Supporting someone you love through addiction and, hopefully, recovery is a long and involved process. Along the way, you will experience various emotions that are all natural and understandable in this kind of situation. In fact, you could feel several of them on any given day or sometimes all at the same time. During these difficult moments, it is essential that we are able to acknowledge and accept the emotions that come.
Here are three of the most common emotions you may experience as you walk alongside a loved one in their addiction and recovery journey as well as tips on how you can healthily process your own experience.
It is normal to feel angry at the addicted person, ourselves, the situation itself, and even the entire universe. Looking for someone to blame is often an attempt to make sense of an awful situation. We want to figure out who was at fault and to confront them. The trouble comes when we let ourselves vent and act out while still angry. This emotion can be destructive, but the good news is it can also be a form of motivation for us to improve our situation by claiming our personal boundaries and beliefs.
How to Deal:
The key to handling anger is to let it all out! Of course, we need to do so without hurting ourselves, others or anything we care about. So if you’re mad and you feel like throwing something, do it—just aim at a wall or go outside. A NERF or some other soft ball offers a physical release without causing any damage. You can use some of that pent up energy to toss a Frisbee, a NERF or soft item. Yell and scream all you want, but make an effort to do it in a room by yourself. This will give you a physical release without causing any damage you might regret later. Take caution, however, when anger turns into rage. This is when you know it’s time to step away and seek out extra support.
As we watch a loved one battle addiction, a sense of great sadness can well up inside us. Memories of how the person was before the problems spring to mind, as well as a longing to return to those days. Those feelings can be intense, and we can end up dwelling on them for too long. Instead, we want to go through a healthy grieving process. This involves sorting through past events and then releasing them in order to move on. The challenge, however, is to be able to go through the intensity of reliving an experience without getting too caught up in it.
How to Deal:
In order grieve effectively we have to be grounded in the present. Don’t be afraid to ask trusted friends and family to help provide “reality checks” for you when you need them. As you retrain your mind to be more positive and proactive, you must first become aware of your everyday language. Catch yourself when you think about saying things like, “I remember when…” or “I wish we could just go back to…” Recognize the memories have value, but accept that you can’t go back in time.
What you can do is put your energy into moving forward. Decide what lessons you've learned that can help you now and as you go on. Write out a list of dreams for yourself and your loved one, breaking each down into specific goals and steps. Whether you accomplish them all or not, spending time on them brings you out of the past and stirs up hope for better times ahead.
None want to see our loved ones hurting, but we can’t take that notion too far and take full responsibility for someone else. If we do, we’ll start to see ourselves as the cause of the problem and feel compelled to “fix” everything. And when we realize we can’t, we feel like we’ve failed. Other times, it's the people around us who say things to trigger guilt. A simple offhand remark or negative judgment can add to our self-condemnation.
How to Deal:
Handling guilt can be tricky, because it can hit us from two sources - our own thoughts, and from others. There is also the issue of “good” guilt, which helps us to grow versus “bad” guilt that leaves us wallowing. In order to escape the destructive cycle of a guilty mindset, we need to be able to tell the difference.
One of the best ways to dispel guilty feelings is with a good dose of honesty. Take time to write down every specific situation or event you feel guilty about. Then, either alone or with someone’s help, look at each and ask the question, “Is this really my fault?” If you decide that you are at fault or at least have a part to play, then confessing and asking for forgiveness from another might be the right thing to do. If that’s not possible for whatever reason, do the steps on your own. You’ll find out the truth of the phrase “confession is good for the soul.”
It may also be that you discover you’ve been carrying around a burden that was never really yours. After all, other people make their own decisions along the way, too. Letting go of unnecessary guilt lightens your load, and frees up your energy as you move forward.
Feeling and expressing your emotions is a challenging process, but they’ll give you a greater sense of self-worth and an improved outlook on the future. Most importantly, you don’t have to do all of the work alone. Seeking guidance from a professional doesn’t make you weak. Rather, it shows your determination to be the best you can be as you tread along yours and your loved one’s journey.