Authentically Changing Your Role In Your Loved One’s Recovery

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

If you’ve been concerned with your loved one’s substance use for some time 1, I can imagine you’ve been on your own emotional journey. It’s common (and normal!) for fear, anger, and shame to arise. Everyone dances around these emotions differently when inadequacy or uncertainty of where we fit into our loved one’s recovery becomes overwhelming. But by digging deeper into the role you are currently playing, you will be able to shift into a new path of authenticity and empowerment2.

Roles we may play, but didn’t audition for

First, keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with an individual who falls into any of these roles. They are commonly observed archetypes and a natural result of how we try to resolve difficult emotions.

“The Addict”
What’s more traditionally known as ‘The Addict’ is the family member who is struggling with alcohol use disorder. Their unhealthy drinking behavior often affects their loved ones, leading to familial grief and shame, despite their having a medical condition.  We don’t use this label at Monument, as we believe drinking is something you do, not who you are.

“The Enabler”
They feel it’s their responsibility to repair “The Addict” and do everything they can to quickly clean up the aftermath of any setbacks. The Enabler has a hard time allowing for negative consequences, even when these experiences are natural parts of the healing process.

“The Scapegoat”
This role is exactly as it sounds. The Scapegoat is regularly singled out and blamed. Utilizing a “scapegoat” is a common way the family diverts attention away from how they are each internally managing their emotions surrounding alcohol use disorder.

Two people talking by the water

“The Loner”
The Loner tends to delay decision-making, downplay their strengths, and not see the value of taking many risks, such as sharing their emotional world with others. The Loner is most comfortable staying distant or hidden from view, especially when it comes to engaging with family recovery.

“The Achiever”
The Achiever can point to their success — maybe it’s their childhood trophies or a high-powered job. However spectacular, their accomplishments are often being fueled by a need to cover up underlying shame. The Achiever may end up feeling they don’t have permission to fail or experience emotions they fear could get in the way of “success” throughout their loved one’s recovery.

“The Mascot”
This role is the class clown of the bunch. While their knack for entertaining can often help their family through pain, it can be harmful when The Mascot doesn’t feel like they are allowed to express their feelings around the challenges of unhealthy drinking and recovery.

Caring for yourself while caring for someone in recovery

If someone you care about has an unhealthy 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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Pause and take a breath

If you’ve identified with one or more of these roles, you are not alone. The beauty of recognizing these labels is that they are just that — labels. The first step toward change is awareness. Let’s break it down.

Recognize what is under the surface of “helping”

Take a closer look at your behaviors. Your “helping” may actually be rooted in control, and wanting to fix the people around you. I encourage you to first, own that experience. Second, maybe even let your loved one know about this role you’ve been playing. And third, remember that no one is broken here, so it’s not your responsibility to “fix” anyone. To show up as our most authentic selves, we approach relationships with patience, empathy, and ownership of the shame that comes with not always knowing how to support or seek support from those around you.

Person walking in the woods

Once you explore what is under the surface, dive in deeper

Ask yourself, what would it look like to allow myself to feel this fully? What are the core feelings under the surface of this emotion? Your self-healing means trusting your ability to notice where it resides in your body and recognize it as a cue that one of your needs has not been met yet. Emphasis on yet! The goal is to learn to communicate these needs effectively and open the door for your loved ones to do the same.

Recognize authenticity as a process

Don’t get down on yourself if you fall into default patterns. If you return to a retired role, it’s not starting over but a gentle reminder that authenticity requires nourishment. This takes minimizing triggers and reminding yourself that you are bringing all the knowledge of the past cycles before it. We need a more empowering word than “relapse.” Finding new language to destigmatize these patterns can be a great first family project towards developing a recipe for healing.

Savor the process

Remember to give yourself a chance to savor all of this work! Set an intention each morning, set an alarm for a mindful minute, create a visual reminder as obvious as a sticky-note on your mirror that says “savor this.” These moments of grounding can go a long way in your healing process. You are opening all kinds of new doors!

We’re here to help

With reflection, awareness, and action, it is absolutely possible that you’ll authentically change your role in your loved one’s recovery. Making the space for yourself to heal and grow is essential — not just so that you can support others better, but yourself too.

If you have any specific questions you’d like me to address about supporting a loved one with alcohol use disorder, I encourage you to post in the community forum. I also encourage you to read my article on “How To Support Yourself While Supporting Someone Else In Recovery,” for additional insights.

And lastly, make sure to RSVP for our new therapist-moderated support group, “Caring for yourself while caring for someone in recovery.” Camera on or off, all we ask is that you bring yourself exactly as you are. Share or listen, give or get support, join alone or with a friend. We’re here to listen, and we’re here to help.

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. 

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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.