Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Expect Them To Recover

When you have a relative or friend who is active in their addiction, or newly sober, or newly sober for the third or fourth time after another relapse, it's natural to wonder, to worry, to not want to get your hopes up too high. After all, what if they never recover or what if it doesn't last or what if it's just another short bout of recovery followed by another relapse?

The what if game is easy to fall into and almost serves as a form of self protection for those of us who feel the pain and trauma of our addict's choices so deeply.

But, let's try another kind of what if game.

What if, just for a moment at a time, we expect our addicts to recover, we expect them to get it, we expect things to get better? What if, regardless of how things look on the outside, and how many times we have had our expectations dashed, we simply expected an upward turn.

What then?

"Well," you might say, "then I'd be setting myself up for a let down. I can't take the disappointment. It's too difficult."

Okay. So let's look at that. Who is this about? You or the loved one? I would say it is about both of you and that having a positive expectation is healthy for both of you. In fact, I'd like to posit that the value of a positive expectation is two fold:
1. it gives us the ability to feel good about the potential of the future and affects the way we see our addict (as someone with potential rather than as a deadbeat or a lost cause)
2. it allows our relationship with the addict to unfold from a perspective of positivity rather than from that of negativity.

Research has shown that people who have an optimistic outlook on life generally have about three positive thoughts for every negative thought they have. These thoughts then affect how they feel physically, mentally, and emotionally and how they see others and act toward them.

Although being related to someone who is ill with addiction can tax one's optimistic reserves, recovery is about building up the reserves once again. We do this first by focusing on all that we do have to be grateful for in our lives in this moment, second, by seeing the potential in ourselves and in the people we love, and third, by always looking for the good, for the positive possibilities and for what's right in our lives and in the world.

But what happens if we have positive expectations and the addict has a slip anyway?

Of course, another's actual behavior is completely out of control. But, our response is totally within our control and is much easier to control if we create habits of mind that keep us focused on what is going right. The value of building these habits cannot be overestimated.

When we see the addict slip, our reaction can be one of "OH MY GOD" or of "okay, here's a sign that there is more work to be done."

When we don't blow things out of perspective, we don't contribute to things getting worse. We become a partner in the journey who can be counted on to have their head on their shoulders and be supportive without being overwhelmed.

Yes, addiction is a relapsable illness. And we didn't cause it, we can't control it, and we can't cure it. BUT, we don't have to contribute to it. And by having a positive expectation for the addict's future, while keeping the focus of our thoughts on our own lives, we can make a positive difference in their recovery by not contributing negatively to any of their behaviors or experiences. 

And when we let our addicts know that we have faith in them and in their ability to recover and live a sane and happy substance-free life, we help them to grow in faith that a future of recovery IS possible for them, regardless of how things look right now.

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