Supporting a loved one in recovery is a challenge, privilege, and honor. Learning to meet someone where they are at any given time is deep emotional work as partners, parents, family members and friends. First we have to recognize that addiction and alcoholism are mental illnesses which have prevented our loved one from fully living a life they are capable of living. Second, we learn to understand that recovery is a lifelong process in which our loved one will consistently grow. Third, we recognize that recovery will never be without its challenges, for everyone involved.
One challenge for supporting a loved one in recovery is working through an emotional breakdown. Addiction and alcoholism cause a chemical dependency in the brain which tampers with specific areas of the brain which deal with emotions. Upon getting sober, our loved one is reintroduced to feelings and emotions they can hardly remember feeling at all. Like a three year old learning how to use their limited language, our loved ones are learning how to use their limited language. Many persons in recovery don’t know how to identify their feelings by name because they are unaware of what they are. Recovery is like learning to walk and talk all over again.
Some days will be harder than others causing a peak in frustration coupled by an inability to communicate. For someone with a limited vocabulary of emotional intelligence it is maddening to try and express wants and needs when there is hardly a way to identify them. As a results, emotions come to a boiling point and result in what can be a dramatic display. When our loved one starts crying, gets, depressed, and reaches a climax in an emotional breakdown, support them in these ways, originally drafted by a mother trying to teach her daughter emotional intelligence:
Let your loved one know that no matter what they need to let out, they will still be loved
Many persons in recovery feel shame and guilt for feeling their own feelings, especially if they were brought up in a household where feelings were criticized or not allowed. Getting emotional requires a safe space.
Stay grounded and recognize the emotions belong to your loved one, not you
There’s a chance that what is going to come out from your loved one could be personally directed. Stay grounded during your loved one’s moment of emotional chaos. Remember that their mood doesn’t affect you unless you let it.
Don’t try to fix, silence, or soothe
“Your issues, your tissues,” treatment counselors often taunt. It’s human nature to want to comfort and put at ease someone we love who is suffering. However, experiencing emotions is a necessary part of development in recovery. Avoid coddling, soothing,or interrupting their emotional breakdown. Let them feel through their experiences while reminding them there is support when they are ready to discuss what they are going through.
Aurora Recovery Centres offers intensive family therapy programs. Addiction and alcoholism are illnesses that affect the whole family. If you are ready to seek treatment for a loved one suffering from alcoholism, there is no time like the present. 1-844-515-STOP.