6 Tips for Supporting a Family Member Navigating the Recovery Journey
When your loved one is navigating addiction recovery, you’ll want to support them in their recovery as much as possible, but it's easy to feel powerless or unsure of how to help. Faced with confusing jargon, a wide array of treatment options, and emotional ups and downs – the experience can be overwhelming for family members who want to be a positive force in the recovery journey. But with the right tools, information, and your own support system, you can play a positive role in your loved one’s life. Here are some tips to help you get started on the right foot:
1. Seek out resources and support for yourself
Start by educating yourself about what to expect from the recovery process. While everyone’s journey will look different, having this context can help you familiarize yourself with some typical experiences. It’s also important to remember that the path to recovery isn’t a straight line – encountering setbacks or hurdles along the way is common. Many family members also benefit from connecting with people who are going through (or have been through) similar situations. It can be especially helpful to seek out relevant books, blogs, or join a support group like Al-Anon or the NAMI family support group.
2. Listen, understand, and show empathy
It sounds simple, but engaging with someone and acknowledging their feelings is critical to building a supportive relationship. You want your loved one to be comfortable sharing their feelings – both positive and negative – about their recovery journey with you. Do your best to refrain from judgment or assumptions, so they know they can share their experience openly and in a safe environment. Establishing and maintaining a healthy sense of trust and connection is important for getting through the hard times.
3. Set boundaries to maintain a good relationship
Boundaries are critical for reestablishing a trusting, healthy relationship. Depending on your loved one’s situation and how you’ve supported them in the past, you might need to set limits around financial support, be clear about where, how much, and when you can spend time with someone, or determine how much emotional processing you’re able to take on. Boundaries aren’t about shame or punishment, or avoiding difficult situations, but rather acknowledging that you don’t have to take on the full burden, fear, and complications of a person’s addiction on your own. This doesn’t mean you should seek to push them away or avoid their situations altogether, but rather to help set a healthy, positive foundation for how you engage with them.
4. Celebrate the small wins
The recovery process is a long road – and arguably, one that doesn’t end for most people. And since there will likely be setbacks and hard times on occasion, it can help to celebrate the small victories. Recognizing milestones like “one week of sobriety” demonstrates that you see the progress someone is making, can help foster positive thinking, can help motivate, and can provide gradual reminders to a family member that you’re in their corner.
5. Establish new routines and traditions to encourage healthy choices
Breaking out of dangerous patterns of behavior often requires adjusting your routines and how you move through life. As a family member of someone in recovery, it can help to identify what situations, people, or environments might be triggers for your loved one – and then find ways to help them avoid those. This might mean shifting how or where you spend time together, establishing new ways to mark milestones like anniversaries or birthdays, or helping them explore new hobbies to stay busy and meet new people.
6. Help them protect their financial health
Substance abuse, compulsive gambling, and other forms of addiction can often lead to financial trouble. Someone in recovery may need help rebuilding their savings, repairing their credit history, and learning how to responsibly manage their money again. At the same time, money can be a harmful trigger for recovering addicts, enabling them to continue funding their addiction. Using a tool like True Link can help individuals get back on track while helping them avoid spending at certain trouble spots (casinos, bars, liquor stores, etc.) or at times when slip-ups are more common (after work, late nights, weekends, etc.). You can learn more about managing finances for people in recovery here.
The road to recovery is seldom straightforward; it can be paved with challenges, setbacks, and moments of doubt. But there are a number of tools, resources, and groups available that can help guide you as you support a family member navigating their recovery journey. Remember, your presence, understanding, and emotional support can go a long way and can truly make a positive impact in your loved one’s life when they need it most.