There are many common pitfalls when it comes to life and recovery in particular. Some of these we talk about in our family program, which if you have not yet attended I highly recommend you do. In the first half of this series, I addressed the common belief that abstinence will solve everything, what it means to hold on to resentments, and what happens when you put your life on hold.
In part two, I will cover why we often confuse self-concern with selfishness, living in fear when your loved one is in recovery, what happens when you don’t get help for relationship issues, and believing life should be easy.
Confusing Self Concern with Selfishness
One of the things that is important to discern in life, and early recovery, in particular, is the difference between selfishness and self-concern. One of the big stereotypes about so-called ‘addicts’ is that they are selfish. I believe this to be a misconception that comes as a result of the substance use taking up much of their time and also taking over to be the number one relationship in their life, at the expense of all others. This can look a lot like selfishness.
In recovery, we, of course, discourage selfishness as this is counter to living meaningfully. We do promote self-concern however as this is important for anyone, particularly in a healing process. Self-concern can also get confused with selfishness, and this can cause all kinds of tensions in relationships if it is not clarified. Self-concern is akin to self-care and it is really important for all of us to do. Self-concern helps an individual grow and become a better person and as such better able to be there for others in their lives. Selfishness never gives back, it does not care for others. Self-concern helps us with being the authors of our lives too as we become more self-aware.
Living in Fear
Many if not all of you will know what I am talking about when I say Living in Fear. As someone who loves a person struggling with substance use issues, you have probably been worried about them more times than you can count. Are they ok? Will they make it home? Have they crashed their car or overdosed? It goes on and on…. And, unfortunately, these fears can even creep up while they are in recovery because the trust has been broken and it takes time to rebuild.
The solution is simple but not easy! As you already know, you cannot control the actions of others. They are responsible for themselves and all you can do is set boundaries to protect yourself. Bracing for fear is a huge waste of your emotional energy. Especially if they are in recovery! Additionally, if they are in recovery your fears can come across as discouraging to your loved one who is trying to move forward in a positive way.
If this is something you are having a hard time moving past, definitely seek support from someone who is calm, objective and realistic, perhaps even a counsellor.
Not Getting Help for Relationship Issues
As a loved one of someone who has struggled with substance use issues, you probably have had some friction with them somewhere along the way, especially if this is your life partner. I highly recommend couples counselling or family counselling to pretty much all of my clients as they leave treatment to start their new life. They are ready to move on, but they often still need to help their loved ones move on from the past hurts they caused. Also, most often, there were issues in their relationships, to begin with, that still need to get dealt with.
Do not put this important piece off, get help if you need it. Relationship issues are one of the top reasons given for relapse. The closer the relationship the more tensions affect us, and the harder it can be to communicate with them.
Isn’t that ironic that the people most important to us are often the ones we have to most difficulty communicating with?
If you decide to get help from a therapist, make sure that everyone attending therapy feels that the therapist is a good fit. It could take a few tries with different therapists, but I cannot stress enough how important this is for the work to be effective. Also, check their credentials. You want at least a Master’s level counsellor with some special training in Marriage and Family therapy. Look for well-researched approaches such as Emotionally Focused Couples therapy or the Gottman method.
Believing Life Should be Easy
This is a common pitfall for the guys I work with, and I think a lot of people struggle with this. Putting our expectations on life is quite a human thing to do, and it is also the source of much of our unnecessary suffering. Any time you think “life should…” stop yourself right there! Life is life, it happens, and so much of it is not within our control. Thankfully we can control our response, even or attitude, and that is what is great about being human. We can rise above our suffering.
When something painful happens, suffering only occurs if you get stuck in the belief that it shouldn’t have happened. If you accept the reality you can move on.
Life is not easy, but the right attitude can make it much more bearable, even enjoyable! Look at each hardship as an opportunity to grow and learn as you overcome it, no pain no gain they say. Easier said than done for sure, but there is a lot of research and literature on topics such as resilience and post-traumatic growth. One of the best outcomes we have here at SCHC is when the client says they wouldn’t change their life because they are grateful for all that they have learned.