Here's the absolute best way to support a loved one in sober living

Thoughts from Jeanie Gschweng, General Manager of Clean & Sober Transitional Living

I’ve been asked what one bit of advice I’d share with parents (or other adult family members) whose adult children are residents here at CSTL. The answer that comes right to mind probably isn’t what you’d expect, but here it is: Back off.

And that’s a hard thing to do. Parents (or siblings, perhaps) are so accustomed to being in crisis and chaos because they’ve been fighting the drug and alcohol battle for years. So, when their loved one arrives here, the family remains on high alert. They are tied to their phones in case something goes south or someone goes missing. They are vigilant, and they are exhausted.

Generally, when an adult child arrives here, the family members are still in “parent mode.” They are watchful and involved to the point of unhealthy co-dependency. The idea that their adult child/brother/sister still needs them keeps running through their minds. And while it’s hard to do, at this point in the game, my feeling is that the ONLY thing family members should offer is non-financial support. Adult children don’t need Mom or Dad managing their affairs. We feed them well, so they don’t need Costco-sized food drop-offs. They do need encouragement and validation that they are in the right place.

We require that our residents have experience with treatment and recovery to ensure they have the tools to maintain and deepen their sobriety. Now, the ball is in their court. Our residents are adults, and they need to develop an independent life. Having a family member pay their rent on an ongoing basis actually hurts, rather than helps, them. They need a reason to get up and show up at a job. They need an opportunity to become self-sufficient and rebuild their self-esteem. The bottom line is that families need to trust that their loved ones are capable of recovery and all it calls for. And then get out of the way.

Most of all, families need to give their loved ones the gift of wanting and needing their recovery. Our residents can’t buy into their own recovery when they know Mom or Brother will toss them a lifeline if they relapse and end up back on the street. The bottom line is that our residents need to want their recovery more and work their recovery more than their loved ones.

And yes - recovery is a parallel process for family members. That means everyone needs to do their own “repair work” to rebuild a healthy, independent life. Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister - put on your own oxygen mask first. You’ll be giving your loved one a very good reason to reach for his or her own mask - and for a future of resilient recovery.

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