Talking to those you love the most about your addiction and recovery can be a challenging undertaking. For many addicts, though, the conversation goes much better than they could have anticipated, with loved ones offering understanding, reassurance, and lots of help. The people who love you the most want to see you succeed, even if they don’t understand the disease of addiction or haven’t always made healthy choices. If you plan to have someone in your life after you recover, then, you owe it to them and to yourself to discuss your addiction and involve them, as much as possible, in your recovery journey.
Share What You Want to Share
There’s no addiction rulebook, no ultimate guide on what you should and should not say. When addiction takes control over your life, one of the most important keys to getting better is wresting control away from the addiction. One way to do this is to share what you feel comfortable sharing – not what your friend, your sponsor, your therapist, or your loved one thinks you should share.
If you feel you need to leave out a significant part of the story, though – such as the reason you use drugs or your recent diagnosis with a mental health condition – you may want to evaluate whether this is someone you want to be a part of your recovery journey. After all, if this person is likely to judge or berate you, they may make the walk toward sobriety a more painful hike. If you’re simply not yet ready to share, though, give at least a cursory explanation. For example, “Mom, a lot has happened that I want to eventually share with you, but I’m just not ready yet. Can you support me anyway?”
Offer Some Education
Few people take the time to educate themselves about the disease of addiction until addiction touches their own life. Despite your loved one’s best intentions, odds are good that he or she hangs onto some myths about addiction – that it’s a choice, that it’s a product of a bad home, or that you can quit anytime you want, for example. Be prepared to educate your loved one about the disease of addiction; this, of course, means you’ll need to educate yourself, in addition to ridding yourself of the sort of guilt and shame that can interfere with your ability to properly educate your loved ones.
Not sure where to begin? Northpoint Recovery offers an in-depth resource library covering various addictions. You may also want to refer your loved one to Nar-Anon or Al-Anon for group support in a compassionate setting.
Make Communication a Two-Way Street
It’s unfair to expect that you’ll be the only one who gets to talk. Unless your family member has been living under a rock, odds are good that he or she already knows you’re an addict, or at least that something is wrong. Your loved one may have suffered already due to your addiction and may be so overwhelmed by your decision to seek recovery that he or she takes this chance to share the way your addiction has harmed others. Don’t be offended, and don’t deny how your addiction has harmed people you love; taking accountability to those whom you’ve hurt is a key part of the recovery journey.
But what if you’re not ready to make amends, or you think your loved one has lobbed some unfair complaints in your direction? Don’t initiate an argument. Instead, tell your loved one that you’re not yet ready to talk about this, but that after you’ve completed your recovery, you’ll be more than happy to. You might also suggest pursuing family therapy or writing letters back and forth to discuss your feelings.
Discuss Your Plan
No one who loves you want to see you languish with an addiction forever. It’s common, then, for loved ones to be terrified that you’ll relapse, that your recovery plan won’t work, or that this is a sympathy ploy or an attempt at getting money. You owe it to the people you love to discuss your treatment plan. After all, no one can help you if they don’t know what you’re doing to help yourself or to attain sobriety!
You’re under no obligation to discuss the nitty-gritty details of your therapy sessions or to share private medical information. But be sure to cover, at the very least:
- What you’re doing to get sober
- Where you’re going to work toward recovery – be sure to provide addresses and contact information if you’re checking into rehab or otherwise moving out of the area.
- How long you think sobriety will take.
- How long it will be before you can talk to your loved one again – not knowing when or if they will hear from the addict they love is a common and intense source of stress for people who care about addicts.
- What sorts of communication you can have while pursuing sobriety. For example, can your loved one call? Visit? Send you emails?
- Whether you want your loved one to participate in any sort of family recovery program, such as family therapy in rehab or a family support group through Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Ask for Help
People who love addicts are used to hearing stories about how the addict is really going to get better this time, how loaning the addict money will change everything, or how this one slip-up doesn’t matter. So don’t be surprised if your loved one is a bit skeptical at first. You may be surprised, though, to learn how willing your loved ones are to help you once they know that you’re really serious about your own recovery. Asking for help not only includes the people you love the most; it also gives you a chance to get the support you need. Steer clear of requests for loans or financial assistance unless you absolutely must ask. Instead, try proposing some of the following options:
- Ask your loved one to provide emotional support by talking to you on a regular basis.
- Seek assistance with distracting yourself from your addiction by scheduling a regular coffee, exercise, or shopping date.
- Give your loved one information on family support groups he or she can pursue.
- Provide your loved one with details about your recovery plan so that he or she can fully support you. For example, if you believe you must be away from people who drink alcohol, your loved one can opt not to serve alcohol at functions you attend, or alert you if alcohol is present at a family gathering.
- Enlist your loved one’s assistance with talking to the children in your life about your addiction.
- If your loved ones has overcome an addiction or mental illness, don’t be afraid to solicit his or her hard-earned wisdom.
Don’t Assign Blame
Every addict has a story. Maybe a family history of abuse caused you to turn to drugs or alcohol, or perhaps a traumatic breakup left you floundering. There’s nothing wrong with talking about the demons with which you struggle or working toward a resolution with a family member who has hurt you. Blaming your loved one – or anyone else you know – for your addiction is, however, a losing strategy. Not only does this undermine the personal responsibility that long-term recovery demands; it can also alienate someone who might otherwise help you.
Think of it this way: you’ve probably hurt people you loved as a result of your addiction, and you’re now seeking their forgiveness and understanding. It’s not fair, then, to deny to others what you request for yourself. Still angry at your alcoholic dad? Time to let it go. Resentful that your mother wouldn’t pay for your rehab? You have no idea what struggles she might have been facing. By treating your march toward recovery as a clean slate for everyone, you give yourself the very best chance you can at moving forward. People change; you have, after all. And if someone who loves you wants to start fresh, there’s nothing wrong with entertaining the notion. Just be prepared to set clear boundaries, and even to cut this person out of your life if they eventually cause serious damage or continue to contribute to your addiction.
Talking to your loved ones about your addiction is a profound act of bravery, and the rewards don’t always come immediately. Be prepared for some tension, but know that the long-term effects of coming clean will only be positive – even if things end up quit differently than you expected them to.
Northpoint Recovery is a private, highly specialized drug and alcohol detox and rehab treatment center located in Southwestern Idaho. We specialize in helping adults, adolescents, and families affected by substance use who require inpatient and detox services. We accept most forms of insurance, credit cards, and private payment. For more information, please visit us at www.NorthpointRecovery.com