Early sobriety, while an exciting time, is also a difficult time, and the feelings of significant others can fall into the background as emerging needs and goals are prioritized. During this period, however, it is crucial to remember that addiction has profound effects on significant others, and as such, they also go through difficult adjustment periods. What follows are some helpful coping skills for ensuring that significant others receive the love and respect they deserve during this critical time.
The delusion that, “we are only hurting ourselves” while in active addiction is a complete and utter falsehood. The reality is that significant others suffer just as much (if not more!) than the addict. The truth is that addicts can never fully appreciate the terror of the sleepless nights, time spent worrying, foxhole prayers, etc. that significant others likely went through on behalf of their loved ones. Thus, it is vitally important to understand that they need to heal as well.
Addicts are often numb to how their actions affect significant others. Even worse, memories of upsetting behavior that occurred during addiction may be non-existent for them. This can be a catalyst for guilt, shame and sensitivity when events of the past are brought up for discussion. Despite the pain however, the addict should be encouraged to listen without reacting or getting defensive. Significant others must be allowed to express their feelings, no matter how upsetting it may be.
Life in recovery will offer new experiences and the opportunity to meet many new people. Because attending recovery-based events is certain to result in the formation of long-lasting friendships with others who are on their own journeys, it is vital to include loved ones in these new experiences and allow them to participate. Most fellowships encourage the inclusion of significant others, with many even offering “open meetings” at which all are welcome (not just those strictly with drug or alcohol problems).
It was abundantly clear to the founders of the twelve-step fellowships early on that addictions caused addicts’ loved ones to suffer greatly as well. Thus support groups such as Al-anon and Nar-anon were founded almost simultaneously with recovery fellowships. Support groups such as these provide significant others with an opportunity to receive help as well.
A very common mistake made by those in early sobriety is to have unrealistic expectations of significant others. As length of sobriety is increased, physical and mental health will start to improve – often times quite quickly. It must be remembered, however, that loved ones are going to need their own time to heal and that timeline may differ from the addict’s. Significant others must be allowed go through their own healing processes and not be given expectations for how long that may take.
Once recovery is sought, it is a blessing to be able to rely on significant others who stood by during the darkest hours of addiction. While relationships can be devastated by addiction, they usually become stronger as the journey to recovery progresses. Free of drug and alcohol addiction, the recovering addict can finally be a productive, contributing, affectionate partner that his or her loved ones deserve.
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