure or unable of expressing yourself authentically with your loved one, consider having the support of an addictions professional, therapist, or counsellor. If your loved one asks you your opinion, give appropriate feedback. We find it helpful to share from a feelings place, rather than from trying to control others. If your loved one is asking for your opinion in recovery this is a positive step forward! They value you and what you have to say. Honesty is a very healthy way to keep an open line of communication, prevent building resentments, and possibly even prevent relapse. It will also help avoid enabling behaviours.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Establish a solid self-care routine: Practising self care is very important for you as a supporter to a recovering addict. Start a morning routine, do some journaling, yoga, meditation, exercise and create healthy meal plans. Make sure you do something fun like unplugging for a couple of hours to see a funny movie with friends, or get outside and go for nature walks. The important thing about self-care is creating a consistent routine and sticking to it, it can be for half an hour to an hour a day, but if you skip it too much, you will start feeling stressed out and resentful. Fill your cup!
Attend support groups: Attend support groups so you can understand how to better help your loved one and find people going through the same struggles as you are. Your loved one isn’t the only one going through struggles and pain, you are struggling as well and you have to take care of your own well-being and reduce feelings of isolation.
Follow your own recovery plan: This can include attendance at peer-to-peer support group meetings, work individually with a counsellor, or attend one of the weekly online family support groups provided by Strength Counselling Services. Our online support group ‘Recovering Families’ is specifically designed for individuals who have been impacted by a loved one’s addiction.
At Strength Counselling Services we understand that addiction is a family disease. Whether or not a family member is actively supporting a loved one completing addiction treatment, family members are encouraged to seek support for their own recovery and healing. Cost effective groups provided by Strength Counselling Services are facilitated in varying degrees of regularity including weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly. Meeting dates and times are emailed in advance for scheduling convenience. This service is offered through an online interface that provides a secure, password protected space. Family services are facilitated by a number of clinically trained clinicians and social workers who specialize in addiction recovery and codependency.
If you follow these general guidelines and tips, you will be positioning yourself to be a healthy and solid support system for your loved one, as long as you keep in mind that you need to take care of yourself too.