If you’ve ever heard the song that has the words, “Love is all you need,” this is a comforting thought that would be wonderful if it was true. It isn’t. But, having said that, when it comes to helping get you through recovery, love may not be all you need, but it definitely makes your recovery journey feel easier.
The truth is that the new life in sobriety that you have chosen has its ups and downs. Not every day is going to be one where you accomplish all that you set out to do, nor will you always be hitting roadblocks. Typically, life in recovery falls somewhere in-between: some wins, some tasks and projects that need a bit more work, some that may need to be put aside for now until you gain more knowledge or experience or for which you require additional resources.
When you have the love and support of your spouse or partner, other family members, and close friends, however, things never seem as bad as they otherwise might.
A Heartfelt Smile, a Gentle Touch
When you’re in the beginning stages of healing from addiction, even the little things like remember to express your love and affection for others sometimes takes a back seat to your more pressing recovery-oriented tasks and duties. But remember that you aren’t the only one who is trying to mend. Your loved ones and family members are also undergoing the gradual healing process, trying to recapture the intactness and closeness of the family unit while simultaneously supporting your recovery efforts.
You can help in a big way by re-examining your attitude toward how you let your loved ones know that you appreciate their sacrifices and ongoing support. More to the point, when it comes to how love can help your recovery, let them know with a heartfelt smile and a gentle touch that you care and care deeply.
Granted, a smile and warm touch will not erase all the past harm that your addiction may have inflicted upon the family, but it is a good, albeit small, first step. You may very well need some time to mend old wounds, to heal the hurt that your callous, cruel or unthinking words brought to your loved ones. When you stop to think about it, though, is a smile and a gentle touch too much for you to offer when you can potentially reap so much in return?
What is the big deal? Won’t things just get better on their own — without all the effort on your part? Think about what it took to overcome addiction in the first place. How did that go? Wasn’t it necessary for you to first clear the near-impossible hurdle of your own denial and adamant refusal to change? Didn’t it take a great deal of time and effort to come to the realization that you needed help in order to get past your dependence on alcohol and drugs? And, didn’t you recognize, finally, that you couldn’t do it on your own?
Now that you are back home with the family, this isn’t the time for you to ignore what’s going on around you. Even if your day-to-day recovery to-do list is front and center on your mind, you do occupy space with others who are, believe it or not, finely tuned to your attitude and behavior. Your spouse or partner, your children and other family members all have a stake in your recovery – and in helping to improve the family dynamic.
Sure, it may feel a little strained at first to plaster a smile on your face. That is to be expected. In fact, if your family members have been able to participate in family therapy, they will be well-informed that the healing process will take time and can adjust accordingly. But it is the sincere effort you make that counts here. That and the fact that you need to keep doing the best that you can each and every day.
Ability to See Beyond Past Failures
Overcoming addiction takes a lot of courage, determination and persistence. It also takes dedication. When you have so much that you feel you need to repair, so much damage that you want to try to undo, it can weigh heavy on your heart. It can temporarily crush your spirit, leaving you vulnerable to the easy out: succumbing to cravings and urges to use.
It may be extraordinarily difficult to get beyond a fixation on your past failures, especially if you’ve only recently completed rehab for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence. You may find that you are so hung up on all the bad things that you have thought and said and done to the point where you feel you can’t lift your head to look others in the eye.
Here is where trusting the love and support of your spouse or partner and other close family members is an incredible aid to your overall recovery. When you are able to communicate your fears and doubts, along with your hopes and goals for this new life in sobriety that you have chosen, it isn’t that your troubles will magically go away but that you can benefit from the love and support of your family to help you see beyond past failures and begin to make small and incremental changes in your new and healthier lifestyle.
It’s long been documented that a constant harping on failures and perceived imperfections can seriously damage a fledgling recovery. In recovery, one of the most pervasive and destructive examples of criticism is what the newly recovered individual heaps upon himself. Your loved ones can help you to make the gradual transition from too much emphasis on past misdeeds to one where you are clearly focused on the present.
This is a two-way street, however, and you need to take into account your own misconceptions and grudges that you may have carried over from your pre-rehab days into recovery. Just because you are now clean and sober does not mean that everything you thought previously has changed. Much of it has, of course, given the knowledge you have gained about the disease of addiction and how the way you look at life had been colored by your dependence on substances. You and your loved ones need to use a little discretion and common sense, making a concerted effort to not bring up old and painful memories.
Undoubtedly there will be times when words are said in haste or frustration, words that you or your loved ones regret the moment they are expressed. It doesn’t pay to beat yourself up over these situations, but do take steps to immediately remedy them. Say that you are sorry, that you didn’t mean it, and promise to think before you speak such words again. There is a way to discuss problems and issues in the family and this is something that you will need to work out with your loved ones.
Again, it takes time, but the love of family members can mean a great deal in this important aspect of healing – the ability to see beyond past failures.
Who is in a better position to encourage your continued efforts in recovery than the people who know and love you the most? If not your family members, who else do you know that can claim such an intimate knowledge of your hopes and dreams? The fact that you live with these individuals on a daily basis is a plus in and of itself. While your loved ones and family members are keenly aware of what’s going on with you, they can also be your most effective cheering section when it comes to helping you generate enthusiasm for new projects, tasks, different approaches, creating new goals and attempting to explore new directions.
It goes well beyond two heads are better than one. In the case of the family and the love and support they give you, you have multiple layers of encouragement available to you.
How does this work in real life? Suppose you are interested in getting a different job or embarking upon a new career, now that you have completed rehab and are well into your first few months in effective recovery. In order to do so, you know that you will need additional training or to obtain or complete a degree program. You want to be able to take care of your family and do make continual progress toward your goals, but you don’t want to shortchange your loved ones in the process.
Having an open and honest line of communication with your loved ones is imperative, whether it is a job or career change or any other goal that is extremely important to you. Other family members cannot read what your thoughts are, especially hopes and dreams that you may only recently have begun to entertain. Let them in on your thoughts. Brainstorm and get excited about new possibilities. This can help generate the kind of enthusiasm that you and they need to see you through the long-term process of achieving such goals.
The family isn’t the only source of such encouragement and enthusiasm, but it is the closest to home. Why not make use of this home-grown benefit? Everyone will come out ahead when you enlist the help of your loved ones in seeking ways to broaden your interests and branch out in new directions.
Managing the Tough Times
Anyone who has gone through treatment and is in recovery knows full well that recovery is not all a rose-strewn path. There are going to be times – and maybe there have been already – when you encounter a crisis or problem that threatens to sabotage your sobriety. You may get so depressed and hopeless about your situation that relapse doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
Here is where the love of your spouse or partner and other family members may be the lifeline that you need to keep you on the straight and narrow. It isn’t so much that you’ll disappoint them or yourself as the fact that you are all in this together. They feel your pain. They want you to succeed. They will do whatever they can to help you navigate this tough period and get back to doing the work of recovery.
Of course, your sponsor and fellow 12-step group members are also instrumental in your ongoing recovery efforts, especially when you experience a challenge or problem that you feel you can’t deal with. Together, these two elements of your support network – your family and the 12-step group – will help you manage the tough times and come out on the other side stronger, healthier and happier.
There are no guarantees that you will always be successful. But there are also no guarantees that you won’t. The more you recognize that successful recovery is an ongoing process that involves more than just you, the more receptive you will be to becoming a full participant in the recovery journey.
How does this play out on a day-to-day basis? Let’s say that you suffer a drastic cut in pay, or you experience a devastating financial loss, or you lose out on a promotion – take your pick of crises or problems that may occur and throw you for a loop. You feel overwhelmed, unsure where to turn or what to do. You may be tempted to want to drown your sorrows, to obliterate the pain in the only way you knew before that worked, by using, but instead you turn to your support network in your hour of need. You ask for help and you receive it from those who know and love you the most.
And, let’s not be afraid to admit that the recovery community and the members in the rooms of recovery may be every much as loving and committed to your achieving your sobriety goals as your family members at home. It may not be the same kind of love, but it is love, nonetheless.
Learning How to Love Yourself
Remember when you hated yourself so much that you couldn’t stand to see your image in the mirror? Likely that was during the deepest part of your addiction or when you were on the mend but still harboring painful memories about your past. On the road to recovery, one of the first obstacles to overcome, outside of the initial hurdle to get clean and sober, is to figure out a way to learn how to love you – again or for the first time.
This is not a simple endeavor. Many newcomers to sobriety say that they’ve had a difficult time trying to forgive themselves, which is a necessary first step toward learning self-love. And, to be clear, self-love is not self-infatuation. It is not being obsessed with oneself. That is narcissism. No, self-love means that you feel you are worthy and have importance, that you believe in yourself and allow yourself to make progress toward your hopes and dreams. Indeed, without self-love, you cannot hope to make continued strides toward goals, if you can even come up with any.
For anyone who’s having a hard time with this concept, self-love, it may be helpful to start by listing all the things that you know you are good at. Surely there are some. It could be that you’re very good at solving puzzles. This is a talent. Maybe you are excellent at being able to see both sides of an issue. This is a skill that comes in handy when you are presented with different options and need to be able to view both sides objectively before making a decision.
Are there things that you would like to do or to learn? Add those to the list. They will give you somewhere to begin when you’re casting about for ideas on new goals that you want to accomplish somewhere in your recovery.
When you begin to take the first steps toward learning something new, you are tapping into your ability to see something good in you. You do have worth. You are worthy and capable of accomplishment. This is the beginning of learning how to love yourself and it shows that you are on a positive trajectory to making progress in recovery.
Bottom line: There are many facets and aspects of recovery that you will experience and encounter in the lifelong journey you have embraced. While each person needs more than love to get through recovery, love definitely adds to the healing process.