8 Ways To Support Your Newly Sober Family Member
If you have a newly sober family member, you may be experiencing a flurry of different emotions.
Although there’s a sense of relief, your fear may have also transferred from worrying about your loved one’s wellbeing to worrying about your loved one relapsing.
You may even feel responsible for your loved one’s sobriety.
Rest assured, that what you’re going through is completely normal. Early recovery is a complicated time for those in recovery, and for their loved ones, too.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to support your loved one as they learn how to navigate recovery, while also taking care of yourself.
Read on to discover 8 ways to support a family member who is in recovery.
How you can support a newly sober family member
Below are 8 ways you can work on supporting a newly sober family member:
1. Learn about addiction
One of the most important things you can do to support a family member in recovery is to learn about the nature of addiction itself. Although there’s so much research available on the disease of addiction, many people still stigmatise the illness. There are many myths surrounding addiction, as well as those who suffer from it. Because of this, you may have some underlying beliefs about addiction. You may even have beliefs about your loved one that you aren’t even consciously aware of.
Learning about how addiction affects the brain will help you gain a better understanding of your loved one’s struggles. You’ll likely learn that your loved one reached a point where they still couldn’t stop using, even if they had a desire to in their heart, without entering treatment. You’ll also learn about how addiction changes the brain.
Additionally, you’ll learn that it will take time and conscious effort for your loved one to deny their urges to use. They’ll have to develop a new way of living without substances.
When you learn about addiction, it helps you empathise with your loved one more. This can allow you to have more patience and understanding as you offer them support.
2. Reduce any unnecessary pressure at home
When your family member gets home from rehab, they may be disoriented on an emotional and mental level. It’s important to allow your family member to do whatever they need to do to put a full focus on their recovery and regain a sense of homeostasis.
Reducing any unnecessary pressure in the home will benefit them. It will give them mental and emotional time and space to focus on their sobriety. For instance, if your partner just returned home from rehab, you may be intent on them returning to work right away. However, this may make it difficult for them to first stabilise at home and find their footing in recovery.
Another example is that perhaps your loved one just returned home from rehab, and you want them to attend a family gathering with you. However, they may still be working through deep-rooted issues and don’t feel ready to be around extended family quite yet.
It’s completely normal to want your newly sober family member to integrate back into the stream of life, but it’s important to know that there’s an adjustment period after rehab. Your loved one will need to become rooted in their recovery and learn how to gradually integrate it into all areas of their life in order to maintain their sobriety.
Allowing your loved one to focus on their recovery will only benefit you and your family. Give your loved one time to find their footing, and offer your support and encouragement along the way.
3. Be wary of immediately expressing grievances toward your loved one
When your loved one is newly sober, you’ll undoubtedly experience feelings of relief and joy. However, other emotions may also begin bubbling up to the surface.
It’s completely normal for you to feel anger or resentment towards your loved one for things that happened while they were in active addiction. However, be mindful of when the right time is to express your grievances to them.
Don’t hold your feelings in, as they will only fester and grow. However, know that your loved one is likely in an incredibly vulnerable place both mentally and emotionally. If you have a support system in the form of friends, family members, a support group, or a therapist, talk to them. It may be beneficial to express the feelings that are coming up with them rather than immediately expressing grievances to your loved one.
If there is something that you need to say, that you feel cannot wait, seek advice on how to broach the matter in a calm and productive manner. Support groups and counsellors can offer invaluable advice, here.
4. Learn about your family roles and how to communicate effectively
When your loved one was in active addiction, you both took on specific family roles. This happens in families when family members attempt to cope with their loved one’s addiction. All family members typically take on one of 6 roles: the hero, the scapegoat, the mascot, the caretaker, the lost child, and “the addict.”
- The “addict” is the focal point of the family, and is the one engaging in ongoing substance use. Other family members shift into dysfunctional roles in an attempt to cope with this family member’s behaviour.
- The caretaker is also viewed as “the enabler.” This family member takes care of “the addict,” covers for them, and takes care of their responsibilities. They typically don’t realise how this is enabling their loved, allowing their substance use to perpetuate. The caretaker engages in these behaviours in an effort to keep everyone happy.
- The hero of the family can sometimes be the oldest or first-born child. They become incredibly competent at everything. They are self-sufficient, and responsible. In school, the hero likely excels at everything they do, such as getting good grades and doing well in sports. They’re often the “good face” of the family. This can become dysfunctional when the hero feels pressure to be successful in order to bring pride to the family.
- The scapegoat of the family is often viewed as the problem child. They may engage in seemingly reckless or problematic behaviour. This is typically in an effort to divert attention away from the loved one with the addiction.
- The mascot attempts to lighten the atmosphere of the household by being the comedian of the family. They use humor in an effort to decrease the stress that has been put on the family.
The lost child
- The lost child typically flies under the radar while all of the other family members are attempting to deal with the addiction in their own ways. This family role isn’t necessarily occupied by a child, and could also be a spouse or parent. This family member may be quieter, and separates themselves from the family dysfunction due to feelings of overwhelm. They may spend a lot of time alone and have trouble maintaining relationships with others.
The benefits of knowing your family role
When your loved one began struggling with addiction, each family member took on one of these roles without even realising it, in an effort to cope. This affected not only how each family member communicated with one another, but also how everyone processed their own thoughts and feelings.
Learning about which family role you may have fallen into while your loved one was in active addiction can help give you some clarity on the different ways their addiction impacted on how you relate to them and other members of the family. It can also give you some insight into how you managed your own pain during their addiction.
You can now support your family member by working towards relearning how to communicate with them, how to create healthy boundaries, and by taking care of yourself.
5. Help your loved one create a new, healthy lifestyle
As previously mentioned, your loved one will essentially have to learn how to navigate life in a new way after they become sober. This can feel scary, intimidating, and incredibly challenging for them. Fortunately, with your love and support, they don’t have to do it alone.
You can support your loved one by offering to try out new hobbies with them. You can offer to take them to the movies or go with them for a walk in the park. Perhaps you can join the gym with them, try new fitness classes together, or try out new, healthy recipes together.
Knowing they have you there to support them or try new things with them can help make such a difference in how your loved one navigates recovery.
6. Be patient with your newly sober loved one
It’s so important to be patient with your newly sober family member. Ending their substance use was only the first step on their recovery journey. They’ll have to learn how to understand their own emotions, how to feel safe with their emotions, and how to manage their feelings in a healthy way. They’ll likely have to process any traumas they endured prior to or during their active addiction. Additionally, they’ll have to continuously fight the urges that their brain is still experiencing.
Essentially, your loved one will have to learn how to navigate through life in an entirely new way. Because of this, the journey of recovery is incredibly up and down. There will be so many emotional highs and lows for your loved one, and probably for you, too. It’s so important to simply understand this ahead of time, so you can be patient with your loved one as they journey through recovery.
7. Take care of your own needs
It’s crucial to take care of your own needs. This isn’t selfish – it’s necessary. You likely care deeply about your loved one and want to support them in every way. However, you can’t show up for them fully, grounded, and with a clear mind, if you aren’t first taking care of yourself first.
As you learned about previously, you likely took on a family role while your loved one was in active addiction. As a result, you may have brushed your own needs aside or pushed them down, which only caused you to suffer two-fold.
Now, it’s so important to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. You’ve been through so much with your family member, and now that the chaos of their active addiction has become more subdued, it’s time for you to shift some of your focus back onto yourself.
8. Engaging in therapy or attending support groups
Engage in self-care and schedule time to do things that are enjoyable to you. Beyond this, consider engaging in therapy, counselling, or a support group.
Loving someone with an addiction, or in recovery, can feel incredibly isolating. Your struggles may feel so specific and you may feel like no one understands what you’re going through.
However, going to a support group, such as Al-Anon for instance, can put you around people who know exactly what you’re going through. You can connect with others who share in your joys and understand your struggles on a deep level. You can learn from others as you, too, navigate the journey of recovery.
Attending one-on-one counselling or therapy can also be incredibly beneficial. You’re important, too, and it’s likely many of your needs have taken a backseat as a result of coping with your loved one’s addiction. Going to therapy gives you a place not only to vent, but also to learn more about how your loved one’s addiction has shifted and affected your thought processes. You can learn how to develop healthy coping skills, how to communicate effectively, and how to maintain healthy boundaries with others.
Also, loving someone with an addiction can be a traumatic experience for many. It’s important to work through your experiences with the help of a professional so that you can continue to live a full and meaningful life.
Further, navigating early recovery with your newly sober family member can feel like a very fine balancing act. You may be resentful and want to feel heard by your loved one. However, seeking guidance from support groups or a counsellor before diving straight into this will benefit both you and your loved one deeply.
Your loved one’s sobriety isn’t your responsibility
Remember, you want to be supportive and understanding towards your loved one, but ultimately, their sobriety is not your responsibility. Only they are responsible for remaining free of substance use. Don’t forget to take care of your own needs, as this will not only benefit you but everyone around you, too.
Author - Thurga
18 Addiction Support Groups for Families
- Coping With Addiction: 6 Dysfunctional Family Roles -https://online.alvernia.edu/infographics/coping-with-addiction-6-dysfunctional-family-roles/