Dealing with family and friends when you’re in recovery

Dealing with family and friends when you are in recovery

When someone starts recovery they might understandably think everyone around them will be extremely happy about it. Overwhelmingly the people who care about someone going into recovery will be exactly like this.

As well as feeling happy and being supportive, they will most likely be relieved. Yet some people find this is not the case – someone close to them seems unsupportive and even looks to be actively discouraging.

Someone new to recovery is often left bewildered by this behaviour. It can also be extremely upsetting. Sometimes someone new to recovery is even put off from continuing with it.

This is because a major part of the reason they looked to make changes was for the people they love. They realized they were negatively affecting them too – and thought everyone would be delighted to see them doing something positive.

But with some people, including a partner, it appears not. However, this is not unusual – and a great number of people with successful recovery today have been through this too.

Why can there be “recovery resistance” from others?

One of the most common reasons is that if someone is recovering from a drink or drug addiction it can be as if putting a mirror up to other people. So, for instance, if someone got regularly drunk with a friend or took drugs every day with their partner – when they stop, it leaves the friend or partner having to look at their own drinking or using.

There is no more denial for them if they do look. Addicts often find a similar crowd to hide among – if they see others drinking as much and as frequently or using drugs like they do, then it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.

But if someone who they drank or used drugs with much of the time quits, then they feel exposed and out in the open. They may well miss having someone on hand to be with when they need to get drunk or use again.

So they might start to discourage the other person’s recovery. Or at least not encourage it – and that’s when someone who’s turning their life around for the better can be left somewhat perplexed.

Surely they will all be happy for me, they reason. Why don’t they seem to acknowledge the scale of what I’m doing, they might wonder.

A good hard look in the mirror

One of the reasons, as well as missing having an accomplice, is that if they look too much at the person in recovery, then they have to also look at themselves and their drinking and/or drug abuse.

This can seem too terrifying – as presently the other person close to the one new to recovery cannot realize there is another way. They cannot imagine their life without drink or drugs.

Consequently, they can even try to belittle the person in new recovery by such as accusing them of being boring now. They might also try to bring them down in other ways using criticism. 

This is because they are, usually subconsciously, trying to sabotage the relationship. Even though that’s painful, and can even happen between people who’ve known each other for decades, it seems less painful than the thought of having to face themselves.

They do not feel they can take a good long hard look at themselves in the mirror. So rather than support and even congratulate the person who’s new in recovery, they will try to get away and then stay away from them.

Getting some distance

If that’s not possible physically because the person in recovery is a partner or family member, they can try to make as much distance as is possible emotionally. Anyone who’s new in recovery will benefit from understanding that the person who’s not supporting what they are now doing is in a very difficult place. But this should never discourage anyone from recovery.

In some cases, someone new in recovery may have to make a decision to step as far away as they possibly can. Perhaps and hopefully not forever, but certainly until they feel strong enough to be around them again.

Sadly, sometimes there might come a time when they have to realize that while they have changed for the better, the other person is stuck where they are in, for instance, active addiction. That relationship might never get back to what it used to be.

The person not in recovery might be full of resentment at seeing the other one sorting their life out. They may even start to detest them for doing so well and leaving them in the mess.

Some relationships do actually finish for good. But anyone in recovery will usually make new ones, as well as regain some relationships that they might have thought were lost forever.

This is because some people who kept some distance may well come back into someone’s life when they see they have started to recover. They most likely never stopped caring but had to step back for their own wellbeing.

With regards to someone not being able to take a good hard long look in the mirror, one of the many joys of recovery is that someone in recovery will be able to do that. In time, frequently much more swiftly than can be imagined, people in recovery will actually learn to love the person they see in front of them in the mirror.

Codependency and recovery

Codependency and recovery

Another reason for someone not supporting a person new to recovery is due to codependency. This is when someone is addicted to a relationship – or certain aspects of a relationship.

A codependent person is someone with an excessive psychological and/or emotional reliance on a partner. Most often the partner they are reliant on is somebody who has to have constant support due to chronic illness or an addiction.

So the codependent actually needs their partner to be needy of them. It gives them the external validation they are subconsciously seeking due to their own inner emptiness. 

By feeling as if they are indispensable to such as an addict and the mess of the addict’s life, it makes them feel loved – and lovable. If their partner moves into recovery, clearly this might not seem the case any longer.

So the codependent may well attempt to sabotage their partner’s recovery. Or certainly not encourage it in any way.

These relationships can work out. But they need time for both partners to readjust to the new dynamics. It is most likely that the codependent partner will definitely benefit from some help as well through some form of therapy.

Your own recovery journey

It’s your recovery

It’s worth keeping in mind that how a partner or anyone else deals with your recovery really has nothing to do with you. They have their own path to take in life, their own journey.

It’s a fact that sometimes someone such as a partner will grow right beside you as you prosper in your recovery. But sometimes, they just never will.

They might mock or ridicule recovery, not just yours but all of it. But know that any time they make recovery a negative rather than the positive it is should be something to ignore.

It can also be that someone who is close to you quite simply does not realize how significant your achievements are. Frequently, someone new to recovery is left upset and bewildered because someone close to them seems to have no idea, for instance, how well they’ve done to not have a drink for a fortnight when they used to drink every day.

A stark fact is, they probably do not know what an achievement it actually is. If they are not someone who’s addicted to drinking, for example, they may still be under the misconception that it’s just about having weak or strong willpower.

It just helps to accept that if someone has never suffered from such as addiction or depression, they won’t truly know what it’s like – and that’s no matter how understanding they are.

Just keep it inside. Because you know.

As well, if you’re in therapy so will your therapist. So too will any others you might meet who are on a similar journey of recovery.

Our friendly experienced team has treated people with all types of mental health problems. Call us today to have a chat about how we can help you or someone you love.

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