Taking Care of Yourself While Your Loved One is in Recovery

Healing and balance through self-care

Substance abuse is often called a family disease. If one of your family members is an alcoholic or addict, you probably have suffered physically and emotionally from loneliness, guilt, resentment, stress, lack of sleep, or other health problems. This disease affects each family member differently. Some of you may lose your spiritual connection through despair or anger. Others may see your social life deteriorate as embarrassment and shame take root in your family.

Often family members feel personally responsible for holding everything together. They fear that if they don't, the family will fall apart. They may have little faith that other forces beyond them may conspire to effect change. This sense of personal responsibility for the alcoholic or addict, as well as for the rest of the family, is a huge burden—and it can lead to feeling victimized, angry, and full of blame.

It's often true that alcoholics and addicts have caused any number of problems and brought harm to others. But family members will not gain anything from remaining stuck in the blame game. Instead, healing and balance will come for you and other family members when you turn your energies toward thinking about what you want for yourself. Health will be restored as you learn to detach with love—to love the addict but reject addictive behavior.

The power of letting go

The benefits of learning to detach as you focus on your own needs are many. Your stress level will decrease because you aren't trying to change the unchangeable—your loved one and the disease he or she has. When you choose to let go, you will gain a sense of freedom. You will find healing going on in all areas of your life—physical, emotional, spiritual, and social. You will experience the power of letting go when you stop trying to control another and instead spend that energy on balancing your own life.

The Big Book, page 104 (fourth edition), "To Wives"

This section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (known as the Big Book) addresses many issues that family members face. Although addressed to wives, this material will be helpful to husbands, partners, and other close family members and friends as well.
"It is possible to have a full and useful life, though your husband continues to drink…Do not set your heart on reforming your husband. You may be unable to do so, no matter how hard you try." (111).

Help and support are available

Regular Twelve Step group attendance is another key resource for family members. Al-Anon, Alateen, and Adult Children of Alcoholics groups are available to help family members begin their own recovery process. These groups will help you come to terms with reality, live in the moment, and take charge of your life. Rather than react to the alcoholic or addict's behavior, you will learn to focus on yourself and make meaningful choices.
For more information on these groups, contact:

Al-Anon and Alateen www.al-anon.alateen.org
Al-Anon and Alateen members are people who have been affected by someone else's drinking. These groups offer an online searchable directory of meetings in the US and Canada.

Adult Children of Alcoholics www.adultchildren.org
Adult Children of Alcoholics is a nonprofit organization that maintains services of those seeking to arrest the emotional disease of family alcoholism. This organization offers a searchable list of meetings worldwide.

Recovery Action Steps for Families of Addicts

What else can you do to take care of yourself?

Attend meetings. Learning more about the culture of recovery by attending AA or Al-Anon meetings, or visiting with a counselor who has experience in addiction, will benefit both you and your loved one. Another possibility is to attend a treatment program such as Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's family program where you can learn how to deal with recovery of your loved one while still taking care of yourself. For more information on the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation family program, call 1-866-831-5700.

Encourage new activities and skills. Encourage all positive activities that the alcoholic or addict is engaged in (attending AA meetings, seeking sponsorship, learning new hobbies/recreation activities, or making new friends).

Check your emotions. It's expected that your relationship with the recovering alcoholic or addict will continue to be emotional. Make sure you give and take love that comes with compassion and discipline. Don't lose your temper.

Seek the truth. Don't allow your loved one to exploit you or lie to you. The truth is often painful, but seek it anyway. Don't cover up or hide the consequences of his or her alcohol or other drug use. This may reduce the immediate crisis but only perpetuates the illness.

Don't try to control. Don't lecture, moralize, scold, praise, blame, threaten, or argue with your loved one to try to control his or her behavior. This won't work, and can only make the situation worse. Anxiety and fear may compel you to try to force your loved one to take the actions you want. However, recovery can only happen when the alcoholic or addict chooses abstinence. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.
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