My boyfriend will be coming home from his first stay in inpatient rehab later this summer. I am trying to “do less” and let him navigate his addiction on his own, as I have learned that only he can motivate himself to recover. However, I want to still support him as his partner. Any advice?
Hey there! Great question, and it’s awesome that you want to be supportive to him in a healthy way! While he ultimately is the person determining if he will continue to be sober, you can help him by motivating him to continue to engage in positive activities that reinforce sobriety. At the end of the day, this is not something that can be easily navigated alone, and having loved ones involved improves treatment outcomes. There are a few ways of being supportive that I’ve found to be most beneficial with my loved one post inpatient rehab:
- Do whatever I can to help set up aftercare plans so once he gets out of rehab there is something structured in place for him to continue to work on his recovery, and reduce the shock of re-entering the “real world”
- Look up meetings in the area and give him a list of days and times, but be mindful of not constantly asking if he’s going to meetings (this could put his defenses up)
- Help find a therapist/addiction psychiatrist if follow up individual care is needed - my brother benefited more from one on one counseling versus group, everyone is different!
- Find ways to build my own support network: getting my own therapist who has knowledge in addiction, find people I feel safe sharing my experience with who can help me if I need support, look into local Al Anon or other self-help meetings to connect with others who are in similar situations
- Suggest engaging in new fun activities (or old activities he used to enjoy before the substance use), this will reinforce that sobriety can be fun and enjoyable
- Make sure to acknowledge the small positive changes being made once he’s home, this will help motivate him to continue to engage in recovery - you can be a part of this motivational process
- Let him know you are on his team and you are in this together. Emphasize that you have compassion, empathy, and zero judgement. This will allow him to feel safe sharing any cravings or triggers he encounters once he’s back home. Communication will be the key to effectively supporting him once he’s home. Once I let my brother know that no matter what he does I will always love him and be there for him, he felt he could share more openly with me, and it helped us both in the recovery process!
If possible, try and find out about any family services at his rehab and see if you can get involved. Once he is home you will both have to work on adjusting to the new normal, honest and effective communication will help facilitate this. Not everyone leaves treatment feeling the same way, some are happy (on a “pink cloud”), some feel depressed, and some feel nothing at all (anhedonia), so try and manage expectations of what it will be like when he gets home. Together you will work to learn the best path forward for you!
I’ll echo some other posts here and highlight one of the common themes: positivity. I’ve learned that a positive attitude and positive reinforcement make such a big difference in the way your loved one will respond to you and in the relational dynamic between you. Celebrate even seemingly small things— X number of days clean, X number of meetings attended, or whatever is important to them— and pickup a little token or gift of support just because. Also encourage healthy and fun activities that the two of you enjoy together.
My mom is fresh from rehab and in the early stages of recovery, and I noticed that she is very focused on days clean and hitting meeting goals, so I have kept up with her numbers and will congratulate her by sending a little text (“50 days! Awesome!”). If I’m picking her up from a meeting, I’ll grab her favorite coffee, and always ask how was the meeting and if there’s anything she’d like to share. She loves swimming, so I try to make time for us to swim together when we can.
Trust me, I know it’s not easy to always stay positive. In fact, at times it has felt impossible in my journey with my mom’s recovery. That’s why it’s so important to take care of yourself and get what you need, outside of your relationship with your boyfriend, so that you can remain as positive as possible in your interactions with him. Our loved ones who are struggling with addiction, and especially early in recovery, have so much on their plates that they are not able to hold space for us to deal with our emotions, so we need to practice good self care. For me, this is accomplished by individual therapy, Nar Anon family groups, and now this forum!
You can do it.
Oh man, I have exactly been in your shoes on this one. It’s really hard.
I wanted a plan and the rehab didn’t provide one - well not something I felt confident in. It was up to him. Also, I didn’t feel so confident in. Not that I don’t believe in him, but man addiction recovery is hard! If we just look at the chemical aspect of it to start - the brain is impaired: lacking rational decision-making capabilities and severely depleted rewards systems - meaning he will feel really depressed for months. Both of these make it even harder for him. It’s like bambi, with those wobbly knees. I almost can’t look.
Relapse is likely (80-90% chance.) But that doesn’t mean it’s over. It is part of the process. Part of changing any habit is a slip up.
I start this way to say - I get it, and it won’t be easy - I bet you already know that - but we can come out the other side and I wish someone had told me this!
It’s true that he is the one that takes the pill / drink / line etc. BUT there are ways we can help ‘motivate’ and support.
- Plan fun activities that don’t involve substances (eg. my husband loves comedy)
- Be patient, change takes time (like A LOT of time in this case)
- Don’t shift the goal-posts and celebrate the small wins - I wanted everything to be better immediately - this was really demotivating to my boyfriend at the time he came out of rehab (now husband)
- Involve other friends and family in the loop to be there for him (and you separately) if possible, that way it’s not all you (but you can still check in with them!)
- Take an experimental approach - discuss and try things out together, and change them if they’re not working
- Create a new relationship - this is a new him, and will be a new you together - embrace that
I definitely felt a bit hurt watching him stand on his own two feet after he’d been so reliant on me - just something to be aware of - it’s a horrible way to feel but helps if we acknowledge it and do our best to let it pass!
And know that we’re here for you.