Anyone who loves or has tried to help someone who struggles with addiction knows the risk of forcing a confrontation that the sick person does not seem ready to have. That first talk is always hard. So is the next one, and the next.
And they are sick. The brain of someone who struggles with addiction is hardwired to undermine good judgment. In recovery as in active addiction, substance abusers are combating a disease—one that can result in outbursts of rage not unlike a diabetic crash during a blood sugar drop.
They are in pain. They feel out of control. They are afraid.
But with time, truth, and guidance, they can grow out of the seemingly bottomless well of anger and reach for their dreams.
Here are five tips to help someone along the path to healing that I’ve learned over more than 10 years of working with people in recovery:
- Get real about what’s driving those negative thoughts and feelings. Denial is a driving force behind a substance abuser’s inability to confront their behavior. That denial—and the anger that comes with it—is also about control. What is it that the person does not want to address? What are they avoiding by deflecting? What void have they been trying to fill or pain have they been trying to numb?
- Build on the strengths this person already has. Everyone has something they’re good at, and it helps to build a person’s sense of self-worth to know they’re doing something well—especially after spending many years feeling as if they can’t do anything right. It’s important for anyone to have a positive outlet or point of focus, and more so if they’re emerging from a very dark place.
- Help them find a supportive community. Addiction can be a very isolating experience. The pain these people are feeling is real, but so is their potential. It’s important for people to know they’re not alone and that they have a fighting chance to succeed. Getting connected with a support group or working a program with people who have walked the walk is critical to staying on course.
- Work on setting achievable goals. Hurt people hurt people, including themselves. Help nourish the person’s reemerging sense of self-esteem by working on basics. You don’t want to set someone up for failure, but you also want to help them rebuild. Be it writing that thank-you note, cooking dinner at home, walking the dog, or not taking that phone call from a girl from the party days, no step is too small. Ultimately, self-care will become its own reward. Helping someone achieve balance decreases the chance of temper flare-ups.
- Do not take their behavior personally. Last but not least, this one is important on multiple levels. You can’t tie your sense of self-worth into someone’s successes and failures. And you cannot afford to internalize their anger. No one can pour from an empty cup, and you can’t help someone else if you’re out of juice.
So go forth and stay focused on what’s possible, no matter how arduous the journey. People will heal when they are ready, and often not until then. Try to recognize the anger as what it is: pain. And try to remember that pain and growth go hand in hand.
As the poet Rumi counsels, “Raise your words, not your voice. It is the rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
Candice Rasa, LCSW, is Clinical Director of Beach House Center for Recovery
, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, FL. She has more than 10 years’ experience in the mental health and substance-abuse arena, and supports healing in the clients she serves from a solution-focused, strengths-based approach.