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EDUCATION - KEY TOPIC

Life as a Supporter

Embracing Growth and Dealing with Uncertainty

Letting go of what we think our loved one’s process should look like — and embracing our own process of growth — can have great positive impact on our experiences and their recovery. Each person’s journey through recovery is unique, and breakthrough can come through a range of resources, models, or approaches. There is a delicate line between helping a loved one make wise, informed choices and respecting the preferences of an individual needing help. This is particularly hard if addiction is limiting their ability to make thoughtful choice. It’s important to allow individuals to pursue resources that resonate with them, while doing what can be done to maximize their safety. It’s also crucial to seize the opportunity to grow ourselves. Pain, trauma, and addiction affect entire families, not just the individual seeking help. Pursuing greater health for ourselves as a supporter can bring greater health and connection to our family or friends.

Recovery Can Take Unexpected Forms and Turns

Our loved ones’ journeys through recovery may not look like we expect. Sometimes, our own expectations for the process, or its timing and outcome, can contribute to anxiety and set us up for disappointment. The individual’s long-term health is what matters most, and sometimes the journey toward hope and helpful resources can be imperfect and messy.  Involving a third-party like a trusted counselor can be helpful to review whether our own expectations or bias is negatively impacting the healing process for our loved one.

What will bring significant change and healing varies between individuals. There are evidence-based programs and methodologies, and plenty of individuals who have successfully recovered programs for which there is less scientific documentation. Recovery may involve trying or embracing new structures, treatment models, or other resources. As a supporter, expressing patience, hope and support through possible ups and downs can contribute to successful recovery. Sometimes, we need to let go of personal timelines or goals that may be influenced by fear.

The Challenge of Empowerment

In the long-term, individuals must be empowered to be involved in their own recovery process. However, they may not have capacity or mental function to make significant decisions early in recovery. Sometimes, providing firmer guidance is needed, particularly in earlier stages. As individuals get healthier through their recovery process, it’s crucial that they are empowered in increasing ways to make decisions and participate in their own healing. This can be difficult because it requires letting go and allowing individual to make decisions that could have consequences. But, as discussed earlier, empowering individuals to participate in their own recovery is crucial for addressing the roots. It is not hard to find an individual with a strong opinion about their favorite model or approach to recovery. Maintaining an openness to the perspectives of trusted third-party advisors and medical professionals, and to the individual receiving care (after early recovery), can support productive recovery outcomes.

Personal Growth as a Supporter

As our supporter, continuing our own growth journey toward greater health, hope, and connection can have a positive impact on our loved ones. Respecting another’s process and continuing one’s own can bring unexpected, life-giving discovery. Even if we are not used to counseling or have not struggled with the condition of our family member, or don’t see much value in finding professional help for yourself, taking part in counseling or other types of support for individuals struggling with addiction can be incredibly helpful for our own emotional and mental health. Finding connection, peace, and acceptance ourselves enable us to model and share that with our loved ones.

Often, family members express a strong willingness to do anything to help their loved one. But, they may prove resistant to practical opportunities, like a attending a support group with their friend or family member, or going to a supporter group like Al-Anon. Pain, trauma, and disconnection often affect the entire family, and not just the individual with an addiction or mental health challenge. Past family disconnection can be at the roots of addiction and other challenges, and counseling can have an important impact. Investing in counseling for oneself as a supporter, or for a family, can be helpful for understanding how healthier connection can occur within family.

Addressing Family Roots

For some families, it may seem strange for supporters to be involved in counseling. The pain caused by the actions of an individual struggling with addiction can strengthen the idea that they’re the only ones that need help, and not us.  It can feel uncomfortable to attend a support group, or meet with a counselor. But if we are serious about assisting our loved ones, it’s worth the time to embark on the challenging process of embracing uncertainty and looking inside. While not always the case, at times, individuals’ struggles with an addiction serves as a signal that there are other unhealthy dynamics present within a family. This is not to put shame or blame on a family, but it can be helpful information for understanding opportunities to grow. Healthier relational connection — with boundaries, clear communication, and the possibility for greater trust — can benefit everyone in a family, not just the individual struggling with addiction.

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