When a loved one or relative enters recovery, it can be a time of great joy as well as simultaneous doubt and confusion, perhaps even a little fear on the part of everyone concerned. While you want the best for your recovering relative, you may feel unsure of the most appropriate approach to take. The most important thing to remember is that your support and encouragement is a crucial part of his or her overall sobriety. Here are six valuable ways to help you support your relative’s recovery.
1. Keep Family Life as Simple as Possible
If the relative in recovery is a spouse, partner or close family member, ensuring that the home environment is as simple and free from stress1 as possible is vital. The fewer distractions from friends and others who want to come over and check in with the newly recovered individual, the better. He or she must focus on recovery, not non-stop socializing. As such, save any large gatherings of family members and friends for some later date. Recognize that this may be weeks or months in the future. Your relative needs time to establish his or her foundation in recovery, to feel comfortable with coping skills, and able to interact with others without undue stress.
2. Be Prepared for Aloofness
Your relative who’s entered recovery may seem aloof or cold at first. This is a common occurrence among the newly recovered. Keep in mind that this is all new to your recovering relative. Learning and practicing a healthier lifestyle, adjusting to a new way of handling stress, coping with cravings2 and triggers is enough to throw anyone off balance. It’s understandable that your relative may not be free with his or her emotions now. Give him or her space, yet always express and show your love and support.
3. Lend a Hand with Scheduling
Maintaining a schedule is critically important for anyone new to recovery. Typically, this includes participation in 12-step3 or self-help group meetings, taking any prescribed medications as directed, keeping appointments with doctors, counselors or others in his or her extended support network. You can help by lending a hand with scheduling appointments, and driving and/or accompanying your relative to 12-step meetings. This will show your relative that you care as well as provide motivation. By helping in this way, however, you are not removing the responsibilities your relative has with respect to his or her obligations as a spouse, parent, employee, neighbor or friend. To avoid feeling overwhelmed or resentful, only take on what you can comfortably handle.
4. Consider Joining a Family Support Group
It can be very difficult to know what to say or do at times for a relative in recovery. You might believe your words are helping, yet you may be saying the wrong ones or sending unhelpful messages. For example, you may intend to lift your relative’s spirits, but the opposite occurs. This leaves you hurt and confused. You can support your relative’s recovery by getting involved in a support group yourself. Family support groups are off-shoots of main 12-step and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)4. They were designed to provide support and assistance to immediate family members of those in recovery. Adjunct groups for A.A. include Al-Anon Family Groups5, consisting of Al-Anon and Alateen.
5. Allow Time for Your Relative to Heal
Recovery from addiction doesn’t happen overnight. Even after completing treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, the road to recovery is seldom smooth and never quick. It’s only with the passage of time and consistent adherence to recovery-oriented practices for healing to take root. Your best approach is to give it time. Don’t harp at your relative, insist on immediate changes or demand too much, too soon. Everyone heals at his or her own pace. Many, in fact, take quite some time to adjust. Relapse6 is a common experience in the newly recovered. This does not mean failure, yet it does hurt. Being there for your relative during the early days of recovery is one of the best things you can do to help support his or her sobriety.
6. Provide Motivation for Your Relative
Still vulnerable, slowly coming back from the aftereffects of alcohol or drug addiction, your relative may lack motivation or it may come and go. By encouraging your relative to pursue his or her dreams, such as going back to school, taking up a hobby, or getting training in a specific field, you’re helping provide much-needed motivation. Such a spark is always good for recovery.
There are other ways you can help motivate your relative’s recovery.
- Be supportive of his or her goals, both short-term goals and those of longer-term. The fact that you, being close to the recovering individual, recognize the work he or she has done toward recovery helps your relative remain motivated. This is especially important when unexpected challenges or difficulties stand in the way of progress.
- Do things together and take time to have fun. It’s normal for the loved ones and family members of the newly recovered individual to hang back, to be tentative in conversation and afraid to make a mistake, perhaps causing a problem or jeopardizing recovery. It’s important to plan activities and experience them together. It’s also important to take the time to have fun. Life in sobriety for your relative in recovery should also be about discovering joy. Your support7 can greatly assist with that.
- Show your unconditional love. Let your relative in recovery know that you will love him or her unconditionally, no matter what happens. Nothing will change that, and you will always be there.