By Guest Blogger, Kim Williams
Kim Williams is a father, husband, business executive, author, and a former ordained minister in long-term recovery from substance use disorder. This series of “Ask an Addict” is offered in hopes of helping to remove the stigma of addiction and promote the reality of recovery. #WeDoRecover #FacesAndVoicesOfRecovery
If you missed Part 1 of this series, click here to read!
In preparation for this series, I sent an email to several colleagues, friends and family members asking them, “If you could ask a recovering addict any question, what would you ask?” The following are next set of questions and responses.
5. I’m afraid you’ll relapse. What can I do to protect myself if I see it coming?
In the world of substance use disorder and recovery, relapse is a reality. Many addicts/alcoholics stutter-step their way into recovery. Recovery is a tricky thing to get started and to maintain. Fortunately, the longer a person retains their recovery and continues to work on their personal development, the more likely the permanence of a new way of life becomes. Read that sentence again.
Being in a relationship with a person that suffers from addiction is a unique kind of relationship. The best way for anyone, addict or not, to protect themselves is to maintain their self-care. The more centered and developed each of us is, the better we are equipped to handle relapse. Take care of yourself first. That is the rule of recovery, and I would recommend it to anyone. I am, you are, the only person who can do that – care for ourselves. Choosing to be in a relationship with a person in recovery, especially early in recovery, is a tough order and not something I would ever wish for or try to impose on anyone. My spouse decided to give our relationship a year to see what it would be like with me in recovery. I’m glad she did, but I couldn’t ask her to do that, nor would I recommend it. If you choose to stick around, let trust build slowly. Be honest and open about your concerns. I would also suggest getting a support network of others who have been in a similar relationship. I’ll venture to say that recovery requires work on both sides of a relationship.
For information on support for family members of people with addiction, more appropriately called Substance Use Disorder, visit https://al-anon.org/.
6. How would you most love for me to tell you I see early signs of concern without ruining our relationship?
I believe openness of communication during recovery, especially early on is critical. Still, it isn’t your responsibility to monitor my recovery. That is my responsibility. For me, I had tremendous and proven resources at my disposal. I started recovery with both outpatient medical treatment and a recovery support group. That network knew how recovery works and helped me to learn the basic steps toward success. Still, if I think about the things my family did to help me, there were several. First, it was their willingness to listen to me. They were there for me when I needed to talk about my journey or just walk around the block when I needed to move. Their understanding of my need to spend time at recovery meetings, treatment was also a big help.
Early on, recovery is a very self-centered, consuming endeavor. As selfish as it sounds, I had very little mental/spiritual energy or time to give away – I was self-absorbed with getting better, and that is what I needed to do. Over time, that did change. I am sure it was hard for my family, but that is what it took for me. Their support was immensely generous and helpful.
Here’s the real rub. There is a real thing called codependency, whereby another person in active addiction is supported and enabled by a nonaddict. These people are often family members. If that is the case with you, you’ll need to do the hard work of discovering that and beginning your journey. Part of that will be focusing on yourself and not trying to manage someone else’s recovery. Read that last sentence again.
Adverse to 12-step recovery? Click here for alternatives.
7. As you were deciding whether to quit/cut back, what did people say to you (or do) that was helpful, and what was not helpful?
That is a tricky question to answer. I imagine that it is different for each person. For me, the most helpful thing that others offered was encouragement. Hearing that they believed I could get better and that I was worth the effort was encouraging. Words of support for my participation in treatment and recovery meetings were helpful. Also, I think hearing the truth about their feelings, as uncomfortable as it was, was helpful. It pained me to know how much I had hurt others, but I had new resources for dealing with that pain, and on some level, the fact that they told me how much I had hurt them meant that the relationship was still important to them. Mainly, I was grateful for the encouragement to do what I needed to do.
What was not helpful was when a nonaddict insisted, they knew what I needed to do to quit and offered their ‘cure’ opinion. There is a recovery reading that talks about the therapeutic value of one addict helping another. I believe this is the best method
Need any ideas on handling tough communications? Click here.
8. What do you most want nonaddicts to understand about addiction?
That is a fascinating question. First, I’d like to successfully communicate that people with Substance Abuse Disorder uniquely experience the effects of substances. We find them intensely attractive to get relief. I remember studying the Physicians Desk Reference to learn about more drug options when I was using drugs. One of the side effects of certain narcotics was listed as, “May cause an unwarranted sense of wellbeing.” The phrase described my experience perfectly. Drugs made me feel better, a lot better. I can’t explain it, but it was more than just being high. The power of a substance is fantastic to me – it seems like my natural state.
Secondly, I want you to know that we do recover. The old saying, “once an addict, always an addict,” is a lie. Granted, some of us don’t make it into recovery, but many of us do. We are among you every day: teachers, lawyers, doctors, ministers, salespeople, HR workers, welders, business owners. It is almost impossible to be anywhere without being near a person in recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, there are over 20 million success stories in the United States alone. Have hope.
Click here to learn more about substance use disorder.
10% of the US population is in recovery from substance use.
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