When your loved one comes home from rehab, the rubber hits the road: they’ve not only cleaned the heroin, meth or alcohol out of their system while at treatment – but they’ve also learned valuable information about the disease of addiction, spent hours upon hours in group and individual therapy, shed layers of shame and guilt, addressed their past traumas, and gained the tools they need to build a healthy life in recovery. Early recovery is truly an exciting time for the individual, as well as the family. But it can also be an overwhelming time. Despite being free from alcohol or drugs for the first time in years, your loved one is also trading their highly-structured rehab setting that is sheltered from most temptations and triggers, for a world where they must once again face old obstacles, and be held accountable for their choices. Because of this, many addiction relapses occur within the first few weeks of leaving rehab.
Learning to Adjust
Before the person you love leaves rehab, he or she will sit down with therapists or counselors to develop a personalized aftercare plan. This plan will help your friend or family member to determine a course of action – whether it be sober or transitional living, family care and counseling, connections with local support group meetings, or any other continuum of care. By having a plan in place, it will make your loved one’s transition back into the real world more manageable. With plans in place for the person coming home from treatment, it’s also important that you as a friend or family member, also establish boundaries and actions to help your loved one continue their transition in the recovery process. Without such a plan, family members can feel uncomfortable or unsure of what to say or do to encourage their loved one – or what not to say or do to upset them. These suggestions are to help the entire family transition into a new relationship.
Recovery – especially early recovery – can be difficult. In your own words, let your loved one know that you recognize how hard they’ve worked and are working on their sobriety. Affirm good choices or improvement, but also be honest. Remember, honesty on both ends is essential – even if it is negative. Don’t assume that your loved one will want you actively involved in his or her recovery. While some people want the open support of friends and family, others prefer to handle the process more privately. The only way you can understand what your loved one wants, is to sit down and have that conversation.
2. Don’t Bring Up the Past
Unfortunately, addiction brings out the worst in individuals, families and friends. You can’t change the past – and neither can your recovering family member or friend. It goes without saying that your loved one hurt you with his or her drug use. However, he’s since completed an addiction treatment program. He is taking the steps to change his life and move forward. Don’t you think you should be doing the same? Holding onto the past is only going to fill your home or relationship with misery.
3. Understand Family May Not Be Top Priority Right Now
When your loved one is in early recovery, family may not be his or her top priority – and that’s OK. It’s actually a good thing if he’s going to meetings, working with sponsors, and attending counseling sessions instead of attending the family cookout or movie night. His or her choice to attend 12-step meetings before family functions means that they’re invested in recovery. Remember, you didn’t cause the addiction and you can’t cure it, either. Those with a drug or alcohol addiction must work their way to happiness and health – and that’s exactly what your loved one is doing when choosing to attend functions and work with recovery coaches. His or her primary focus is on getting well, which will, in turn, strengthen the family relationship.
4. Don’t Be Judgemental
Just like treatment is tailored to the individual, the recovery process doesn’t look the same for everyone. For some, the recovery process can be very smooth – for others, it’s much more emotional and challenging. Don’t expect your loved one to fall into a certain category. Instead, show him or her compassion and understanding in the tough times, and encourage them when you see positive improvements.
5. Give It Time
The first few weeks – even months – can be the most difficult for many people. Don’t put pressure on your loved one to do too much too soon, and don’t expect that your relationship will immediately heal. Give his or her healing time, and also give your relationship time to mend. As your loved one continues on his or her journey to recovery, conversations will come, improvements may be visible, and things will get better.
6. Let Go of Worry
Admittedly, yes – this is most likely the most difficult obstacle for anyone who loves someone with a drug or alcohol addiction. We aren’t saying to stop caring. What we’re saying is to let go of the false sense of control that the addiction has instilled in your head and heart. Worry will only keep you preoccupied with things you cannot change, rather than the things you need to be present for – like your own responsibilities, relationship, and happiness.
7. Reach Out for Help & Make Your Own Recovery Plan
You don’t need to do this alone. While isolation from friends, co-workers, and extended family can be a common occurrence for families overcoming addiction – help and support from others can help you remain balanced during the difficult times. Self-help programs including faith-based groups, Nar-Anon and Al-Anon all offer great support for families and friends. Addiction recovery offers freedom and hope for a better future, but it is not an easy process. Your actions as a family member can help or hinder your loved one’s ability to strive towards and maintain long-term addiction recovery. Take the steps your family needs to heal and recover together.