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Supporting a Loved One Coming Home from Addiction Treatment

Supporting a Loved One Coming Home from Addiction TreatmentIf your loved one is in treatment, they’re taking the steps to change their life for the better. Whether that’s after a long and hard battle to get them there or a sudden decision on their part doesn’t matter. Chances are, you want to support them and to provide the kind of help and support they need to continue to get better at home. That can mean taking steps to get therapy yourself, to change how you talk about and see substance use disorder, and to provide the kind of support they need.

It’s natural that you want to help. Chances are, offering support will also make a lot of difference to your loved one and how they feel coming out of addiction treatment. At the same time, they need to be in charge of their recovery and that means they set the pace. You can’t decide things for anyone, instead, you can only provide the emotional support they need to keep moving forward. Sometimes that will be difficult, especially if your loved one is struggling, appears to be backsliding, or is too caught up in dealing with their own problems to notice the help.

Addiction Treatment Doesn’t Mean Complete Recovery

In an ideal world, your loved one would go to treatment and come back completely recovered, with no more substance use disorder. Unfortunately, nothing ever works that way. Even if you were to send your loved one off for surgery for a broken bone, they’d still have months of recovery to follow – and you’d have to support them as they struggle through healing. Addiction treatment is the same, as you’ll have someone who’s been handed tools and a means of changing their life, but who still has to figure out how to apply that and if that application fits their life or if they need further support.

They will still experience cravings, they will have mood swings, they will revert to behaviors from addiction, they may even relapse a few times. The important thing is that they always stop and recognize negative things and get back on track, because healing is very rarely linear. If you need extra help with that, going to support groups like Al-Anon can actually help a great deal

It’s also important to keep in mind that nothing is bringing the “old” them back. Most of us send our loved ones off to treatment expecting to get the “them” they were before addiction happened back. That’s never going to happen, and setting expectations for it will only lead to disappointment. You’re going to have to get to know your loved one as they are now, with the impact of everything that’s happened since they started using, with the impact of substances on their brain, and with the impacts of therapy and treatment. They won’t be the same as before – but chances are, you’ll like the new version of them just as much as you did the old one.

Understanding what Support Looks Like

It’s also important to consider what supporting your loved one actually looks like. That means stepping back and looking at which factor. In most cases, that means:

  • Having the ability to make informed decisions to support physical and emotional well-being
  • Having a stable and safe place to live
  • Having a meaningful and independent life with resources to participate in society
  • Having support, love, friendship, and family through relationships and social networks

You can often help with that in several ways. For example, you can help by listening, by providing a stable place to live, by offering respect, and by continuing to engage with them even when they are struggling. Support can look different depending on your relationship and for example, will take dramatically different forms depending on whether your loved one is living with you or not after treatment.

Committing to Healing Relationships

family members having relationship problems because of substance abuseIt’s important to keep in mind that substance use disorders often very significantly damage relationships. Often, you will build patterns of negative behavior and responses that can carry over, even after your loved one is in recovery. This means you may have to deal with your own negative emotions and being bitter, angry, or disappointed. Your loved one is not going to tackle those right away and may not even realize it has to be done. Putting the focus on their recovery first and working to build a relationship so you have the grounds to talk about the past is an important part of commitment.

  • It’s not about you, their focus on their recovery should be the most important thing for the first months out of recovery
  • It’s critical to set healthy boundaries and to say no when you cannot or do not want to do something or be involved with it
  • Setting guidelines on stepping out of situations where either of you is behaving or responding in a negative fashion is important.
  • Deciding to actively acknowledge and work around past behavior and patterns will be important, especially if you find yourself easily fighting, dismissing each other, etc.

Setting good boundaries can also help you to ensure that you behave in a healthy manner around your loved one. E.g., by ensuring that you aren’t enabling them or pushing them back into a pattern of substance abuse.

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Create a Safe and Welcoming Environment

It’s important that you take steps to create a safe and welcoming environment for your loved one. That means:

  • Practicing acceptance of who they are now, with all faults and problems
  • Accepting that they aren’t recovered and are instead in recovery
  • Making space for mental health problems
  • Accepting that they will not be fixing your relationship right away
  • Accepting that substance use disorders are a behavioral disorder or an illness and not a personal choice

It also means taking steps to make your loved one feel like they are accepted, welcome, and wanted. That means:

  • Treating your loved one like a member of the family even when they can’t contribute to the family
  • Involve them in plans, events, etc.
  • Plan around their obligations and needs. E.g., having parties that are alcohol-free, taking their therapy or 12-step obligations into account when making plans, etc. Simple things like going “We can’t go out to dinner at Thursday at 5 PM because X has their 12-step meeting then, why don’t we do it Wednesday instead?” can make a lot of difference to people feeling like their needs are being taken into account.

A history of substance use disorder can mean there’s a history of avoidance, negative emotions, and not including people in plans. Changing that is one of the easiest ways to show that you accept they are trying and that they are part of the family.

Talk and Listen

Going into recovery and treatment often means that you’re basing your entire life around treatment. At the same time, your loved one is changing as a person. They’re learning new things, picking up new skills, picking up new hobbies, and making new friends. They’re in a state of enforced change and that can be difficult and traumatic. Making space to talk about that, about what they are learning, about what they are doing, about life goals, etc., is more important than talking about addiction, cravings, and getting better. Why? It makes your loved one feel supported, like you see that they are trying, and that you acknowledge they are a person beyond their substance use disorder and recovery from it.

Seek Out Family Therapy

people during a family therapyIn many cases, it’s going to be important to go to therapy and treatment yourself. That’s either by yourself or with your loved one. Family therapy can help you to improve your relationships, to undo old patterns, and to build new behavioral patterns with your loved one. It can also allow you to get support in figuring out how to be there for your loved one. That also often means having third-party insight into what your loved one is saying and what that means for you and for your family.

Family therapy can help you to work on healing relationships, to understand how your negative behavior patterns impact each other, and to see your relationship from their perspective as well as your own.

Building a Relationship

Moving forward from addiction means putting in a lot of work. It means accepting your loved one for who they are and as imperfect. It also means giving them autonomy, freedom, and privacy to make their own decisions. That means building trust and rebuilding a relationship based on who they are now. That can be difficult, especially if the past hasn’t given you the grounds to do so, but will give you a baseline to have a healthy and positive relationship with your loved one moving forward.

Rehab or addiction treatment gives your loved one the tools to move forward and to fix their life. It’s what they do with it as they leave rehab that counts. The most important thing you can do to support that is to make them feel loved, like part of the family, and like they are being seen for the effort they are putting in.