As you move through your recovery, you may begin to notice more clearly the potentially destructive behaviors of others, especially concerning drugs and alcohol. At what point does your recovery lend you the responsibility of reaching out to or seeking help for another person who may be struggling with similar problems? At what point in your recovery do you become qualified to speak on others’ issues?
The Weight of Responsibility
After entering recovery and starting a sober lifestyle, you become much more aware of other people’s problems that you might not have had an awareness of before. Red flags that seemed “normal” before stick out like a stop sign now.
Now that you’ve got the tools that helped you remain sober and healthy, you may feel as if it’s your responsibility to help everyone you can to feel as free as you do. You understand what addiction can do to someone’s life. You have empathy for their situation. You know their pain. You feel like you’re in a place to do something, and if you don’t, you may feel guilty and somewhat responsible if anything happens to them.
It’s good to care about your friends and family who are struggling. Your family may have a history of addiction, and long-time friends may also have struggled the same way you did. These are your people. Despite your emotional connection to them, it’s crucial to think about it all objectively. Be aware of your own limits and your own abilities as a sober individual. You aren’t superhuman because you’re sober, and you can’t control other people. There are steps you can take to help a loved one in need, but understand when, for your own safety, it’s time to let go.
The Difference Between Support and Enabling
If you are in recovery, you’ve probably heard of the difference before, but when helping a friend in need, it’s good to get a refresher. In the past, you may have had friends who were supportive in the healthy sense — they referred you to treatment, they gave you rides to sober groups, they encouraged you to seek therapy, and they encouraged your sobriety. These are examples of people who give support.
Then there were the enablers. These are people whose actions enabled your substance use in some way. They may be the people who thought they were being good friends, but they really weren’t. They may have given you money to pay for drugs, taken your responsibilities on themselves, drank or used with you, or worse — they encouraged you to keep using despite your addiction. Some probably had good intentions, and others didn’t, but at the time, they didn’t know the role they played in your addiction.
When you look at friends and family who are struggling like you once did, think about what worked to help you and what made things worse — don’t be that person. Set your boundaries and enforce them. Stand up for yourself if you’re being mistreated. It’s important to understand the differences between supporting recovery and enabling substance use to make sure that you’re not making the same mistakes your enablers did.
Having Tough Conversations From a Place of Love
When you’re helping out a friend or family member dealing with addiction, you can’t sugarcoat the situation. Addiction is serious and destroys lives. Refusing to address the situation directly isn’t helpful and causes more harm than good. You are going to have to have difficult conversations. You’re going to have to tell them that you’re concerned for them, how their addiction is affecting you, and that you’re here to help.
They probably won’t be open to tough love and will likely get defensive when confronted. Many people dealing with addiction are in denial and don’t see that they have a problem. They might blame their situation on other people without recognizing the role they play. As someone who has been in a similar position, you can approach these difficult conversations from a place of love and experience.
Offering Resources and Support
As a person who has been in a similar spot, the best thing you can do is offer them the support and resources that helped you get to where you are today. Encourage them to get the help they need by referring them to treatment centers, sober programs, therapy, or healthier alternatives. Let them know that you support them in getting their lives back together and help them where you can. Be someone willing to listen and offer advice if they need it. Knowing that they aren’t alone can make a big difference.
You Were Able to Get Sober, so Why Can’t They?
Everyone’s sober journey is different, and not everyone can get sober the same way or in the same circumstances that you did. Not everyone is willing to listen, and not everyone is willing to get help. They might have their wake-up call at another time. It can be frustrating watching someone go through what you did and feel like there’s nothing you can do for them if they aren’t willing to get better. Their substance use and the way they handle it will be different from how you handled it. For some people, support is all they need. For others, it may take more than that.
Understand Your Own Limits
When you’re helping a friend who is suffering from addiction, it’s important to remember that your responsibility as a sober person only goes so far. Helping someone who’s dealing with addiction can be stressful, emotionally exhausting, and scary sometimes. It can bring up old memories of your own struggles. When you’re helping someone you care about, set your own limits. Knowing these boundaries in advance will protect you from hurting yourself in the process of trying to help someone.
As a sober person, it can be horrible to see someone you care about going through what you’ve gone through. Seeing a friend or family member also struggle with addiction can bring back memories from when you were in a bad place yourself. While in recovery, you may feel responsible for being a part of that support system because you know from experience how vital that can be. It’s important to set limits on how far that responsibility goes so that you don’t harm yourself in the process of helping your loved one. Remembering what supported your recovery and what enabled your substance use can be beneficial when helping another person gain sobriety and put their life back together. Cornerstone Healing Center offers family and individual therapy through our outpatient services for the support you need. To learn more on how to provide support for someone you care about who’s struggling with addiction, call us today at (800) 643-2108.