Monday, March 1, 2010

"My Spouse Is Ignoring His Recovery...."

What Do You Do If Your Sober Loved One Seems to Be Losing Their Recovery Bearings?
Sometimes, it's easier to just go along than to notice and observe and comment on what we are seeing. But, when you live with an addict, using or sober, ignoring what you are seeing can prove to be deadly.

It is certainly not effective to nag. But neither is it worthwhile to ignore things the addict in your life may be doing that may be taking them down a dangerous path.

The AA Big Book discusses the way newly sober alcoholics either immerse themselves in their recovery or immerse themselves in their work. Likewise, veterans in recovery can be seen continuing to immerse themselves in taking sponsees through the steps, speaking at meetings and doing service, or just barely making it to a meeting a week as they watch their life in sobriety take off around them, offering them so  many interesting options at work and in the community that they barely seem to have time to deal with recovery activities and service anymore. Others may simply immerse themselves in work and TV watching and leave it at that. At first, these options may seem harmless. But they are not, and the earlier it is addressed the better. So what is a spouse or significant other to do when they see their loved one pulling away from their recovery roots as their life in recovery evolves?

Say what you see, say what you mean, but don't say it mean. In other words, no nagging, bugging, hassling, or harrassing. Instead, mirror what you see. Describe it, noticing the good as well as the troubling, and being aware all the while, that you are not the judge or the police officer in the relationship. Rather, you are the concerned person who loves the addict and is willing to tell them what you see and then LET GO and LET GOD work with them on what all of it means to them, while you then turn back to minding YOUR OWN business.

Should you not be their mirror, or should they ignore or spurn your input, as time goes by, you may notice some of the old behaviors coming back, then some of the old friends, and, before you know it...Well, you know the routine, and it's not pretty. So, it is not your job to be their watchdog, just their mirror, in a detached, loving way. And in case they don't get it, if you have taken care of yourself you will be okay regardless. So don't forget your recovery; spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Speaking with a sober and clean addict about their recovery has a lot in common with speaking with a using addict in that it is CRUCIAL to drop all judgment, harshness and lack of respect during the conversation. In fact, these types of behaviors will be showing up less and less in your life in general, if you yourself are working a recovery program.

Of course there is one HUGE difference between speaking with a using addict and speaking with a sober one: You now have someone who, if you speak  respectfully and non-judgmentally will likely be able to hear you, may appreciate your concern, and may decide to engage in a civil conversation about this sensitive topic. In addition, they will remember that the conversation happened and may even choose to continue the talk without resentment the next day...

Here's how the conversation might go...
Start with what you are seeing such as...
* lots of fun activities, friends, sporting events, etc (whatever they are engaged in that you notice that is positive
* not so many meetings, phone calls, sponsees, talks with sponsor, etc. (whatever appears to be missing in their life in terms of their program)
* their temper flaring more than it does when they go to meetings regularly
*their paranoia or irritation growing more than it has in all of their years of sobriety
* they are eating more or gambling more (or whatever switched addictive behavior you are noticing)
* some of their old sick friends are beginning to call the house again

Tell them about your concerns such as...
*From what I know about recovery, it is a lifelong journey and those who neglect it can have problems build up and end up in what looks like a sudden relapse that has actually building for years
* when an addict doesn't work some type of recovery program (whether through 12 steps or other venues, including therapy, recovery coaching, smart recovery, spiritual pursuits, or whatever allows them to focus on enhancing recovery in their lives), they might be more liable to switching addictions and/or get slowly lulled into a life that is less than the promises promise them
*or whatever your concerns are (remember, the key is respect and concern and non-judgment. you are two adults discussing a concern rationally)

Let them know that you love them regardless of their choices,  AND that you have boundaries (which they probably are already aware of) such as...
* a sober lifestyle as a prerequisite for the two of you to be together
* the need for addicts who you live with to go to meetings, therapy or a recovery coach (or 2 of the three or all three)
* you put your own recovery first and if you find that the way they are behaving begins to impact negatively on your recovery, you will always share it and if necessary take action to protect your own recovery.
Of course, the key to boundary setting is to NOT say things you don't mean and to be sure not to threaten, only to state facts and to say whatever you say in a loving way that gets your point across in as few words as possible.

So, all of this is just to say that when someone you love is an addict, you have a role to play in their recovery, but it is not the leading role. That is theirs and God's. Your role is to take care of yourself, work your own program and when you see things that concern you, say them lovingly and clearly and then let them go.

There are options for people who say they are burnt out on the steps or the program or are looking for a new way of getting help or renewing themselves. Recovery coaching offers a path of goal setting and action planning that can guide an addict or family member to develop a plan for their life in recovery and have a built in accountability partner to walk the walk with them. It's not an 'instead of' the 12 steps path, but it could be an alternative or a steppingstone for those who feel alienated or alone or bored or complacent on the path they have been following.

As always, the key to our sharing our truth with another person is to share the things we are observing, without judgment and then to let go and live our truth ourselves. Being, not doing, as they say in Naranon, is the most effective way to help another person...and ourselves.

Coming up in future blogs:
  • Detachment: How It Works
  • Life Purpose: The Next Step on the Recovery Path

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