Last week, I shared things I’ve learned about addiction and recovery over the past thirty years. When I started working in the substance abuse field, there were drug counselors, and there were alcohol counselors. Over time, we realized people switch addictions. So when I say addict, I include alcoholic, because alcohol is a mood altering, potentially addictive drug. Sometimes I say alcohol and other drugs. Either way, chemical dependence affects not only the “identified patient,” it affects family members, loved ones, and everyone who cares.
We worry about them. We lie awake at night and wonder about what we did or didn’t do. Did we lecture too much? Should we have said more? We feel shame, anger, confusion and fear. We feel love. Even when we don’t want to feel anything. When we try to control situations beyond our control, or try to make everyone happy, we just end up making ourselves sick. We wonder how we can help.
What I’ve learned is that we have to put our own oxygen masks on first. We have to make sure we are taking care of ourselves.
Here are some other things I’ve learned that might help those who care about some one struggling with alcohol or other drug problems:
1. Develop a support network for you. Go to Alanon, Naranon Celebrate Recovery, Codependents Anonymous or an open AA or NA meeting. One of my favorite daily meditation books is, The Language of Letting Go, Daily Meditations for Codependents, by Melody Beattie. I believe it saved my sanity a time or two.
2. Invite your loved one to clean and sober activities, like going to a movie, or for a walk, or any low risk event where there will be no alcohol or other drugs.
3. Be encouraging, not critical. Try not to bring up the past. Express your needs. Express your fears and concerns if you need to, but express your hopes more.
4. Ask how you can help support their recovery, but set boundaries to take care of yourself. As one family member put it:
“I’ll help you in your recovery but not in your addiction.”
5. Don’t drink or use around them. I know this might be controversial. Some people in recovery might say it’s okay for you to drink around them. Unless this person has been clean and sober for a long time, like 10 years, and works a program, it’s not worth the risk. Model that it’s possible to have fun and live life without drinking/drugging.
6. Don’t enable the problem: Don’t give money, don’t clean up messes, or cover up the natural consequences of the addiction. It’s okay to provide food, or if the person is working a recovery program, maybe pay a bill, but not repeatedly. (If safety is an issue, do what’s necessary to help someone, especially children, be safe.)
7. Offer to provide child care so the person can go to a meeting or counseling appointment. Or offer to help with rides to meetings or counseling appointments if you can.
8.Pray. The Serenity Prayer is always a good one, and works for about any situation.
9. Take care of yourself. Set reasonable boundaries for your own well-being. Get the rest, nutrition and support you need.
10. Never give up hope. Recovery takes time. Things might get worse, even after the drinking and drugging stop, before they get better. You might need to create distance to protect yourself, but remember: there is always hope.