When your friend has gone through rehab and come home to begin living a clean and sober life, your initial thoughts might be tinged with worry or anxiety about his or her prospects in recovery. You’ve heard all the stories about how relapse is common and how many of those who are just getting clean have a difficult time of it. Should you stay away and allow your friend to sort it out on his or her own? Is there something else you could be doing? Here are some tips on how to best help your newly sober friend.
Acknowledge That You Don’t Have All the Answers
While you might think that your friend who’s just returned from treatment is expecting you to have many of the answers to complex questions, or just the opposite, believes that you couldn’t possibly understand what it means to be newly sober and facing the challenges of recovery, be upfront about what you know. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. You don’t need to have them. What you do need to let your friend know is that you’re going to be there, no matter what challenges he or she faces — today, tomorrow and beyond.
Remain a True and Steady Friend
It’s tough to see someone you care about, someone who’s been your friend for a long time, go through pain and confusion. There’s probably no more turbulent time in the life of a newly sober individual than the first 90 days. It is during this initial recovery phase that so many people succumb to cravings and urges, feel so defeated, alone and powerless that they return to the safety of what they do know — numbness and absence of pain in their drug of choice.
Rather than turn away from your friend in the hour of need — at 2 in the morning or on Sunday night or in the middle of your family dinner — it’s critically important that you remain a true and steady friend. This means that you don’t shirk the unpleasant or give up when it appears your friend may be likely to slip back into the drug and alcohol behavior that got him or her into trouble in the first place. Granted, it’s going to be tough to watch such things happen, but a real friend will stand by a struggling friend in recovery. Knowing you’re there could make all the difference in your friend’s ultimate return to sobriety — or withstanding the challenges he or she faces right now.
Be Proactive to Offset Loneliness
One of the common experiences in those who are new to recovery is a profound feeling of loneliness. Recovering individuals tend to shut themselves off from others, whether out of a feeling of shame or guilt or just being overwhelmed by everything coming at them all at once. It’s important to recognize this tendency and not be put off by it. Instead, be proactive so that you can do your part to offset this self-imposed isolation and bring your friend the companionship he or she so desperately needs.
Recognize, too, that your friend may say everything is OK and that he or she doesn’t need anything from you. Tell your friend that you’re sure he or she is fine and you want to spend time together. Remind your friend of the value of your friendship and reinforce your commitment to the relationship. Be explicit that nothing will detract from your connection, not being in recovery or relapsing or anything else. Your friend needs to hear this — even though his or her comments may say just the opposite.
Offer to Accompany Your Friend to Meetings
You don’t have to be in recovery yourself to be a part of your friend’s recovery experience. You can, for example, offer to accompany your friend to meetings and wait for him or her until the meeting is over and ride back together. You could also get together for coffee following a meeting, just so you have the opportunity to reinforce your relationship and give your friend something to look forward to — a safe and non-threatening environment with an ally.
Just the fact that your friend knows you are trying to ensure he or she goes to recovery meetings or 12-step groups will be helpful. If it isn’t a burden to you and they know that it isn’t, this offer on your part will be seen as an extension of the bond between you. You want the best for each other, and this is one of the ways you can demonstrate that intent.
Steer Clear of Alcohol When You Get Together
When you know that your friend is recovering from addiction to alcohol or drugs, one of the most clear-cut and positive things you can do is to appreciate the struggle he or she is going through — and steer clear of alcohol when you do get together. Whether that’s watching the football game on TV or inviting your friend to a family or holiday gathering, avoid having booze around that could trigger a relapse. It isn’t deprivation on your part but recognition that the proximity of alcohol is too much of a temptation to the newly sober individual trying to find his or her way in recovery.
It’s also a realization on your part that you don’t need to drink in order to have fun, to enjoy the companionship of your friend. This is a great way to show your friend that he or she means more to you than the opportunity to drink and get loaded.
Become a Resource and Ally to Create Goals and Pursue Dreams
What your newly sober friend needs most of all is to find a sense of meaning and purpose in sobriety. For some, this is a formidable challenge, having little to draw on but a past littered with one failure or serious consequence due to addiction after another. As a true friend, you want to encourage your companion to go after long-held dreams — or to create ones where none existed. Listen to your friend’s goals and help in the creation of plans to pursue them.
Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. There will be too many people standing in the way of your friend, saying it’s hopeless and not worth the effort. You can be the counterpoint to that negativity by being both a resource and a trusted ally as your friend begins the recovery journey.
In the end, if it helps you make the transition to being more supportive and understanding of what your friend is going through, think of how you would like to be treated if the situation were reversed. True friendship is invaluable in life — especially when someone is newly sober and scared of the uncertain future. You can bring a sense of calm and direction to your friend and help solidify the commitment to recovery.