How to Be a Friend to Someone in Recovery – The Do’s and Don’tsAnna Ciulla
People with supportive friends do better in recovery. So the research shows. But being a friend to someone in recovery can be challenging, precisely because it’s unfamiliar territory for many of us. It’s not uncommon to worry that you’ll say or do the wrong thing—or to wonder whether you’re really helping a friend in recovery (as opposed to intensifying their struggle with addiction). What follow are thus some do’s and don’ts for how to be a friend to someone in recovery:
- Don’t enable. By that, what I really mean is this: don’t agree to do things for your friend that they can do for themselves—especially if your intuition tells you it’s not a good idea. It’s understandable to want to help a friend struggling with an addiction, but one way you can help your friend is to empower them to take responsibility for the things in life that they can be responsible for. Doing things for your friend that they can (and should) do for themselves is, in fact, a form of disempowerment, which is the last thing they need in recovery. This truth should free you from feeling pressured or guilt-ridden into agreeing to every request for help. In actuality, in certain instances you may be doing your friend a bigger favor by politely turning down a solicitation for help.
- Take risks by being genuine in the relationship. What’s far more important than having all of the right words and doing all of the right things is the genuineness of your care and concern. You can be open and vulnerable with your friend about the fact that you’re not sure how to be their friend in recovery—but that you want to be there for them, and are inviting their feedback about how you can best support them. One risk you take, in putting yourself out there in this way, is rejection: it’s possible your friend may not want to have the conversation, or may not be ready to think about how you might support them in their recovery. Another risk may be that you won’t be able to fulfill what your friend asks of you, in which case you’ll have to be honest. Even so, by being open and vulnerable you will have conveyed the genuineness of your care and concern.
- Be a good listener, and don’t interrupt with advice. When a friend is going through a hard time, it’s incredibly tempting to want to jump into fix-it mode, by throwing out solutions to their issues. (And sometimes a bit of problem solving is exactly what your friend may be after; at such times, it never hurts to clarify whether this is what they want from you.) Often, though, that quick knee-jerk need to offer advice is an indication that we are not listening, or at least not listening very well. (In many cases, too, we may be afraid to listen carefully, because active and careful listening may involve experiencing emotions that we’re afraid of and wish to avoid.) Yet giving an ear to a friend without offering quick solutions and easy advice is one of the best ways to show you are there for them and are present with them in their time of trial. Try, in other words, to resist the temptation to issue advice when your friend wants, first and foremost, just to be heard.
- Don’t take the temperature of your friend’s recovery every day—it’s not your job. If your friend is serious and motivated about their recovery, they will be finding support and accountability via appropriate recovery outlets like 12-step support groups and therapy sessions. Don’t overstep this boundary—unless your friend specifically asks you for daily help and accountability. Your friend needs unconditional love and support, not constant badgering (which can end up pushing them away rather than encouraging a relationship).