Share Your Story: What to Tell Others When Your Loved One Is Addicted

By Stephanie Thomas

If you live with or love someone who battles addiction, you know all-too-well the pain involved. Your days are filled with a roller coaster of emotions — fear, hope, anger, guilt, worry and resignation all find a way to make their presence known.

When you reach out to others for support, you probably find a mix of feelings there too. Some folks are encouraging, while others judge. Acquaintances offer sympathy, but it’s tough to tell if their words are sincere. Friends draw in, and friends pull away. And you’re never quite sure which way the conversations will go.

You might be left thinking: Why speak up at all?

How Sharing Your Story Benefits You

Male friends having serious talkResearch shows us that a third of American households personally understand the perils of addiction.1 This tells us there might be someone you regularly interact with who does know a bit about what you’re going through.

By opening yourself up to others, you allow them to open up as well. And in shared confidence, you might just find camaraderie — a friend who understands. Almost equal in value is the friend who doesn’t totally get what you’re up against but does get you. Sharing your story is worth the risk if only for the bond it forms in your relationships — no doubt a great need in your life today.

Researcher and author Brené Brown puts it this way: “Most people believe vulnerability is weakness. But really vulnerability is courage. We must ask ourselves … are we willing to show up and be seen?” In being seen you allow yourself the opportunity to be known and loved — despite your personal and family failings.

How Sharing Your Story Benefits Others

Of course, the positive effects of vulnerability don’t stop there. When you share the story of your loved one’s addiction, you help pave a way for others to share and seek treatment.

Fay Zenoff, Executive Director of the Center for Open Recovery, encourages this approach. She says, “People are dying who don’t need to die. If it were safe for people to say, ‘I’m in recovery,’ I think more people could say, ‘I need help.’”2

The same is true for all of us. You don’t have to bear the burden of addiction and recovery alone. And if you felt comfortable saying, “I’m hurting,” without fear of judgment, then family members of others who struggle with addiction might also have the courage to do the same.

After all, addiction is a disease.3 And your continued support of a loved one, in view of the public eye, reduces the stigma.

This year’s Miss Tennessee, Caty Davis, has made it her platform and personal mission to do just that. Davis comes from a family that has experienced addiction and recovery firsthand — spanning at least three generations and 12 family members. Her father and step-brother, in particular, each struggled with addictions to alcohol and opioids, and both later went on to die by suicide.4

Her story is certainly one of heartbreak and one that once may have carried a great deal of shame. Today, however, Davis visits schools all over the state of Tennessee, talking to thousands of students, many of whom feel a sense of relief when hearing her stories. She says, “Because I make myself vulnerable to them, I’m giving them the ability to be vulnerable to me. Then I’m able to talk them through it or refer them to their guidance counselor.”4

You never know who needs to hear your story as much as you need to share it.

Before You Talk About Your Experiences With Addiction, Consider the Following:

Reducing the stigma surrounding addiction and finding a support system you can count on are great goals to have when talking with others about your loved one’s addiction. Still, it would be wise to ask yourself three quick questions first.

  1. Who am I talking to? Is the listening ear trustworthy, a known gossip or somewhere in between? Share your secrets with people who will keep and respect them. After all, this is your story to tell as you see fit.
  2. How will our conversation help? Do you have the opportunity to garner needed encouragement or to provide support for someone else in your shoes? By all means, take advantage!
  3. How might our conversation hurt? Will the recovery of your loved one be stunted in any way by your words? Could what you’re about to say unnecessarily jeopardize their job, relationships or reputation? If so, try to find another avenue.

When asked how she ended up on a stage sharing her family’s history of addiction, Davis says: “I was nervous and anxious talking about it. I dealt with a lot of shame. When I finally figured out how it was affecting me, I could talk about it. The more I talk about it, the less power it has over me.”4

And, in turn, the more power she has to help someone else.

Hear more from Miss Tennessee 2017 Caty Davis on episode #44 of the Recovery Unscripted podcast.


1 Addiction Impacts.” Facing Addiction, Accessed December 19, 2017.

2 Hilgers, Laura. “Let’s Open Up About Addiction and Recovery.” The New York Times, November 4, 2017.

3Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, August 2016.

4Spotlighting Addiction from the Stage with Caty Davis and Emily McLeod.” Recovery Unscripted, Accessed December 19, 2017.

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