Your loved one has just completed treatment, or has newly entered into an outpatient or mutual help recovery program. He or she is trying to recover from a chemical addiction. So how are you going to support that recovery? What things are OK to do, what things are dangerous? And let’s not forget: Your trust in this person has been completely shattered as a result of your addicted loved one’s behavior.
First, let me describe the most likely basis for recovery that your loved one has established. Most treatment and recovery programs today utilize the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These steps can be worked effectively only when the recovering person is maintaining complete abstinence from all mood-altering chemicals. Protection of this abstinence is one of the primary ways that you can support this person.
It is not appropriate to welcome your loved one home from treatment for cocaine or narcotic addiction with a congratulatory bottle of wine. Abstinence means abstinence. Otherwise, no recovery will work. It is false and dangerous to believe, as some even in the treatment field do, that persons with addiction can be “taught” to drink or use responsibly.
The recovering person has a right to live in a household that is free of alcohol and other drugs. Before he or she comes home, please clean out the liquor cabinet, sell or give that expensive wine cellar to someone else, get rid of the marijuana plants that he or she is growing in the basement for that as-yet-to-be-identified medical condition, clean out the medicine cabinet of anything that can be used to alter the mood, etc. This includes over-the-counter medications and natural or herbal substances. If in doubt about a medication, ask the physician at the treatment center or some other addictionist.
If your loved one has been away at treatment for any significant period of time, you are probably experiencing a lot of different emotions, from relief to anger. It is quite common for the person left behind to have significant resentments not only for the trust that was destroyed during the course of the addictive behavior but also for the responsibilities you were left with while he or she was getting treatment.
You mostly like have had to run the household, worry about finances and pay the bills, discipline the children, and make decisions that you have never had to make before, while suspecting that the person in treatment has been enjoying the “country club” environment that many treatment centers have. First of all, most effective treatment programs do not depend on “country club” activities for their patients to get well.
Certainly, while relaxation and life balance are a part of good recovery, they are by no means the most important. Treatment involves group and individual therapy, lectures, reading, writing, and a ton of self-inspection. It is not easy!! Family involvement is critical, and hopefully you have been able to be directly involved in your loved one’s treatment. And above all, get help for yourself! The programs of Al-anon and Nar-anon are for the significant others of persons with addiction, so that they can work their own recovery programs based on the Twelve Steps.
After the person who has been in treatment returns home, you both may feel as if you’re walking on eggshells. This is normal and natural. Getting involved with couple’s or family therapy can be very helpful here. You should each work your own recovery program, and stay away from working the other’s program. It is OK to not trust initially, but also give some slack. A single behavior or act can bring up old and painful memories, and damage that trust. Please just remember, if a relapse does occur, it will show up as a pattern of dishonesty, lack of accountability, and irresponsibility, especially financial. Single events do not make a pattern by themselves.
You have the right to expect accountability, and your loved one has the responsibility to be accountable. That means showing up on time, or calling ahead of the appointed time if arrival is delayed. That also means that the newly recovering person should willingly undergo monitoring, such as with urine, saliva, or sweat drug and alcohol testing, witnessed medication administration, and signed attendance at 12-step meetings. These can only build trust, if followed as they should be.
Finally, we should consider balance in the newly recovering person’s life. Having balance means being sure that there are adequate amounts of time and energy that are devoted to leisure, family, and spiritual pursuits. It may seem that his or her new life is completely out of balance at first, because so much time is being devoted to the recovery, with meeting attendance almost every day, spending time with others in the program such as a sponsor, and studying and working the Twelve Steps.
Don’t worry. This level of recovery activity will decrease as time goes by. But the first year or so should involve a significant amount of time in recovery-related activities. Please don’t get in the way. This initial investment of time and energy reaps healthy benefits over time. And with time, you can start to be comfortable in turning over some of the duties that you may have taken on, such as managing the household finances. This should be one of the ways that you express your growing trust in your significant other’s recovery.
This short article is by no means the complete or last word on supporting early recovery, but I hope it has given you some direction and ideas about this fragile part of the recovering person’s life. Be sure you have access to appropriate professionals to help you through these often difficult times. Get a sponsor and call on him or her. And always remember, nothing is more constant than change. Best of luck in your new recovery!