This month, L.A. CADA is looking at coping with stress during recovery from addiction. One of the trickier methods of self-care is spending quality time with family and friends.
Social support from loved ones can get you through tough times. Studies show that for women, spending time with friends and children releases oxytocin, the body’s natural stress reliever. This effect is called “tend and befriend” and it’s the exact opposite of our body’s fight-or-flight response. Strong social ties can reduce our anxiety levels and help us to overcome obstacles.
One important thing to remember is that not everyone understands addiction and recovery, and that can include family or loved ones. For us, getting sober is a huge accomplishment – perhaps the biggest accomplishment of our life. While friends and family might be proud of us, they might not really comprehend all that it took to get to where we are in our life now, or how fragile our sobriety can be. Friends and family have become accustomed to us behaving a certain way – such as being a fun person at parties. They may wonder if we will still be fun. They may be afraid to have a drink around us. Or they may pick old fights. We, too, are used to our loved ones acting in a certain way around us, and we are used to reacting in a certain way around them, such as slamming doors or abruptly leaving a conversation that doesn’t go our way. Obviously, we all have to learn new ways of coping.
It helps to involve our loved ones in family therapy or counseling. It’s well known that the family structure affects individuals family members with substance use disorders, as well as those around them. The ultimate goal of a family therapist is to strengthen the relationships in the family system, identify and realign power structures to create a more equitable distribution of power, to help understand and foster the communication system and the family, and address other problems that lead to the family being unbalanced or in distress. In order to accomplish those goals, the family therapist tries to understand the family unit as both a single entity and a group that is composed of different individuals. Yet, not all of our family and friends may want or be able to participate in counseling, and this means more work – and growth — for us. Here are some helpful tips:
- Stay focused on your Recovery Plan: Loved ones may not understand that once treatment ends, there is still a lot of work to be done. Don’t take it personally if they offer help and advice – stick to your own sobriety plan.
- Be patient: Some people who get sober think they need to drop all of their friends and family once they are sober, but that’s not necessarily the case. If people are bad influences and endanger your sobriety, then yes, by all means, re-examine your relationship. But if they are friends and family who love you, allow them to support you in your journey.
- Find people who understand sobriety: People with whom you can be open and honest will strengthen your sobriety. You can find them in 12 Step groups.
- Manage your expectations: In some cases, our family and friends may never give us the type of response we’re hoping for in recovery. This can be a major letdown. Just remember: your success in recovery is not determined by what family or friends view as acceptable. Define your own success. You don’t need the approval of others to continue your recovery journey and rebuild your life as you see fit. And don’t close off your heart to loved ones, just manage what you expect from them.