How to Help a Newly Sober Loved One

Helping a Loved One Stay SoberWhen you have a loved one who’s gone through drug rehabilitation and is about to return home, you’re likely to have mixed emotions. Intermingled with the excitement and joy you feel over the homecoming is bound to be an element of fear and uncertainty.

You want to support your loved one, but you might also feel at a loss over how to do that. Here are some practical tips on how to help:

Be Structured

Maybe your home isn’t a very structured environment. This could be a problem for your returning loved one, who is probably used to a regular schedule of treatment, meals, therapy, support groups and even recreational periods. It’s important to put together a schedule that fits well with the recovery plan laid out for your loved one before they leave the treatment facility so there are no gaps. When there’s a vacuum, trouble can set in.

Help arrange transportation to therapy, doctor’s appointments and meetings so your loved one can continue with a schedule that feels comfortable and furthers their recovery. It might take some time for you and other family members to adjust, but your end goal should be to smooth the transition home and be as accommodating as possible for your loved one’s continued healing.

Be Realistic With Expectations

With so much already weighing on your loved one’s mind — not the least of which is a certain amount of fear over coming home — the last thing you want to do is add to the burden. That’s why recovery experts recommend going light on expectations, at least for the first few days and weeks.

After all, your loved one already has some readjustment ahead as they get used to being home instead of at the treatment facility. Holding them to expectations that might be too much for them right now won’t do anyone any good.

Be Patient

Tempers might flare occasionally. It’s not uncommon for this to happen when a loved one returns home from treatment. Keep in mind that overcoming addiction is tremendous hard work — for the newly recovered and for their family. Patience is critical in these situations.

If you find yourself tempted to blurt out a comment you know will cause hurt or start an argument, curb your tongue. The same holds true for harping on your loved one to keep their room clean, incessant quizzing or following up on certain activities, and similar pressure. These actions don’t promote an environment of support and encouragement. Holding off on what you might normally say could feel strange, but at this early period in your loved one’s recovery, it’s much more productive to be patient than to say everything you’re thinking.

Be Supportive

If there’s one constant piece of advice, it’s to always focus on being supportive of your newly sober loved one. Support can take many forms, such as giving a well-timed hug or soft words of praise, sending a text or email to say hello and that you love them, driving your loved one to and from appointments and meetings, having small family get-togethers (but not too soon after your loved one returns home), and talking over plans and goals.

That discussion should happen when your loved one either broaches the subject or indicates a willingness to do so. Your role is to support their recovery efforts, not take over or issue orders that could be seen as too demanding, intrusive, or controlling.

Be Demonstrative and Loving

Perhaps as important as being supportive is demonstrating through your words and actions that you care about your loved one. Recognize that this is a crucial time in their recovery and that knowing you’re always there, loving and supportive, will go a long way toward easing anxiety and fears about maintaining sobriety.

Showing your love won’t diminish the amount of hard work your loved one will need to do, nor will it magically erase the hurts of the past. But it’s always an important part of your loved one’s healing journey.

Be Willing to Listen

There’ll come a point in your loved one’s recovery when it’s time to make amends. These might be direct amends to you or other members of the family, as well as co-workers, friends, neighbors and any other people whose lives have been affected by your loved one’s addiction. When this time comes, be willing to listen. Do so in a nonjudgmental manner and hold your criticism — because being too critical right now likely could derail the attempt at amends.

Your loved one might also want to get some things off their chest, to pose some theoretical questions that have serious implications or meaning for them, or to toss out a few possible goals and potential courses of action. They might want to tackle a thorny issue that’s causing recurring problems, and this might even involve what’s going on in the family. While you might not relish getting involved in this type of communication, recognize that it’s a normal part of healing. It can be painful, but it’s necessary. That’s why it’s important that you keep the lines of communication open.

Be Forgiving

Embarking on a new life in sobriety is fraught with unforeseen problems, unexpected issues and seemingly impossible challenges. Your forgiveness could help your loved one, but even more importantly, it could help you. This is true despite any misgivings you might have or serious doubts over your loved one’s sincerity, commitment or apparent lack of progress on recovery.

The only way anyone ever finds their way to a productive, happy life in recovery is through many starts and stops — and sometimes even relapses or a return to rehab — and a whole lot of support along the way. It does no good to harbor ill will or stew over the past. Get beyond that. Recognize the hurt, acknowledge it, and move on, forgiving your loved one and yourself.

Be Hopeful

The dark days of your loved one’s addiction might be past, but there’s always work to be done. They might slip — although many recovering individuals don’t relapse, bolstered by a strong support system within the family and in peer groups.

More commonly, those in recovery go through periods of ups and downs. Sometimes everything seems to be going well, while at other times it takes all their willpower to get through the day without succumbing to temptation to use again. You can help by being hopeful and projecting an optimistic attitude.

Yes, there’ll be good days and bad ones. Yes, you and your recovering loved one might go through some intense, scary moments. But if you maintain hope and encourage your loved one to do the same, you’ll likely both benefit from this positive attitude.

By Suzanne Kane

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