Whether they’re coming home after a partial hospitalization program or a stint in a residential drug treatment facility, it’s critical to recognize that you both will need time to adjust to the new normal. As there tends to be a lot of hurt and mistrust left behind from when your loved one’s addiction was active, acclimating to them being in recovery will take considerable love, patience, humility, and forgiveness.
Family support represents an invaluable aspect of successful substance abuse recovery. With that in mind, we suggest the following ways to help you rebuild lasting connections with your loved one coming out of treatment:
1. Build a Schedule Together
One of the most effective things about being in treatment is having a tight daily schedule filled with group and individual therapy sessions, mindfulness activities, meals, and recreational pursuits like sports, games, art, and music. Counselors keep your mind and body busy as you deal with the hard work of detoxification, withdrawal, and healing.
Your spouse or child will continue to have several appointments to fill his day, including outpatient therapy, psychiatrist and therapist visits, family counseling, and support groups. They also may need to return to school or work on a reduced schedule.
You, your loved one, and your therapy team will need to work together to create a consistent schedule that will incorporate these activities and add others that set aside specific times for family plans or projects and personal enrichment. A lack of structure can create additional stress and anxiety and may trigger desires to bring back some of those old, unhealthy coping skills.
Putting things on a schedule also makes them real and more difficult to cancel on a whim. For example, if you set aside a few hours every Friday evening for Family Fun Night, everybody knows that time is sacred for you and your loved ones – no dates with friends, girls’ or guys’ nights out, meetings, etc.
2. Focus on the Future
He’s painfully aware of all the hurt he has caused, so there’s no need to refer back to his past behaviors constantly. Right now, it’s important to encourage him on his progress and find ways to show your unconditional love and support. You both need to focus on how you will move forward together.
In addition, your loved one will need you to give them the benefit of the doubt. If she wants to make a coffee run with a friend later in the evening, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going out to use drugs. On the other hand, that might be exactly what she’s doing. Either way, you will have to trust her to make her own choices and mistakes.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express an active interest in what she’s doing and with whom. If you suspect a problem or sense a particular situation she’s in might be overly triggering, then talk with her about it. Keeping the lines of communication open without judgment or accusation will help you rebuild trust and connection.
3. Curb Your Curiosity
Your loved one knows that all eyes will be on him from the moment he walks out of that drug rehab, so he doesn’t want to be peppered with a million questions about his time there and what he did. Some of the things he went through will be intensely personal and are probably very painful.
Let them ease back into life at their own pace and open up to you on their terms. They will start to share when they’re ready. In the meantime, as you express your love and support to them, they will begin to see you as their ally and a person they can trust with their emotional struggles.
4. Make Family Therapy a Priority
It’s impossible to repair a vehicle without the right tools. The same applies to improving family relationships torn apart by substance abuse. In most cases, the addict isn’t the only life affected negatively by drug and alcohol abuse – mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, and extended family also feel the traumatic effects of their loved one’s struggle.
Past and current research concludes that “family-based models … [represent] the most effective approaches for treating both adults and adolescents with drug problems,” according to an article published by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
While working with your loved one, you must also devote time and effort to your own healing. At Renaissance Ranch, we offer several types of family support, including individual and family therapy, LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), family rehab groups, and education classes on vital topics like anger management, emotions processing, and conquering codependency.
5. Work on Restoring Emotional and Physical Intimacy
Intimacy is the main casualty in addiction, in that the person abusing drugs or alcohol becomes completely self-absorbed and cannot focus on anything, or anyone, else. Your loved one ceases to care about nurturing your relationship, and you consequently withdraw emotionally to protect yourself.
Those dynamics don’t suddenly change once your partner is sober. On the contrary – you both will need to relearn how to be open and vulnerable with each other, which will take time and effort. As you work at it, you will gradually become closer through shared experiences, communication, and trust-building.
Unfortunately for many of us, the daily communications with our partner or spouse tend to center on the mundane tasks of the day, e.g., running the household, taking care of the kids, scheduling, etc. Instead of falling back into old habits, make a conscious effort to talk more with your loved one about meaningful things. Build some togetherness activities into your schedule and take advantage of spontaneous moments as they arise. For example, if you are driving somewhere together, turn off the radio, disconnect from your devices, and talk.
In addition, don’t shy away from discussing tough topics, including physical intimacy. You may need more time to jump back into those aspects of your relationship for various reasons. Don’t keep those to yourself. Be open and honest with your loved one.
Finally, keep your commitments with the same consistency as you expect him to keep his. If you said you’d meet him for lunch, make it happen. If he shares something with you in confidence, don’t repeat it to another family member or close friend. Mutual trust is vital to rebuilding intimacy.
6. Encourage Them to Get Involved with a Peer Network
Many addiction recovery centers offer alumni programs as a part of their aftercare resources, such as the Band of Brothers group that you have at Renaissance Ranch. As a men’s residential drug treatment program, we at the Ranch believe it’s vital for former substance abusers to maintain the uplifting relationships they formed in treatment and make new connections with people just beginning their recovery.
“[W]e spare no time or expense to keep guys connected, day in and day out, with other men who know what it’s like to struggle with alcoholism and addiction,” explained Preston Dixon, COO at Renaissance. The group meets for weekly meetings, quarterly retreats, and other events throughout the year.
Connecting your loved one with their peers in recovery will show them that you value their journey and their need to spend time with those who understand what they’re experiencing.
7. Nurture Dreams, Aspirations
Maybe your loved one has always enjoyed painting or singing, but their stressful schedule always got in the way. Or perhaps, after spending time in addiction recovery, they realize they want to explore a different career or vocation.
It’s not uncommon for people who go through substance abuse treatment to want to obtain a degree in counseling or social work so they can help others as they have been helped. If your partner was a hard-driving corporate type with a long title and a corner office before treatment, that change could mean a dramatic decrease in income and a downgrade to the lifestyle you’re used to.
Try to refrain from voicing knee-jerk, negative responses when these topics come up. As you continue to reconnect, being open to new ways forward is critical. Talk about it together and consider all the angles. Offer your support in trying something different. You never know – a smaller house could mean a happier, healthier spouse, and that’s a win for both of you.