When a loved one decides to seek treatment and start the recovery process for addiction, you naturally may feel extremely positive and optimistic. But as supporting a loved one along this journey can also be incredibly challenging, it’s important to manage your expectations and be prepared for the impact his or her recovery process will have on your relationship. While it’s tempting to believe that the start of treatment is the end of the struggle with addiction, the reality is that the recovery process is a journey that your loved one will walk for his or her whole life. Your loved one, and your relationship, will not “go back to normal” overnight.
So, what should you expect when your loved one is in recovery?
First, substance dependence can put an enormous strain on relationships, and you may not yet have realized the full extent of its impact until recovery is well underway. Whether it’s your partner, a relative or a friend who’s been struggling with addiction, you may have experienced a whole host of feelings about his or her substance abuse, from guilt, self-blame and shame to disappointment, anxiety and powerlessness. Drug or alcohol abuse may have been a source of conflict, communication breakdown or financial difficulties at home, and you may have felt that your feelings and needs were neglected as a result of that person’s addiction.
All of these wounds will take time to heal. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to feel “ok” again just because your loved one is now seeking help. It will take a lot of time and effort on both sides to rebuild the trust, friendship and intimacy you once had. During this period of adjustment, relationship or family therapy may be a helpful way for you and your loved one to address these issues, once she’s reached a stable point in her recovery.
The best thing you can do is provide support, encouragement and sympathy without piling on pressure or guilt when things get rough
If the person in recovery is your partner, you’re also more likely to have developed some co-dependency as a way of coping with his addiction. You may have grown used to looking after your loved one while he was using drugs or alcohol, putting his needs ahead of your own; you may find yourself struggling to adapt into a different relationship dynamic, where your identity is no longer that of “carer” or “keeper.” Individual counseling can be helpful to work through your own feelings about how addiction has affected you and your loved one, and it can help you establish a new identity (or return to your previous identity) within your relationship.
Recovery itself is a long and complex process, and your loved one’s road to sobriety will not be quick or straightforward. The early period of treatment in particular is often an emotional roller coaster, and relapses are common. This can be incredibly frustrating, both for the person in treatment and her loved ones, but letting your own anger or frustration dominate your relationship when your friend or relative is grappling with obstacles will only create roadblocks in her recovery, as well as your own healing process.
Your loved one will face many challenges early on in his recovery, and he is the only person who can choose to fully engage with the treatment process. Trying to coax him, guilt-trip him, or hurry him along his path simply won’t work and could even make matters worse. Instead, the best thing you can do is provide support, encouragement and sympathy without piling on pressure or guilt when things get rough.
The good news is that positive and supportive relationships play a really important part in treatment for drug and alcohol addictions, and they can greatly improve your loved one’s chances of finding lasting recovery. Just knowing that you are there, supporting and cheering her on will make a big difference to your loved one as she tackles her addictions.
Positive and supportive relationships play a really important part in treatment for drug and alcohol addictions, and they can greatly improve your loved one’s chances of finding lasting recovery
However, don’t forget that you will be best equipped to support your loved one with his or her problems if you are also looking after yourself. It can be very easy, throughout both your loved one’s struggle with addiction and journey to recovery, to forget about you. For your loved one’s benefit and your own, ensure that you have proper help and support for yourself—whether that’s from a mental health professional or your own friends and family. With both you and your loved one fully supported and engaged in the recovery process, there’s so much more you can achieve together.
Written by Sarah Graham
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