So the cat is out of the bag – your significant other is in recovery from an alcohol or drug addiction. You begin to tell close friends and family hoping to get support for yourself and your partner while traversing a potentially new and unfamiliar road. Perhaps a few hours, days, or weeks later someone ultimately asks you the question. You might have been pondering the answer yourself, or perhaps you haven’t even given it an ounce of thought. Either way, it eventually arrives:
“So does this mean YOU can’t drink anymore, either?”
After being asked this question, a plague of thoughts surface and they are often mingled with a sense of guilt, uncertainty, self-doubt and judgement. Am I unsupportive if I want a glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail with friends at happy hour after work? If I’m not the addict or alcoholic in recovery, why do I need to give up social drinking? It’s not my problem right? And what if I don’t drink but our friends do when we go out? Does this mean we can’t go to our favorite restaurant if they serve alcohol? Hello, anxiety!
These questions are asked without fail in our Family Program, and it truly makes sense to be unsure about the answers. These are legitimately difficult questions and they deserve genuine thought. So what do I do when faced with an invitation to dinner with friends who drink, or when I want a drink when out with my partner who is in recovery? To begin tackling these questions, I like to think about some basic rules of thumb:
- Communication is key. How do I know how to support my loved one if I don’t ask them? By having an honest and open dialogue about my loved one’s comfort level regarding being around alcohol, it will help me gauge how to be supportive. It’s going to be different for each person and potentially each day in early recovery so continue to have this conversation as the need arises.
- Make new traditions. This is my favorite guideline for families in recovery during the holidays but it holds value each day. If my significant other and I had a tradition to go to the local bar with friends on Friday for happy hour, why can’t we change it up? Why not check out a new restaurant or take a walk for some frozen yogurt? Making new traditions will not only show support but may also bring you both together in new and exciting ways.
- Get rid of alcohol at home. This can be a controversial statement, since families often push back by questioning why they need to change if they don’t have the problem (more about that in future blogs). Many of my colleagues and I will tell you that ridding your home of alcohol, at least for your partner’s first 90 days of sobriety, can be one of the most supportive things you can do. Would you leave trays of home baked chocolate chip cookies on the counter after finding out your partner had diabetes? Probably not.
- Make time for yourself. Why can’t you have a beer with the guys or glass of wine with the ladies when socializing with friends? Often families in recovery were addicted to the addict as much as the addict was addicted to their drug or drink of choice. Taking time out to focus on ourselves is vital to regaining balance in our lives and relationships. Coming home intoxicated or reliving how delish that new scotch tasted at your partner’s favorite drinking spot would be unsupportive. But do indulge in the things you enjoy on your own once in a while (both of you!).
Reinventing date night and social outings with your partner can be difficult at first, as any change comes with anxiety. However, there are great benefits to reap when working as a couple to make healthy and productive changes together.
Elizabeth Frei, LCSW
Substance Abuse Coordinator
High Focus Centers – Paramus, NJ