Addiction is sometimes deemed a “family disease” because of the way it impacts those who misuse substances as well as their loved ones. Once a person struggling with addiction has taken the steps to enroll in treatment, their families become very hopeful that the nightmare addiction has brought into their lives is over. However, recovery isn’t something that can be done in a couple weeks. It’s an ongoing journey that someone with an addiction will deal with for the rest of their lives. Friends, parents, siblings and other extended family members often try their hardest to help their loved one in recovery once they’ve completed treatment, but often times, unforeseen hardships arise that can cause stress amongst family or friends.
Adjusting to the “New Normal”
Family members who participated in group therapy sessions during the outpatient treatment program learned that reducing triggers that can possibly provoke relapse is the best way to help their loved one stay on the road to recovery. Keeping medicine cabinets clean of unused opioid medication, eliminating recreational drug use in their presence, and discouraging misuse of other substances are important to keep in mind around the house. It’s also expected that celebrations will also bring about a different mood or feeling with someone who is in recovery. Holidays and special occasions in the past may have been times where they heavily misused drugs or even mixed with other substances. Keeping parties clean and sober immediately after they exit treatment is a good idea until the person in recovery feels comfortable. This may not always be so easy, however. While adjusting behaviors to help the person in recovery assimilate to a newly sober life, feelings of resentment may arise that they have to go out of their way or “walk on eggshells” all the time. This is why it’s important for those who have a family member in recovery to manage their expectations. Many family members grab and hold onto an expectation of perfection that is unhealthy and unattainable for everyone involved. They may wrongly assume that because someone has finished treatment, they are miraculously “cured” and should be full of joy and excitement. However, many people who remain sober are not always excited about every new day ahead, especially if they are still often reminded about their drug of choice and the reality that they can no longer use. It’s important to remain sensitive and compassionate while your loved one adjusts to socializing and attending family gatherings after treatment. There will be good days and there will be bad days. There will also be mistakes. It’s important for family members to keep these things in mind while their loved one heals.
Dealing with Pressure
Stress is a common issue in the lives of people who are supporting someone in recovery. At the same time, once someone has completed treatment, it’s not unusual for them to feel like all eyes are watching their every move waiting for them to slip up. Family members may feel that there is an immense pressure on them to also support their loved one in recovery at all times, unintentionally increasing stress levels all around. During treatment, those in recovery are taught important skills like time management, dealing with bad days and negative emotions, and how to handle stressors without using. It’s important to allow them to use these tools without trying too hard to micromanage their emotions. This is a pattern that family enablers tend to fall in, before and after treatment. When a spouse, parent sibling, or friend is used to falling into the caretaker role of the person who is misusing drugs, it almost becomes a natural reaction to try to shield their loved one from negative impacts of their pain. It’s crucial to identify who previously had role and ensure they receive proper counseling in order to avoid being in that position ever again. Making a fuss over someone in recovery every time they have a bad day or are not feeling happy can negatively affect their ability to avoid relapse. The person in recovery already knows that their family’s hopes are very high for them to remain successful in recovery even though mistakes may loom in the distance. Ultimately, recovery requires teamwork. Someone in recovery can feel very alone if they are only surrounded by cheerleaders instead of loved ones who are willing to dig deep down and help communicate thoughts and feelings. Fostering an environment for growth as a family is much more effective than policing someone’s every thought, activity or remark as though they are living in a prison, constantly being punished for their previous mistakes. Instead of recommending ways to de-stress, families should engage in them together, as a group. Including your loved one in recovery in these activities together can help bring everyone closer, too.
Let Bygones be Bygones
Many people who have previously struggled with addiction will have to face unpleasant realities upon treatment. Addiction can destroy relationships, especially with loved ones. There are bound to be family members who will have a hard time accepting the person in recovery upon finishing treatment for various reasons. There may be family members who simply cannot let go of the stigma of addiction and view the person in recovery negatively. Exposing these people to each other should be kept at an absolute minimum until the person in recovery is far along in their progress and strong enough to withstand those kinds of situations. Feeling shamed or as though they are in the presence of someone who is negatively judging them while they are working hard to remain on their recovery journey can be very detrimental and a big trigger for relapse. Similarly, there will also be family members who have not been willing to mend a relationship that has been broken by addiction. Perhaps they did not want to participate in family and group sessions, and they have simply cut the person in recovery out of their lives. While someone in recovery may strive to make amends, it’s important to support them as they go through this part of their recovery without picking sides. There will eventually come a time where someone will have to let go and forgive, or let go and forget and move on. It’s very important to understand that there is no way to shift people’s opinions immediately upon treatment. Sometimes these relationships take time to heal. Through all of this, those in recovery should not be made to feel as though their roles are of the “recovering addict”. If they are placed in that hopeless position, they may feel as though they will never achieve any personal redemption of their past behaviors, rendering the recovery process useless.
Families deal with many stressors when a loved one finishes outpatient treatment. They want the best for their family member in recovery but it’s also important that they educate themselves and keep these essential things in mind in order to be supportive in a productive way that will enhance the recovery journey.