How To Support Yourself While Supporting Someone In Recovery

By Sabrina Spotorno, LSW, CASAC and therapist on the Monument platform

There are many ways that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) impacts family members beyond the person living with it, which is why the phrase “family disorder” is used frequently in the therapy world. Family members of folks with AUD are oftentimes assigned the role of rescuer or the rock to secure stability in the home.

Within the family system, trust has typically been broken. For those who are supporting a loved one with AUD, feeling helpless is commonplace. Supporters may even question the validity of their emotional reactions, as they appear secondary to their loved one’s substance use cycle. There is often a tug of war at play: ‘I want to support them,’ and ‘I want to leave.’

Caring for yourself while caring for someone in recovery

If someone you care about has an unnhealthy relationship with alcohol, it can be incredibly stressful. You are not alone. Join friends and family of people navigating sobriety or moderation to discuss how to support yourself and your loved one.
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We have to normalize getting support for those with AUD and for those in supporting roles, too. In opening up this dialogue, I hope that I can affirm that whatever your experience as a supporter looks like, it is completely valid. I also hope to give you the tools to begin your own recovery journey, because your pain and healing matters. Helping yourself and your loved one doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. With awareness, compassion, and actionable tools, you’ll be able to better care for others, and better care for yourself.

Reshaping the family dynamic

Education

Empowerment

Carve out separate time for you and the both of you. What reminders can you set out for yourself to make time for yourself? What actions can you and your loved one collaborate on to feel like you are a part of their network, but not their entire net? Your mental health is just as important as anyone else’s. Taking ownership over your wellbeing can bring genuine confidence, stability, and clarity to introduce into the family system.

Lastly, Engagement

Remember, your needs matter.

When you’re assessing how to set healthy boundaries, it can be challenging if you don’t have a firm understanding of your own needs. When we understand our needs we can better articulate them to others without fear. I suggest identifying needs and boundaries based on the eight dimensions of wellness: social, emotional, intellectual, physical, spiritual, vocational, financial, and environmental wellness.

After reading about the categories, answer the following questions for each dimension:

  1. What is something I can do personally in this dimension?
  2. What is something my partner/child/sibling/parent can do in this dimension?
  3. What is it that we can do together to help each other?

This exercise works to separate the “me, you, and us” in relationships. The goal here is to build your sense of autonomy as a person and family member while acknowledging the space for your loved one to build theirs as well.

If you’ve taken on the responsibility of supporting a loved one navigating alcohol use disorder, that can be a lot of weight to carry. For today, I encourage you to take a moment, think about what you need, and give it to yourself — maybe that’s your favorite meal or a rom-com or a run. You deserve autonomy, self-care, and empathy. And you are not alone in this.

If you have any specific questions you’d like me to address about supporting a loved one with AUD, I encourage you to post in the Community forum. We’re here to listen, and we’re here to support you.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Sabrina SpotornoSabrina Spotorno, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with an affinity for working with children, adolescents, individuals, and families. She is a therapist on the Monument platform, and is trained in several modalities, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Narrative Therapy. She’s passionate about empowering her clients to recognize their strengths amidst their life transitions to optimize their sense of efficacy and alignment of their actions with their beliefs and dreams.
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