The insidious nature of the disease of addiction centers in the addict’s mind, purging rationality, critical thinking, and common sense, when exposed to substances. Addicts and non-addicts experience consequences differently. A non-addict might receive a DUI due to alcohol intoxication and decide to put down drinking for good or modify their behavior as a result. The addict simply has lost the mental capacity to do so. In the face of relationship loss, job loss, financial instability, homelessness, emotional and physical health complications, even their very own liberty and freedom, we will still return to the substance to satiate the intense phenomenon of craving we experience… that devilish need to scratch a seemingly unreachable itch. Oftentimes, due to the line of work I’m in and my own personal history, family members will ask me what it takes to achieve long-term recovery. They want to know what signs they might look for in their loved ones that may indicate they are ready to begin the lifelong journey of sobriety, emotionally and physically. While there may not be a perfectly definitive answer to these questions, there certainly are common threads and indicators that someone is reaching out for help, or contemplating doing so. Included in this blog are some examples of behaviors, and some practical suggestions that may place you in a position to be supportive of these recovery-oriented behaviors in a healthy way.
First, and if I’m being authentic, probably most importantly, the intrinsic motivation for recovery is worth its weight in gold. While you may wish you could give this to someone, this internal drive to actively accept suggestions and take steps toward changing their life, the fact remains that this is simply impossible. In PAL and other support groups we can learn strategies to help others to put themselves in places where they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. But forcing, coercing, or begging them is futile and counterproductive. Simply take a step back and re-evaluate. You’ve probably heard the term rock bottom; this is a vital step in the path towards that motivation. Once we are beaten, broken, and at the end of our rope, we are that much more likely to take steps toward affecting change on our own.
Here are a couple of examples: Your loved one calls you stating that they’ve called a treatment center and have made an appointment for intake. Not asking you to do this for them, not asking you to drive them there, but simply informing you that they have recognized the need for assistance and have begun taking steps in getting it. Another example would be the time between the individual’s relapse and subsequent attempts to stop becoming shorter. This can indicate a sincere desire and willingness to at least try and find healing. These may seem trite or silly, but these behaviors hold weight in their ability to demonstrate a desire to change in the addict.
Subtle changes in their interactions with you can be a display of forward movement in the right direction as well. I distinctly remember fighting my parents tooth and nail when they began setting boundaries with me, healthy strategies they learned in PAL. I would tell them repeatedly that these new changes were unhelpful, and unwelcome by me, often in a hurtful and aggressive manner. Over time, through them sticking to their guns and upholding the boundaries they set, despite my consistent protestations, I gradually shifted mentally toward a place of acceptance. It eventually led to minimal contact between us, which I’d like to say in hindsight was healthier for all parties involved, despite it not feeling that way at the time. It placed me in a position where I was forced to fend for myself often, giving me an increased awareness and determination that would later be invaluable in my recovery. I wouldn’t call and pester them constantly, knowing full well what the answers to my asinine requests would be at that point. While I can’t say I enjoyed this experience or had the capacity to see the personal growth in it at the time, in hindsight, I can now clearly see a gradual acceptance of the situation and concepts they were demonstrating and how they helped. Noticing when someone becomes less argumentative, even slightly, can be evidence of a small shift, hopefully the first in a series that will accumulate into a different mindset, one of willingness to try something different. While it can feel painful, and even counterproductive, boundary setting is an evidence-based approach that holds within it the power to change lives.
Once you’ve noticed some of these changes in behavior, once the individual has taken some of these small steps, the likelihood of recovery as a real possibility may be within reach. I firmly believe that almost all people can recover from the disease of addiction with the right attitude of open-mindedness, willingness and honesty. While the road to this psychic change can be replete with treacherous pitfalls, traps, and hazards, there is no question that it is indeed attainable. By learning healthy coping skills, by educating yourself through support groups, through learning from the experience of others and what works for them, you can support and be of assistance to those struggling in a healthy and meaningful way. Take those small moments, those instances where you can clearly see, however subtle, something changing in the lives of someone you love. Hold onto them, put honest and steady stock in your own healing process, and hold out hope that someday, something greater is in store for all.
With love and compassion
Sean – In Recovery
You can read, comment and ask questions for Sean to address in his blog on the PAL website, home page – www.PALGroup.org