An open letter to the loved ones of those in early recovery

Over the years, I’ve weathered a great deal of intense emotional crises with families and friends of people in early recovery.  I say “weathered” because, more often than not, the emotions are like waves of hurricane ballast striking me with ferocity.  I understand the pain and anguish and hope; I also understand the need to place that energy somewhere.  But, try to remember that someone who is trying to heal from an addiction doesn’t really understand their own actions.  They may realize the messes they’ve made; but to them they aren’t that big of a deal because they really haven’t been aware of their actions.  Whatever the object of their addiction is, people in early recovery are basically waking up from a long nightmare and before they can help you feel better, they need to start making themselves feel better.  It’s an apparent contradiction: While Addiction has reduced their life to a selfish pursuit of the object of their addiction; they need time to focus on themselves before they can rebuild their relationships with you.

It’s not a contradiction, though.  The reality is that people in early recovery have to learn what’s in their best interests.  They have to learn what good relationships look like.  They have to learn how their bodies feel without drugs, alcohol, or any other object of addiction.  But most importantly, though, people in early recovery have to learn to trust themselves.  It takes time to learn this.  They haven’t kept their word in so long that they don’t even know if they can keep their word.  Before they can ask for your trust, they need to see that they are worthy of being trusted.  It takes committing to things and then following through on those commitments, over and over again.

Please try to understand that these commitments have to be small at first.  Really, they have to start with the basics: Eating regularly and taking care of basic hygiene.  May sound like I’m exaggerating; but how long has it been since you’ve seen your loved one look half-way decent?  Once the basics return, then the commitments can get bigger, like looking for work or showing up on time to a family dinner.  But each of these commitments requires follow-through, but this requirement takes practice.  Try not to expect too much too soon.

There are two things, though, that I think are really important to remember: 1) One of the more salient features of addiction is deception.  People in early recovery have to learn how NOT to lie.  Being honest takes practice; and, 2) Relapse will more than likely happen.   Using the object of addiction is the norm, NOT using is not normal.  All people will regress to their behavioral averages.  New behaviors take time to become the “normal.”

But, even with all that there is to remember, the most important thing to keep in mind is that, even if your loved one relapses or lies or appears to be falling into the same addicted routines, it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t WANT recovery.  They do.  They really, really do.  The trigger, compulsion, use, shame cycle is hard and I believe that when someone chooses to begin recovery, they are ready.  They just don’t know how to live without the object of their addiction.   In time, they will find their place and rhythm.

So, yell at me. Cry with me. Hate me for not being able to bring about change faster.  I’m good with it all as long as you maintain your love and hope and compassion.  I’m nothing more than an instrument of change.  Your love will be the difference.  Of that, I am certain.