What impact do our words have on the people we love – especially when that loved one is in recovery from addiction?
JessiRae Pulver-Adell is today’s guest author. She is an addiction & recovery blogger for Harbor Village, writing to clear up misconceptions about the disease of addiction and self harm. Through her work, she work strives to empower readers to take action, live mindfully, in health and pursue treatment when necessary. JessiRae can be reached via email at Jupveradell@harborvillageflorida.com.
6 Things to Never Say to People in Recovery by JessiRae Pulver-Adell
Guest Author, JessiRae Pulver-Adel, writing on 6 Things to Never Say to People in Recovery
You’re no stranger to the struggle of addiction recovery if you’ve been mortified about the things spawning from your mouth in the heat of the moment with a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder. Addiction is a disease many feel personally attacked by, even if they’re not the one battling the uphill struggle to recovery.
As parents, siblings, spouses, friends, and loved ones, we feel our wellbeing should be more important than a prescription drug, a dose of heroin, or a denomination of cocaine. The unfortunate truth is in the height of addiction, we’re not.
Addiction has a cruel way of twisting the brain’s chemistry to crave nothing but the taste of one’s drug of choice, to help them feel normal. If you had to choose between being able to sit comfortably in your skin, or sit through a family dinner, which would you choose?
Conversely, being cast aside in favor of an addiction which is ultimately ravishing both the physical and psychological aspects of the person you love, it’s common for our words to profane themselves, glazed over in anger to express what it is we think we mean.
But what do we really mean when we say things like, “You’re never going to amount to anything,” You’re worthless,” or “I hate you?”
Are those the sentiments we’re truly trying to express, or are we stymied by the emotions fomented over long nights of pleading for your loved one’s recovery? Learning how to express yourself clearly, and bite back the words which will likely foment another relapse, is essential in helping your loved one conquer addiction.
Our words are far more powerful than we are aware; they have the ability to motivate, inspire, and break barriers- or condemn, maim, and stagnate growth and recovery.
Family is an important aspect of recovery. Remaining a beacon of light is imperative for recovery, and your own mental wellbeing. So let me share 6 things to never say and what to say instead:
1. “You’re not worth it.”
Is dejecting your loved one’s self esteem, and idea of self-worth truly what you want to do?
Or is it that their life choices are forcing you to question your own worth within their eyes?
More often than not when we attack our loved ones who are struggling with addiction, it is because their disease forces us to question our own roles, and our inability to whisk them away from it.
By abnegating their “worth” deliberately we’re giving ourselves an exit- an excuse not to care anymore. But this achieves the opposite effect, doesn’t it?
Instead of trying to convince yourself you no longer care, be constructive when you speak to bring out the solution best for all parties involved. Try something along the lines of:
“By not going to treatment, you’re making me feel like I can’t help you.”
“When you don’t tell me what you need help with, I don’t know how to respond.”
If you’re simply fed up and emotionally exhausted, you can try communicating this instead:
“I love you, but I cannot deal with everything that is going on right now. I’m still here for you, but I need some space to figure everything out.”
You can go one step further by prompting dialog, which will ideally lead to a solution by adding:
“What do we need to do to move forward?”
2. “You’re never going to amount to anything.”
Do you really want to be responsible for dooming your loved one to become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Because that’s all this language achieves. It de-motivates, and gives those struggling with addiction ammunition to continue down their destructive paths. If you’re frustrated addiction is holding your loved one back, and you wish them to achieve their potential, you can help!
Try: “Remember when you used to write every day, you were so dedicated to finishing your book. We can do it together.”
“Let’s explore the things you want to accomplish, and set goals to get them done!”
“When I see you wasting your potential it makes me so sad. Let me help you find your calling again.”
Instead of demoralizing and attacking your loved ones out of frustration, allow your motivations to be expressed in a positive way. Offer solutions, don’t blatantly criticize a situation without measurable goals of achievement to prevent them from being perpetuated.
3. “You’re trash, worthless.” or “You’re stupid.”
If this is the second, third, or fourth relapse, it’s understandable your patience may take a nosedive, but it’s not right to push your own heartbreak onto your loved ones by solidifying their self odium.
Chances are, they’re more upset than you about it- even if they don’t show it.
Remember, many substance use disorders begin to mask underlying pain; low self-esteem is almost certainly a factor- don’t add to it because you’re angry.
Take your frustrations and turn them into the potential for change! Encourage your loved ones to return to their passions and hobbies, don’t crucify them for letting go. Instead suggest:
“Remember when you used to always make soccer practice? There are teams we can look into again.”
“Remember when you got the highest score on your essay? How about writing poetry, or starting your own mini anthology about your experience with addiction?”
“You used to love school. Let’s take a class together! You’re so smart, you just need to be in an environment that encourages you.”
Play to your loved one’s strengths, and explore topics they once derived joy from, or turn their substance use disorders into potential momentum by helping themselves understand the disease.
4. “You’re ugly.”
It’s no secret substance use disorders eventually deteriorate one’s looks. Over time, changes in one’s physical appearance can become quite severe. Whatever someone in recovery (or not) looks like now, in comparison to what they looked like before, is not your place to judge.
Demeaning one’s appearance is not helpful to rebuild their self-confidence to take care of themselves and does not serve as the “tough love” you may be attempting to poorly employ. If you want to send the message you’d like to see your loved one take better care of themselves, offer these thoughts instead:
“Remember when you used to love getting dressed up? Let’s see what we can find to wear today!”
“You would look so beautiful if we tried this with your hair. Will you let me help you find your new look?”
If they’re self-conscious about the way they look,
“There are plenty of people who go through physical changes during an illness, it doesn’t mean you can’t look amazing again! Let’s find a look that expresses who you are inside!”
“You’re beautiful no matter what. We just have to work on (showering regularly, changing clothes, getting rid of worn clothes, etc.)”
It’s important not to just say pretty things, if you offer to help someone redefine their look, or cut their hair- do it!
5. “You’re not the way you’re supposed to be- this wasn’t supposed to happen!”
We don’t get to choose which physical or mental ailments we succumb to. We don’t shame people for having high blood pressure, so why do it for people with substance use disorders? If you don’t like the direction your loved one is going, try to help them see it. Do not be accusatory- that serves no one.
If you want them to change and reach their full potential, you’ll need to become a valuable tool in their recovery! You can start by asking your loved one to come to AA or NA meetings, or get them out on the town for community events.
If what you really want to say is that you’re frustrated with the way circumstances have aligned themselves, and stolen valuable time away from the both of you, tell them. Don’t hide behind accusatory statements. If you want them to let you in, you’ll have to do the same.
6. “You deserve what’s happening to you.”
No one chooses addiction, nor to remain addicted. Overcoming the disease may take a lifetime of recovery, and no one deserves the destruction coupled with the sickness. As I mentioned before, addiction strips our ability to feel useful, effective, and measurable when we can’t seem to help our loved ones overcome the disorder.
If you point fingers and play the blame game, you lose out too.
Becoming an active participant in recovery is critical for success. And it’s as simple as being mindful about what you say, and expressing your emotions honestly, without the hues of scorn.