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Handshake
September 23, 2018

How Recovery Is About Who You Know

HandshakeRecovery is a lot about who you know. Let me explain….

In a month devoted to the topic of social pressure and its relation to substance abuse, there is great utility in revisiting the following key tenet of recovery: that the company you surround yourself with is as critical as the medications I (or any other doctor) might prescribe to curb cravings or treat dual diagnoses like anxiety or depression. For example, if an alcoholic does not seek out the right company—in the form of healthy, recovery-friendly relationships of love and support—then even the most effective Medication-Assisted Treatment will have at best limited effectiveness over the longer haul. On that note, here are some things to consider in choosing a support network and the right people to journey with you in your recovery, based on my work with clients and their families:

Who Is in Your Social Support Network?

Addiction is a big lie because it tells you that you can get by on your own— so long as you can depend on your drug of choice. In reality, of course, we as human beings need healthy relationships in order to flourish. And this reality quickly becomes evident in early recovery. When you’re undergoing detox from one or more drugs and dealing with the physical and emotional pain and discomfort of withdrawal, you need support. Equally important: support from the right people. In other words, “no person is an island,” to quote Ernest Hemingway— and who you surround yourself with has direct bearing on your prospects of lasting freedom from addiction.

Ask yourself, then, who is in your support network. Are you still in touch with the same friends you used to drink and use drugs with? If so, let these relationships fall by the wayside. They no longer can serve your recovery and likely could harm it.

The Right People to Know in Recovery, Starting with Family

An honest inventory of your current relationships is also a good starting place for assessing, strengthening and hopefully expanding your support network. From my experience working with clients and families, the first place to look when asking whether you know the right people is within your family.

In the best-case scenarios, one or more immediate family members will be educated about what the disease of addiction is, and they will be compassionate, not enabling. If a loved one understands that addiction is a disease of the mind, and if they extend compassion with clear boundaries that do not enable your past drug-seeking behaviors, then they are the right people to spend time with.

Most families need to be educated about the disease of addiction, and the good news is that often a little education can go a long way. But I’ve also seen how families can be extremely enabling or extremely reactive and oppositional. Both stances are equally toxic. Instead, I try to encourage compassion without enabling— which is not easy: when you feel compassion for a loved one, you want to help them, (by giving them money to buy drugs, for example, when in fact all you’re really doing is enabling them). The antidote is compassion with healthy boundaries.

Other Good People to Know in Your Recovery

In addition to family members who have been educated about addiction and can extend compassion without enabling, I also recommend the following “right people” to know in recovery:

  • Others who are daily practicing the 12 steps in a regular peer support group
  • A 12-step mentor or addiction-certified therapist
  • Those you admire whose counsel you value, whether they’re a spiritual director, career mentor or just someone whose courage and resilience inspire you
  • Friends who you can trust and be honest with— and who won’t be afraid to be honest with you if/when they notice changes in your behavior that concern them and could precede relapse

The takeaway? Successful recovery is as much about the company you surround yourself with as it is about knowing you’re not alone.

Who has been most instrumental in supporting your journey to recovery? Share your experience with the rest of us!

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