Whether it’s that late night phone call at stupid o’clock, a slurred voice and the usual incoherent responses, with shouting, shrieking and loud music in the background, when your partner said they were just meeting friends for a quick coffee after work, or…
That moment at an important family gathering (heavens, in front of your parents, too), when your partner starts cursing and arguing with anyone in sight, even the kids, stumbling over furniture, and repeating over and over, “Just one more drink – I wanna stay for one more,” those kind of stark and unforgiving memories stay with you.
Mine certainly did.
Even though your partner has now gone through the whole rehab-thing, a professional addiction recovery facility with a great reputation – kudos to them, and hasn’t touched a drop or snorted a line since that life-saving treatment began, and continues to attend their 12-Step meetings – often, 3 a week, and does exactly what they say they’re going to do (without fail – every single time), you can’t help but be waiting.
Waiting and waiting, for the whole thing to kick off again, and how.
Yes, you know it’s just human nature, you’ve done the relationship counseling and attended the family therapy, but it sits there – in the back of your mind. Waiting…
If this is you, if you can relate to everything that has been written above, and this is exactly how you feel right now, your chance of ever keeping your relationship alive is, sadly, pretty slim. There will always be this kind of mistrust. And without trust, there’s no life together.
Harsh? Too negative? No, simple reality, for sure – especially when you consider the complexity of the disease of substance addiction, and medically described as “a chronic, relapsing brain disorder.”
However, if you want to make the right changes, if you want this situation to be something that’s a launchpad to something better, and not the final nail in your relationship’s coffin, then this article is written entirely for you. Practical advice that works, gained from both experience, and extended conversations with addiction experts and professionals, for you, right now, as someone who is living with a recovering alcoholic or drug addict.
As I do. Now happily – every day.
Those memories, feelings and emotions mentioned above? Dealing with them properly and successfully was never a part of my partner’s recovery in the slightest way – it was an integral part of mine.
Here’s what you need to know: Your “4 Essential Tips for Living with a Recovering Substance Addict.”
1. Acknowledge, Forgive & Understand
A few, simple words that require the very best of yourself to achieve. Initially, you will need to acknowledge that your partner’s behavior was wrong (that’s the easy part), but you also need to acknowledge the definition of substance addiction provided above – “a chronic disease,” “brain disorder,” and “relapsing.” The definition is not an excuse, absolutely not, but it is the reason.
Forgiving your partner is the vital next step – again, only the very best of yourself is good enough here. Forgiveness is usually a hard process for anyone, because of the strength of emotions involved – anger, disgust, sadness. However, it is essential. Part of this process (and it is a process) comes from your understanding – both from understanding your partner, their strengths and weaknesses, and from your own understanding of the disease itself.
Remember, nobody chooses the life of a drug addict or alcoholic – they simply want temporary escape from the very root of the issue, be that past trauma, depression, grief or something else.
2. Deal with the Practicalities
Substance abuse and addiction not only targets the individual – it targets them on a social and economic level too. By doing so, no-one within an addict’s circle, friends or family, gets away from its effects. Those effects can be practical issues, such as finances, or negative emotions – usually both. Therefore, dealing quickly with the practicalities of your “new situation” allows you to concentrate on healing those emotions, too.
As a result of your partner’s addiction, you may be experiencing financial or legal problems, health concerns, and issues with your relationship. Take steps now to limit their negative effect. For example, meet with a financial advisor if you need to, arrange medical appointments, and see a counselor or attend family-based therapy – these can help to heal you both.
Lastly, if your partner is desperately trying to change elements of their life to stay clean and sober, include yourself in this process. One important thing you can do is to remove any addictive substances from the home, eg. alcohol or other addictive substances, medications, etc.
3. Become Educated & Become More Involved
Because you are an intrinsic part of your partner’s recovery from addiction, you will benefit from educating yourself – in doing so, you can become more healthily involved in your partner’s recovery in both a positive and supportive way.
Many drug and alcohol treatment centers can provide education for family members – for example, on managing stress, how addiction spirals, by teaching you about intervention skills for stressful and trigger situations, and healthy communication skills, such as expressing feelings and emotions without casting any blame.
Another way of becoming more involved positively in the recovery process is by trying new family activities and hobbies – all of which are healthy and substance-free, such as:
- Playing sport together
- Kayaking or rock-climbing (for the more adventurous)
- Planning a sober family vacation
- Hiking or camping
Important: Address Stress
The most common relapse trigger among those recovering from substance addiction is stress – unresolved stress, to be exact. Your recovering partner can make use of a number of stress management techniques (these normally form part of professional addiction treatment and relapse prevention education), as well as practical methods post-treatment, such as:
- Learning breathing techniques
Furthermore, you should offer to participate in the activities with your partner.
4. The Importance of Self-Care
In all of this, you must remember and prioritize your own self-care and wellbeing. Just as your partner needs support, so do you.There are many family support groups that can provide assistance to help people like you cope with the emotional and physical stress that may arise. Here a just a few ideas for such support groups, specifically designed and run for people like yourself: designed for the friends and family members of recovering addicts:
- Al-Anon: 12-step program for family and friends of alcoholics
- Nar-Anon: 12-step program for family and friends of drug addicts
- Adult Children of Alcoholics: For those who grew up in an alcoholic household, and display characteristics of trauma and abuse
- Families Anonymous: An all-encompassing 12-step program for family and friends of those afflicted by substance abuse (and behavioral addictions)
- SMART Recovery Family and Friends: A science-based support program for family and friends of substance addicts and other addictions
Remember, just like your recovering partner, you do not need to go through this process alone.
There’s an often used analogy for addiction recovery – it’s likened to a road you journey down, stumbling occasionally, but always making progress. You and your partner are now on this road, and you’re traveling along its direction together. By looking at it in this way, you soon realize that it’s really not a road, but a profound learning experience that you’ll share together.
Please remember these essential tips:
- 1. Acknowledge, Forgive & Understand
- 2. Deal with the Practicalities
- 3. Become Educated & Become More Involved
- 4. The Importance of Self-Care
Wishing you both good health and a safe journey.