If you’re spouse, sibling, child, or parent is in recovery, you’re probably a big support for them. And you’re likely a witness to the ups and downs of their recovery. Relapse can be a difficult experience for both the recovering addict as well as the loved one supporting them. However, as a loved one concerned for your family member or friend there are ways that you can be supportive after an experience like relapse.
Take Responsibility for Your Own Feelings
The first step to take is to check in with yourself about your own feelings. If you intend to continue to support your loved one, then you’re not going to be supportive if you’re angry, disappointed, or frustrated. Sure, those feelings are normal and it’s perfectly fine to feel that way. However, process them on your own without blaming your loved one for the way you feel. Take responsibility for your own feelings so that you can be emotionally balanced and healthy to help your loved one through this challenge.
Second, recognize that relapse is a regular part of recovery. A very high percentage of recovering addicts will relapse. So, don’t think that this is the end of the world. In fact, it could be a significant learning experience for your loved one. It could be a turning point, depending upon how your friend or family member is looking at this experience. And that’s where you can be supportive. You can let your loved one know that relapse is normal and that it can be used as a learning experience for strengthening one’s sobriety. Yet, before you can communicate this to your loved one, it’s important to believe in this yourself.
Once you feel like you can push your own feelings aside (temporarily) and if you realize that relapse is a normal part of recovery, then you can approach your loved one with concern and care. Just as with other chronic illnesses, relapse simply means that your loved one needs to return to the recovery support he or she needs. Perhaps this means returning to a sober living home, attending more 12-step meetings, and/or working more closely with a sponsor. You can encourage your loved one to simply get back on track versus beating themselves up or feeling doomed for failure. Point out that relapse is simply an experience for learning.
Along those lines, you might also support your loved one by together figuring out what triggered the relapse in the first place. You might explore recent events, lack of support, or the presence of any strong cravings. You might explore the presence of old friends, whether your loved one returned to an old environment, or if he or she experienced any overwhelming emotions. By exploring triggers for the relapse, you also uncover that relapse is not a message of failure. Instead, relapse is an experience that can highlight areas in a recovering addict’s life that needs more support.
Let your loved one know that you’re there for them. Relapse is not an incident of failure; it’s an opportunity to get back on the road to recovery with perhaps a stronger commitment to sobriety.