Addiction is a lonely disease. It robs people of human interaction by encouraging them to sabotage their relationships and isolate themselves. However, even though recovery is supposed to be a time during which a person regains his or her health and identity, there’s actually some loneliness that’s inherent to the recovery process, too.
To someone who’s rehabilitating after what could have been years in active addiction, recovery is a really intense time. The absence of alcohol and drugs means having to experience the various emotions that had long been numbed and are coming back at full intensity. As well, there’s a lot of reflection during the recovery process, which frequently induces guilt. Whether or not the individual actually betrayed any of his or her loved ones, habitual substance abuse inevitably leads to poor choices and potentially lasting mistakes. It becomes increasingly difficult not to dwell on these things as the fog lifts and the mind clears.
There’s no questioning the difficulties associated with being an addict, but the experience of having an addicted loved one is hard, too. When the addict is actively abusing alcohol or drugs, there’s a pervading sense of helplessness. You want to help, but you don’t know what to do that would be helpful or improve the situation in any way. Or perhaps you’re seeing the struggle of a loved one in recovery and want to lend support, but you fear that your good intentions will make recovery more difficult. Whatever the scenario, it’s possible that the solution could be to adopt a more passive approach. In particular, you might want to focus on simply being more approachable.
What It Means to Be ‘Approachable’
A concept like approachability can be a little confusing since it’s somewhat abstract. Of course, we know that a person is approachable when he or she is accessible, is perceived as friendly and accepting, and is someone with whom it’s easy to carry on a conversation.1 However, in practice, there’s a bit more to it than that, and knowing more about approachability will be immensely helpful when it comes to actually being approachable.
Remember this: The keystone of being approachable is being accepting. No matter where a person may come from, how old he or she is, what his or her beliefs might be, everyone fears rejection. In fact, when someone chooses not to approach someone or even actively avoids them, more often than not it’s due to fear of being judged and rejected. Choosing not to approach someone is essentially saving oneself the stress of being rejected.
Accepting Doesn’t Mean Condoning
If you have a loved one or friend with a substance abuse problem, you’re probably well-acquainted with the fact that addicts often go to great lengths to keep their activities hidden from those around them, especially when the people around them don’t condone those activities. They do this for a few key reasons. For one thing, they don’t want anyone to try to interfere with their substance abuse. Other times it’s because they’re in denial that they even have problems with alcohol and drugs. As well, they don’t want the people who are most important to them to judge them, think or feel differently about them, or even reject them. The goal, then, becomes to find a way overriding an addict’s urge to be secretive and distant, and the best way to do this is to become more approachable.
Obviously, approachability isn’t a switch that you can flip, but since we know some of the main behaviors that make a person un-approachable, we can backtrack from there. A good place to start would probably be acceptance. To be clear, acceptance and agreement are not the same thing. You can accept a person for who he or she is without liking his or her lifestyle choices. Being accepting is about trying not to make the individual feel worse about himself or herself. If the person is still in the throes of active addiction, there’s very little chance of being approached if he or she expects judgment or to be chastised. But for someone in recovery, there’s a tendency to not want to admit to others that recovery is difficult or that he or she is struggling. Being decidedly and openly accepting will be reassuring to someone who may be struggling in recovery and in need of support and encouragement.
A Calm and Relatable Listener
It’s important to be calm, even while having difficult discussions. Whenever you’re talking about something unpleasant, he or she is making a mental note of your reactions. By being level-headed at difficult times, there’s less reason to expect aggression if he or she would need to talk about something that might be hard to hear. When it comes down to it, they want to know that their past mistakes aren’t what define them.
When someone is seen as approachable, they’re seen as someone who can be a great listener and who is relatable. It’s often said that having a support system is one of the most important components of a successful recovery,2 and being supportive requires strong listening skills. You need to be able to really hear what your loved one is saying and allow him or her to express important thoughts, feelings and needs. Similarly, it helps to be able to put oneself in his or her shoes and empathize with how difficult addiction recovery might be. In fact, it would be a good idea to take some time to learn more about addiction recovery for this very purpose.
Understandably, having an addicted loved one, even when he or she is in recovery, is an emotional and confusing time. However, being more approachable will allow you to keep an open line of communication and develop a much stronger relationship with your loved one. This will give you more opportunities to be involved in his or her rehabilitation while offering yourself as a vital resource in your loved one’s recovery.
Written by Dane O’Leary
Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.