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A Guide for Helping a Loved One in Early Recovery

Debbie was sitting at her desk in her downtown Boston office when she received a call on a Tuesday afternoon from her younger brother Jason, an architect in New York. He was calling her from the bathroom in his office in SoHo and he didn’t sound like himself.

“I have a drug and alcohol problem and I need to go to rehab,” he confessed. Debbie immediately assured her brother that she was there for him. She quickly found a treatment center and booked his flight.

Decisions, Decisions

In rehab, Jason’s counselors were concerned about his return to New York since he lived alone and was firmly entrenched in the underground party scene. He called Debbie to discuss his aftercare treatment options and she quickly offered to let him move in with her.

Jason had moved to New York over ten years ago and had never considered going back. But he knew he wasn’t ready to be on his on in New York, so he accepted her kind offer.

Though Debbie loved her little brother with all her heart and wanted nothing more than to support his recovery, she hung up the phone and thought, “What did I just do?”

The Sting of Reality

Finding a rehab and buying a plane ticket is one thing; inviting him to live with her was a big decision. But the offer was made, so she welcomed him when he arrived on her door step.

She was taken aback by his rough appearance. Underweight, distant and depressed, Jason spent those first days and weeks curled up on the sofa. They had an agreement that he would enter into an outpatient program – and he did. Over the course of the next few months, however, Jason’s mood swings, inability to be honest and eventual relapse drove Debbie to the edge of her own breaking point.

These circumstances are unfortunately common and, in what are undoubtedly sincere efforts to help a recovering loved one, you can both end up in hot water.

Remember: You are under no obligation to convert your home into a makeshift rehab. Assess your loved one’s condition and make the right decision for you. There are post-treatment living options for people who are in early recovery, but not quite ready to live alone.

A Starter Guide for Helping Someone in Early Recovery

Here’s a starter guide for those on the front lines of life after addiction:

  • Changing Your Own Behaviors

If you are going to live with a newly recovering addict or alcoholic, you may need to change your own behaviors. Your loved one may be the one battling addiction, but if you are going to stay on board, you play a part in this too. This will usually involve things like getting rid of all the alcohol in your home or locking up all prescription medications.

  • Have a Clear Plan Beforehand

You’ll want to come up with a plan before your loved one moves in and make it clear what is expected of them. Outpatient program, 12-step meetings, responsibilities around the house (especially if they’re not working). Feeling useful is very important in early recovery.

  • Don’t Ignore the Signs Something is Wrong

If you see something, say something. It can be hard to figure out if an alcoholic or addict is telling the truth or hiding something. But if something doesn’t feel right, listen to your inner voice. It’s also a good idea to seek help before having a confrontation. Keep in mind that recovering addicts can act suspicious out of nothing more than habit, having lived that way for so long.

  • Acknowledge the Family Connection

Addiction is often a family disease. As your love one gets better, you may begin to feel like the crazy one. After all, you’ve been holding it together and being the strong one. Once you don’t have to be the strong one, you may need to evaluate the relationship and how it’s affected you. There’s no shame in admitting you have been affected by someone else’s alcoholism or addiction.

Recognizing When it’s Time to Take a Stand

Eventually Debbie was forced to make Jason leave her home. The chaos and turmoil were too much for her to bear.

He went back to New York after they had a terrible fight. Tears and harsh words drove a wedge between them for months.

Jason continued to struggle with his addictions, but eventually got sober thanks to an inpatient treatment center he attended in New York.

The siblings eventually reconciled, both admitting fault in the breakdown of the relationship.

Debbie was able to see how her caretaking had enabled Jason’s addiction; Jason saw how he took advantage of his sister’s codependency through manipulation and untruths.

And today, Debbie is helping Jason plan his wedding.

Additional Reading: Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationships