How To Support Yourself While Supporting Someone In Recovery

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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.’

Making progress together: For family, friends, and those in recovery

One of the most effective strategies for achieving sobriety or moderation is engaging with friends and family. This group is for those looking to cut back on drinking and those supporting them. Join the discussion about how to better understand one another and support each other throughout this journey.
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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

Therapists love alliteration, and I am no exception! I want to introduce a framework called the Three E’s. This framework helps build (or build back) resiliency at any stage of coping with a loved one’s disordered drinking cycle. Think, education, empowerment, and engagement. Let’s break it down.

Education

What is alcohol use disorder? It’s important to recognize that AUD is a medical condition. More specifically, AUD is a biopsychosocial disorder, which means biological, psychological, and social conditions interact to influence someone’s drinking behaviors. Drinking habits are not in any way related to someone’s moral compass. Relapse is not indicative of a lack of understanding that right is right and wrong is wrong. Relapse is not a matter of ethics. Relapse is not an indicator that they don’t care about you and your feelings. Understanding that your loved one is navigating a medical issue, and possibly co-occurring mental health conditions, can help reduce resentment and build compassion.

Empowerment

It can be empowering to hold yourself accountable for the actions you take to support a loved one in a recovery-based lifestyle, whether their goal is moderation or abstinence. Empowerment comes with showing up for yourself and others when you say you will, doing the internal work you’ve committed to, and being there for your loved one in the ways you’ve said you would be. I want to emphasize the importance of self-care, which many supporters overlook.

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.

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Lastly, Engagement

Engagement doesn’t necessarily mean engaging with others in your family. Engagement can mean carving out a space for something that nourishes you, on your own. Building moments that ground us set us up for groundedness in the face of challenges. Think of it as practice. Remaining centered or calm in light of your loved one’s challenges doesn’t mean you’re denying the severity of their AUD. When grounded, you can more easily access and leverage your education and empowered self to make sound assessments and decisions.

Remember, your needs matter.

In any relationship, an ideal circumstance is one where we are comfortable sharing our needs and wants with the other person. However, in many family systems, I often see how signs of codependency or avoidance can get in the way of that. Creating healthy boundaries is an important component of ensuring our needs are met.

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 how to talk to someone about their drinking or how to support 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.

Does someone you love struggle with unhealthy drinking? Get free expert resources ->

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.

Can I Drink In Moderation? Ask Yourself These Questions.

As a therapist specializing in substance use, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, can I moderate my drinking, or should I quit altogether and be sober? In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The path to changing your relationship with alcohol is deeply personal. What I’ve come to find is that no matter which route you take, it’s important to look at the heart of your question: what are you hoping to get out of this journey?

Below, I’ll lay out five questions that I’d like you to reflect upon. And after reflecting, I’m confident you’ll feel closer to understanding which approach to changing your drinking best aligns with your hopes, needs, goals, and intentions.

First, how does alcohol impact my wellness?

Usually, when we’re in an unhealthy relationship, we lose sight of its impact. We develop a blind spot of sorts. A tool I often share with my patients to access that blind spot is the eight dimensions of wellness chart. Each dimension represents an aspect of wellness that alcohol use can affect: emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, intellectual, physical, financial, and environmental. My general rule of thumb is that if it has affected four or more areas, you’ll need to put a significant pause on drinking, and strongly consider goals for sobriety. The greater the impact drinking has on your life, the harder it will be to moderate it. Whether you decide to stop drinking entirely or not, I encourage you to check back in with your chart regularly. Ask yourself: Do these dimensions look any different?

And if not, how can you course correct?

This chart can also serve as a way to visualize goals and guide you in taking action. For example, perhaps you’d like to improve your social sphere. That might mean having socially distanced coffee with a friend once a week or giving yourself permission to share openly with your community about your drinking. This wellness chart can be a vision board: what would you like to improve in order to live a healthier and happier life?

When it comes to deciding to moderate or stop drinking, think about how those choices will affect your chart. Can you achieve those goals with alcohol in your life?

How do I go for a swim?

Stay with me.

Are you someone who prefers to dip their toe in the pool or do you cannonball right in? Do you dive or do you sink in, one step at a time, to keep your head above water?

There is no right or wrong answer. Whatever your answer may be, getting a solid sense of our patterns can help us make a sustainable change. When our approach to change matches with our inherent patterns and tendencies, we are more likely to achieve our goals. Deciding whether to dip your toe in the water (moderation) or to dive right in (quitting alcohol cold turkey) takes recognition of our nature. It’s also important to note that your approach doesn’t necessarily equal your endpoint. You might want to start moderating to reach an ultimate goal for sobriety because easing into things works best for you. You might stop drinking entirely because you take comfort in yes-or-no decision-making but find down the road that you can successfully moderate.

You are not locked into any given path.

What do I feel attached to?

As you examine your relationship with alcohol, take note of your attachment to it. Ask yourself this: What space does alcohol occupy in my life? What has it given me? What has it taken? What do I want from alcohol? What do I believe I need from alcohol? If it were a person, who would it be? A friend? A partner? How would I define this relationship: safe or dangerous? Kind or unkind?

The benefit of personifying alcohol is that it can bring greater clarity to its function in our lives. The bigger the role alcohol plays, the more challenging it will be to control it. If alcohol plays a leading role in your life, that might mean sobriety is a more attainable goal. If it’s more of a supporting character, perhaps moderation can work for you both.

Taking a look at that attachment and asking ‘is this relationship net-positive or net-negative,’ is a useful tool for assessing if this is a relationship worth sustaining, and to what degree.

What do I value?

With my patients, I frequently suggest writing out a ‘values inventory.’ Exploring our fundamental values system is a great way to get to know ourselves even better. Let’s start by dividing a paper into three columns.

  1. In the first column, list some concrete values you hold. For example, I value compassion.
  2. In the second column, next to each value, write out how it shows up in your day-to-day routine. For example, because I value compassion, I strive to give each patient my undivided attention during session.
  3. Now, in the third column, write out the whyWhy does this value matter to you? For me, compassion matters because I want others to feel safe and heard.

As it concerns alcohol, inquire about whether your values are being met. Living through your values is an excellent indicator of how you can best honor yourself in your journey to change your drinking — whether that’s by way of balanced alcohol intake or none at all.

And last but not least: Do I believe in myself?

Believing in yourself is the most important part of continuing your growth in any stage of this journey. Whether you set goals for sobriety or moderation, you have to believe that you can achieve them.

Changing your drinking requires honest self-reflection and self-compassion. Think back on these questions, and evaluate if the sobriety or moderation path is best you right now. And also remember that paths intertwine, loop, and cross. This journey is not always linear, but it is worth it. Believing in yourself is setting yourself up to succeed. I know you can do this, and I believe in you.

If you want to stay in touch, join us in the Monument Community, where you can connect in the anonymous forum, and attend therapist-moderated online alcohol support groups where we tackle challenges related to changing your drinking. I hope to see you there!

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.

How To Navigate The Early Recovery Identity Crisis

Imagine your identity as a pizza pie 🍕. The slices are what make you a full-fledged, complex, and unique human-being: your beliefs, relationships, knowledge, lived experiences, and characteristics. And your toppings are your habits that bind the slices together.

If you’re confronted with a loss of sense-of-self while navigating the early days of moderation or sobriety, ask yourself this: is this a slice issue or a topping issue? It can be challenging to differentiate what we do from who we are, but it’s an important distinction to make to gain a stronger grasp on our identity.

A huge aspect of an early recovery identity crisis is the fact that alcohol can hijack the very systems that help us build our sense of who we are, leaving us to assume our alcohol use defines us.

Distinguishing Character vs. Habits

‘What we do’ is ever-changing. Our habits can feel defining at times, but they can evolve and adapt to align with what makes you, you. When we match our habits and practices to our character, we can achieve more harmony and a stronger sense of self. That’s a big part of this journey. Changing your behaviors to match your character, and becoming the best version of you.

Even if this concept makes sense, it can be hard to conceptualize our character and identity. What would you say if you were asked to finish the sentence “I am a…?” Chances are you would identify your roles, your appearance, your affiliations, or your job titles. These just skim the surface of you.

A deep dive into self-exploration will come with its own set of challenges. Some may call it an identity crisis. Deep breath. I know the idea of an ‘identity crisis’ sounds terrifying, so I’ve laid out two techniques you can use to reclaim your sense of self and help define your character as you navigate this new chapter.

Cognitive Reframing & Re-Attribution (Excuse me, what?)

Let’s break this one down. Cognitive reframing means changing the way we view situations, experiences, events, ideas, and emotions. This practice can help us ‘take back’ the things we used to associate with drinking.

Then comes the “Reattribution” part. Reattribution is a fancy therapy word for finding new explanations for why things happen and challenging some of our deeply ingrained ideas by considering alternatives.

Let’s use an example.

Say, for example, you associate socializing with drinking, so your instinct is to believe that your new sobriety means you can’t be social anymore. Suppose you take a look at the other moments, memories, and experiences in life that are both social and sober. Think about how you can integrate these experiences into your new life without alcohol. Re-associate what socializing means to you, because it doesn’t have to mean drinking. It can mean intimate conversations with friends, clarity in relationships, high-energy, clear-headed parties, and more.

Challenging our thoughts and associations can be uncomfortable, but by changing our perspective we can build new associations and get to know ourselves better without alcohol.

Meeting Fear With Curiosity

Another reframing technique is to meet fear with curiosity. Can you be intrigued by the things that you are unsure about in your life? Are there ways to observe these unknowns as possibly delicious toppings?

A huge aspect of an early recovery identity crisis is the fact that alcohol can hijack the very systems that help us build our sense of who we are, leaving us to assume our alcohol use defines us. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!) In deciding to drink less or stop altogether, you will have to reconnect with what it means to hold space for yourself and your recollections. This can be very unsettling, particularly for those experiences that you would rather avoid thinking about. That’s where coping skills like mindfulness, self-soothing, and cognitive reframing come in. These practices can help regulate the intensity of these emotions as you find new ways to write your narrative.

Things are changing, so it’s natural to feel unsettled and unsure. But this change is good. I hope you take this time to reconnect with the beautiful things that make you, you with newfound clarity, perspective, and self-appreciation. If you want to stay in touch along the way, join us in the Monument Community, come check out our online alcohol support groups, and explore Personalized Treatment options. You can do this!

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.

How To Ask Your Partner For Support In Your Recovery

So, you’re looking to get your significant other involved in your journey to change your drinking? That’s a great idea. And if you’re not sure how to approach it, you are not alone. This is an incredibly common question that I hear in the therapy world. Here, I’ll lay out a few tips for how to approach asking for the support you need and deserve from your inner circle — specifically, your partner.

First, I often ask my clients, what are the ways you feel cared for, no matter what hurdle you’re facing? Take a minute to think about it. What do you come up with?

If you’re having some trouble, don’t worry. This can be an eye-opener into how little we pay attention to what we actually need to feel cared for. If we don’t know what we’re looking for, how can we accurately communicate our needs to our partner? I recommend Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages as a framework for figuring out which signals of love are the top priorities for you.

Whether you know you could use some encouraging words or an act of service to make changing your drinking more attainable, understanding how you want to receive love and support is the first step in ultimately sharing that information with your partner.

Another helpful exercise is to ask yourself, what’s holding me back from discussing my goals with my partner? What would I say if I wasn’t worried about their response?

No matter how your relationship with alcohol has influenced the relationship between you and your partner, two emotions frequently surface in talking about it — shame and fear. If you’re feeling that way, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a strong relationship with your partner. This is a complex conversation, and those feelings are extremely common.

If you would want your partner to trust you and share an important decision with you, you can do the same.

On the flip side, there are many feelings your partner could experience when you approach this conversation. There is no way to predict how they’ll respond. With this in mind, take a moment to remind yourself that however your partner reacts, it’s out of your hands. All we can control is how we show up. Bring out your toolbox of self-reflective work you’ve been doing. Think about those love languages. What are my needs? What are my hopes? What steps can my partner take to support me? Make that ask of your partner.

If getting that conversation started in especially challenging, you may want to give this visual simulation a try.

Imagine your partner is sitting across from you and appears as though they need to tell you something but don’t know how to say it. You encourage them to speak their mind, and they let you know their plan to make a significant lifestyle change. What would you say? How would you show them you want to help? Wouldn’t you want them to feel that they could come to you with any challenge or goals they face? So, why wouldn’t they feel the same way about yours?

Remind yourself that this is a partnership. You show up for each other. If you would want your partner to trust you and share an important decision with you, you can do the same.

And for my final tip, I keep it simple. Gratitude.

It’s important to let your partner know that you appreciate who they are and what they have done thus far to make you feel loved. Let them know that you have faith in their ability to keep supporting you in this next phase of life. Not only does this empower your partner to see their capability and capacity to support you, but you start to believe they can too.

I hope these tips give you the motivation and tools you need to ask for what you deserve. If you’re looking for additional support as you change your relationship with alcohol, join us in the Monument Community. I lead online alcohol support groups, and also provide personalized video therapy. Regardless of your path forward, you can do this!

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.