How to Be an Addiction Recovery Ally
Having a family member or friend face substance use disorder in any capacity can be immensely stressful. The resources that can help promote embarking on the road to recovery differ from person to person, making each journey towards recovery unique. This includes the various ways each person seeks help with their struggles.
For some, I’ve seen the use of a recovery ally be very helpful for maintaining recovery. Outside of a traditional substance use intervention, using this “buddy system” can be extremely effective for encouraging prolonged recovery. Learn more about being an ally and how you can serve as an ally to your loved one as they begin recovery.
What is a Recovery Ally?
Simply put, a recovery ally is a person who aids in the recovery process of someone dealing with substance use disorder (SUD). By providing words of encouragement, physical space away from triggers, and general support during times of crisis, your role as a recovery ally is to help alleviate some of the tensions that come with substance use disorder.
I want to be clear that being an ally shouldn’t be seen as an obligation or something you are forced to do. Quite the opposite—being an ally should be seen as a welcome option rather than a requirement. In fact, in some situations, those going through active substance use disorder can feel threatened or put off by the assumption that they need a recovery ally.
It’s also important to note that simply helping your loved one and being a recovery ally for them should be viewed as two different concepts. Keeping these separate is key to maintaining your own and your loved one’s well-being.
What Does It Mean To Be a Recovery Ally?
Supporting someone in recovery is a vital part of the recovery process and can help foster the behaviors needed to keep those you know with substance use disorder from harming themselves or relapsing. This goes beyond verbal reassurance. The emotional support provided by a recovery ally helps create the positive environment someone in recovery needs to keep moving forward. If you notice a loved one show signs of substance use, or if they have a history of substance use and seem to be going through a rough patch in their recovery, being their ally in these times can help them sustain recovery.
Think of being a recovery ally like an unofficial sponsor. You understand the individual that you love and care for and can help them maintain their recovery through stressful times and substance cravings. Unlike a sponsor, you may or may not have experience with substance use and substance use disorder, but the care and support you provide your loved ones can be of nearly the same caliber.
Instead of following a set program or curriculum that guides your significant other’s recovery journey, you create that plan with their specific needs in mind. In essence, you create a set of steps that helps them use their tools, alongside your support, to maintain and enhance recovery.
Why Does Being an Ally Help With Recovery?
Being a recovery ally is a way of helping an addicted friend or family member. Knowing the individual you’re helping as a person separate from their substance use is crucial for encouraging their sobriety. Usually, during heightened periods of substance use, those with substance use disorder can lose connections with friends and family members because of their substance use. For this and many other reasons, SUD can be extremely alienating.
During the recovery process, recognizing these key attributes and creating a support system based around recovery are the most important components of being a recovery ally. In this way, you’ll help reinforce the recovery ally care bond and enhance your relationship stability,
A critical aspect of being a recovery ally is encouraging and supporting those in recovery. This support can come in various forms, such as being a shoulder to cry on or even acting as a workout buddy. No matter the shape your support takes, it is crucial for promoting recovery.
For example, if your loved one is dealing with intense cravings or fears that they’re coming close to using again, you can support them during this time. Encourage them to turn to their most helpful coping mechanisms instead of turning back to substance use. Support comes in all forms, and determining the best forms of support for your unique dynamic is crucial to being a good recovery ally.
In addition to generally providing support, make sure you can be a source of stress relief for your loved one in active recovery. This can help encourage them to focus on their recovery instead of their substance of choice. Engaging in meaningful discussions or useful activities with you can serve as a vital outlet for your loved one.
In the same vein, having the clarity to forgive and forget and developing the ability to determine when to speak about certain problems is another crucial part of being a recovery ally. Avoiding certain topics and preventing any unnecessary arguments can help limit the stress faced by those in active recovery. As their ally, you can facilitate healthier, more open communication by doing so.
One of the hardest things to face from the people you love is any form of judgment, especially when in active recovery. As a recovery ally, you hold the responsibility to refrain from judging those you love, especially when they stumble on their path toward long-term recovery. Starting any recovery journey takes a lot of work, and can be emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting. Any slip-ups or stumbles on this path should not reflect the journey as a whole. Holding that mindset as a recovery ally is the best way to encourage long-term recovery paths.
The overall impact that a recovery ally has on the recovery journey of someone facing substance use disorder is life-changing. I know how important building a strong support network for those in active substance use can be, and that support network follows them throughout their recovery. Friendships and relationships—especially with recovery allies—are key to encouraging healthy behaviors and dealing with the trauma and negative consequences that come with substance use disorder.
Does Being an Ally Mean I Have to Change My Behavior?
For certain dynamics, the ways to be the best ally to someone who’s trying to quit drinking or using narcotics include changing your behavior. However, this isn’t a blanket statement that applies to all recovery paths. Like I’ve mentioned above, implementing big changes like this as part of your personal experience as a recovery ally could prove to be distracting for your specific ally dynamic. Making this decision yourself invalidates the wishes of the person in recovery. It can also feed into stigmas and stereotypes tied to the substance use recovery process, and neither are helpful for those in recovery.
For example, let’s say your family member is dealing with substance use disorder, and after talking over their use with you, you’ve decided to be their recovery ally. The first conversations you should have about this process need to include laying the groundwork for identifying triggers, behaviors, and life changes that will help with your recovery. These conversations will then dictate what you need to do as an ally to help them through recovery.
They may feel that having alcohol around the house is too much of a trigger for them, or they may say that any alcohol consumption, either out of the house or at home, is too much for their recovery. However, they may also feel invalidated or patronized by the removal of these things from your regular dynamic.
What to Avoid When Trying to be a Recovery Ally
Depending on your loved one, as well as their specific triggers and feelings about substance use, the behaviors you should avoid are tied to their experience. As I mentioned above, some in active substance use may feel uncomfortable living in a house where those substances are readily available, and others can feel uncomfortable going to events or venues where these substances, namely alcohol, will be served. Supporting a friend through addiction treatment and recovery is a large undertaking. However, you’re helping for a reason: you love the person you chose to support, and you show it by engaging in ways that help them reach recovery.
Social settings that offer alcohol or where alcohol consumption is expected can be triggers, especially for those in early recovery. As an ally, you have the choice to avoid these venues or areas that could encourage those in recovery to take a misstep or stumble on their journey. Without acting like a parent, you can have these conversations and speak up about how you feel about these situations with your loved ones.
For example, if you feel that being in an environment where alcohol is readily available, like a bar, would be too triggering for your loved ones, you can choose another place to visit. Encouraging a change in venue or a change in plans to avoid unnecessary triggers is always a good method to use as a recovery ally. Avoiding specific settings may make you sober curious too.
Becoming the Best Ally to Someone in Recovery
Speaking with your loved one and creating a comprehensive plan that helps their recovery is the best way to approach becoming a recovery ally. Whether you were asked to support a friend, spouse, or relative, being asked to become a recovery ally should be seen as an honor. In this case, the person on a journey of recovery from substance use disorder sees you as not only someone who they can trust, but also as someone who can encourage them to stay steadfast on that path.
You’ve got this,