Battling an addiction of any kind takes dedication, hard work, and acts of heroism on a daily basis. If you have a friend or family member who is in recovery, you might be wondering how you can support them in their recovery process.
It can be painful to watch someone you care about struggle with an addiction. It can also be a confusing time filled with uncertainty for everyone involved. Here are five ways you can support a family member or friend who is in recovery.
Recovery isn’t linear
You’ve likely heard stories of individuals who either quit their addiction “cold turkey” and never relapsed again, and you’ve also likely heard stories of individuals who struggle their entire lives with their addiction. And there are many people whose experience lies somewhere in between: they struggle and relapse but eventually find a strategy that works for them.
As someone who is supporting a friend or family member in recovery, it’s important to recognize that the recovery process isn’t linear. They may never relapse, they may relapse once, or they may relapse several times — it just depends on the person and their unique experience. Instead of seeing success as never relapsing, try to focus on the way in which they respond to their relapse. They may be tempted to feel discouraged and ashamed, but you can be there to encourage them to get back up, learn from what happened, and try again.
Ask how you can help
It might be tempting to feel like you have to walk on eggshells around the person because you know that they have been through a lot, but it can actually be more helpful to simply ask them for specific ways in which they could use your support. For example, they may ask you to check in on them frequently, or they may say that it is overwhelming to be constantly asked if they are okay.
By specifically asking what they need, you aren’t left to just guess at what would be most helpful — you have a clear idea of what will help them. By inquiring how you can help, you are also showing your support to your family member and demonstrating that you want to be involved in their recovery. One caveat: When you ask how you can help, remember that you are following their lead, not deciding what you think is best for them.
One of the most underrated ways to help someone in recovery is simply being willing to listen. It’s easy to want to give advice or tell someone what you think they should do, but it’s rare to have someone who is able to put aside their own need to share their opinions or advice and prioritize listening.
Listening is an incredible gift to give someone who is going through a season of struggle. All it takes is asking, “How are things going?” and then listening and seeking to understand the other person’s experience and perspective. Knowing that someone cares enough to listen can be transformative. Empathic listening is an underrated and powerful skill.
Work to support, not “fix”
It can be tempting to try to jump in to try to “fix” your family member or friend because it is so painful to see them suffering. But remember: it isn’t your job to go through the recovery process for them. We are each in charge of our own behaviors, choices, and thoughts — and we have to respect that in others as well.
If you try to fix someone or take over what should be their responsibility, you aren’t actually being authentically supportive. Instead, support looks like deferring to them: ask how you can help, be encouraging, and respect their responsibility for their recovery process. This can mean setting healthy boundaries for yourself so that you aren’t overstepping and taking over.
Take care of yourself
Finally, make sure that you are practicing authentic self-care habits. Obviously, your family member or friend in recovery is a priority for you right now. In order to be at your best and most supportive, you need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Get enough rest; make sure you are eating regular, nutritious meals; reach out to your own support network; and seek out supportive counseling if needed.
Managing your own stress and making sure you are at your best will ensure that you can be supportive for the long term. If you don’t prioritize your own self-care, you may be at risk for a “crash and burn” situation where you can’t sustain the level of the support you’d like because you are mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted.