I knew that things weren’t right, however the depth of pain and fear experienced by my friend, and their consequential drinking, remained hidden to me.
This broke my heart and galvanized me to not waver in my support of them now that I was aware of their reality. In the melee of your friend’s recovery, if they can be certain of one thing, it should be that you are there.
Below are 5 things I’ve learned in supporting a friend in recovery:
- It’s a long road
After my friend entered rehab I learned that it was essentially an intense four-week introduction to a new way of living, and total abstinence had to be observed if there was to be any meaningful recovery.
The important takeaway from this is that your friend’s recovery does not end with rehab, rather they are at the beginning of a journey that will likely last the rest of their life.
The start, in particular, is extremely mentally and emotionally draining for addicts who’ve ceased using their substances or choice or engaging in addictive behaviours. It is a time of profound insecurity in which they begin to expose, explore and question the emotions and practices often stemming from extremely painful places.
You therefore need to be ready for the long-term ups and downs of recovery and embrace your friend as they face hard situations and come to terms with changing as a person.
- Learn to listen
This may be obvious but it is extremely important.
If your friend calls you to share their feelings it is a strong sign of trust. Addicts often struggle being honest with themselves, let alone others, so you’re offering a strong act of friendship by listening without judgement.
The only thing you have to do is listen. Don’t feel like you have to offer sage advice, try to cheer them up or change the subject. They will ask if they need advice or guidance.
The aim is to create a space in which they can articulate their feelings and talk them through with someone whom they feel safe with.
If you don’t go at their pace and practice patience, they may just end up telling you what they want you to hear or react negatively, thereby shielding their actual feelings and confirming to themselves that other people can’t really be trusted.
- Be prepared for whatever they state they show up in
Never forget that your friend is recovering from an illness.
Just because they have ceased using doesn’t mean things will immediately repair.
They may be in an incredible mood one day, where they seem completely fine and able to move mountains, and very low and panicked the next.
As there is no ‘cure’ to addiction, the conditions, traumas and mindsets that drove addicts to use in the first place are still there.
Therefore those driving factors will make sobriety very turbulent in the early days before any real progress is made.
You don’t need to be shocked or dismayed by erratic behaviour in your friend, just ensure that you are there to offer support and not be discouraged by your perceived backward step in their mental state.
- You will never understand how they feel, and they don’t expect you to
Essentially as a ‘normal person’, everything you have learnt to be true about yourself and your spiritual development does not apply in the same way to an addict.
Whilst you can empathise with their situation, and offer practical advice in certain cases, always remember that your friend’s actions are coming from a place that is alien to you, a place which doesn’t necessarily operate within your realm of experience.
Telling them to relax and get over it is unhelpful – you cannot ‘save’ them yourself. That said, addicts can be notoriously self-centred, and while you may not be able to identify or understand what is going on for them, there a vast numbers of 12-step groups, counsellors, therapists and programmes which do.
As recovery is about taking action, it is worth making them aware, if they aren’t already, that there are millions of people worldwide who understand them and thousands who have recovered in their nearby towns and cities who can offer immense help and guidance.
- Love your friend consistently and unconditionally – do not pass judgement
Your friend will likely do and say things that, as someone who cares about their recovery, you find frustrating, illogical or upsetting.
Whilst you can offer your advice, when your friend inevitably does things that hurt you or you feel may not benefit their recovery, do not feel angry or responsible, but rather remain uncritical, it is their life after all. This isn’t about you and your feelings, it’s about supporting a friend.
There is a chance that your friend may fall out with family in early recovery, and by having someone who isn’t immediately attached to them who doesn’t have to be as critical – i.e. YOU – you provide a valuable help in providing your friend with a space to breathe that allows them time and a way to learn to trust.