How are relationships/support systems relevant to recovery?
Building relationships, especially when in recovery, is essential for overall well-being by providing a sense of companionship and care. Oftentimes, those in recovery no longer have support systems due to their past use. Those we used with are now not interested in us because we have gotten sober and no longer have anything in common, and relationships before our use have been strained by the negative effects of addiction. We may begin to develop the attitude of “I don’t need them, I can do it on my own”, but the truth of the matter is that you simply cannot figure everything out on your own. Everyone needs support – and so do you. So how do we transform our limited relationships into a stable support system?
What is a support system?
A support system can be defined as a group of individuals that we consider important, positive impacts on our life. They are people that we may rely on for resources, call on when we are in crisis, or those that we share experiences with – positive and negative. These people encourage, understand, nurture, love, and care about you. These people are also those who are moving in the same direction as you, meaning those who have similar goals. Finally, it is important the support/relationship leaves you stronger – these people should make us want to be the best version of ourselves.
To be able to establish, maintain, and effective use our support system is a skill that must be practiced and honed to be successful. Relationships can be difficult, counterproductive, unpredictable, and disappointing at times. They also take energy to maintain and can be exhausting at times. As such, it is essential to keep our support system current with our desires/goals in life, which means letting go of those who are irrelevant or toxic to our efforts and building relationships with those who are more helpful/uplifting. It is counterproductive to expend energy on those who are not making a positive impact on our lives. Similarly, we must ensure that we are not becoming dependent on the relationship to do our mental work rather than using it as an aid. It is important to learn how to return the same support and develop/enhance our interpersonal skills to ensure we are maintaining healthy relationships.
How do I tell the difference between a healthy relationship and a toxic one?
In general, a healthy relationship will bring you more happiness than stress. All relationships have stress, but the difference is that prolonged mental stress is prevented/reduced for the members of the relationship. This is due to the relationship being based on concepts such as mutual respect, trust, honesty, support, equality, and good communication. As such, healthy relationships also exhibit the following: taking care of yourself and your self-esteem, maintaining/respecting each other’s individuality, maintaining relationships with friends/family, having activities separate from each other and taking interest in those activities, being able to express yourself freely, feeling secure/comfortable, trusting/being honest with each other, respecting boundaries/privacy, providing encouragement, and resolving conflict fairly and in a non-violent manner. Practicing fair fighting is an important skill in healthy relationships.
While healthy relationships can have negative components, unhealthy relationships will be negative more frequently with stress that is hard to avoid. This tension is unhealthy for members of the relationship and impacts other areas of their life. These negative characteristics include: neglecting yourself/partner, feeling pressure to change who you are, feeling worried when you disagree with the other person, feeling pressure to quit activities you enjoy, pressuring the other person into agreeing with you, feeling the need to justify your actions, feeling obligated to do things for them, lacking privacy, unfair settlement of arguments, yelling/physical violence during arguments, controlling/manipulating each other, criticizing/controlling behaviors, not making time with one another, lack of respect, and lack of fairness/equality.
You do not have to end the relationship if some of these characteristics appear, but it is important to recognize and acknowledge them to begin working on improving them to benefit the relationship. However, these characteristics can also lead to abusive relationships, where it is based primarily on power and control with mental and/or physical abuse. In this case, you must understand that the other person can only change if they want to and it is in no way your fault. It is essential to take care of your own needs/wellness and if the relationship is draining and feels unsafe, you may want to consider ending it. Support systems are essential in times of crisis such as this, making sure that you are getting the emotional support you need.
How do I begin to develop my support system?
- Set your goals. Who would you like as a support system? What are your goals? What kind of support do you want from your support system?
- Figure out your interests. Having a variety of interests is essential in recovery to fill your free time and keep you busy when you need a healthy distraction. They also help you grow and develop – and oftentimes this includes developing new relationships, as many hobbies may include other people. This can be reading, exercising, making art, dancing, going to the movies, and so on. Showing interest in others’ hobbies as well shows that you are taking an interest in their life.”
- Return to those positive relationships. Part of recovery is making amends, which means those people who we once had as a support system may be part of that. By doing so, we may be able to rebuild and strengthen those ties and aid in developing our conflict resolution skills.
- Maintain a positive attitude. It is important to practice observing, noticing, and emphasizing positive parts of people to attractive positivity as a result. Increasing your tolerance/flexibility in relationships is equally important – ask why someone is doing a certain thing, instead of getting annoyed by their shortcoming.
- Keep in touch. Make sure you are arranging your priority list as it relates to people that receive your time, energy, love, and money. Keeping in touch with the people we care about is essential to continue building/strengthening that relationship and ensuring they stay part of our lives.
- Volunteer for a cause you care about. Take some time to volunteer your services to those who may need it. Being able to give our support to others is equally as important as receiving and can put things into perspective.
- Assemble your resources. Gathering resources available to you is important in having access for a variety of support. You may have more than you think – could you join a gym? Do you have support at work? Can you take a class? Who would I want as a support so I can achieve my goals?
For further tips, here is a helpful video from a licensed professional regarding how to make friendships in adulthood. If you feel that you or someone you care about is experiencing an unhealthy relationship that is affecting their support systems, the National Domestic Violence
Hotline is there to help (1−800−799−7233). Working on your support system development during your treatment at Right Path is equally important. These skills can be learned and discussed with Right Path counselors as part of your treatment and relapse prevention plan.