When lost to addiction, you often hurt the ones you love. In recovery and aftercare programs, you will have the chance to show thanks to those who stood by you. Not only can it bolster your relationships with others, but it can also improve your relationship with yourself. “Addiction, at its core, is a constant perception of unmet needs, so being appreciative or grateful is a foundational shift that opens the door to new, positive emotional experiences,” says Kenneth England, LMFT, primary therapist at Promises drug and alcohol rehab. “The process of thanking people who care can help in their healing and yours.” Studies have shown that contemplating and expressing gratitude can improve your well-being. We asked experts to share their tips for thanking loved ones for their support in your darkest time:
- Offer a sincere apology. Saying sorry can show that you recognize you’ve hurt them, accept responsibility and are willing to make a change. Studies show an apology that demonstrates empathy is the most powerful. “Apologies can help you grow as a person because they shed light on behaviors you are engaging in that are not helpful to you or others,” says Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, a New York based therapist specializing in substance abuse. “When apologizing, recognize what your part was in the situation without blaming or even bringing up what the other person may have done.” She says to avoid saying, “I’m sorry but,” or listing excuses as to why you behaved the way you did.
- Listen and ask for feedback. Sometimes the best thank you is listening without getting defensive. “Hearing the other person out and what their needs are after you apologize will help bring awareness to your actions and avoid future arguments because you will think twice about reacting in a similar way again,” says Hershenson. It is also important to ask the person you are apologizing to what you can do differently next time.
- Make amends. Following step nine of the 12 Steps is part of showing gratitude because it helps you focus on righting wrongs that occurred while in active addition. “The best way to thank your family for the support is through living amends and maintaining dedication and commitment to your recovery,” says Rebecca Wilson, MS, primary therapist at The Ranch. She says in addiction, words like “thank you” and “I’m sorry” can become meaningless, but this can be changed when the words are accompanied by actions that demonstrate you mean it.
- Be of service. In recovery and aftercare programs, being helpful is a way to show gratitude and also maintain your sobriety. “Every time I go home, my dad needs help around the house,” says Wilson. “As a way to thank him for his support, I ask if there is anything he needs. That way I am thanking him through actions.”
- Individualize restitution. Living amends is the ultimate restitution and thank you in the 12-step program, but each situation is unique. For example, “if you neglected family members, you might choose to reach out to them weekly for the rest of your life,” says Georgia-based recovery expert Ron Chapman, MSW. “Or if you stole from them, you may go out of your way to gift to them in some way for as long as it seems appropriate.” Sometimes this needs to reach beyond those who were harmed. “Some people in recovery volunteer their time as a way of paying back by paying it forward,” he says. This can include supporting others in recovery.
- Show up and reconnect. In active addiction, it’s impossible to be there for others. “I came from a good family and graduated from NYU, but I did a bag of dope in the morning the way some people drink coffee,” says actress and producer Marisa Vitali, who created a film about her addiction called “Grace.” She says she’s been living in recovery from heroin addiction for more than 15 years. “For me it was really integral that I reestablish a relationship with my family,” she says. And that meant truly “showing up for them” and being a fully present and helpful member of the family.
- Acknowledge them publically. It may help to have supportive friends present when you thank your loved ones and it can also be powerful to share your gratitude in front of others. “Bringing them to your 12-step program and giving them credit in front of your group is one option,” says Wyatt Fisher, PsyD, a marriage and family therapist based in Colorado.
- Write a letter. Sometimes it is hard to speak what is on your mind and it’s helpful to write down your thoughts. “Taking them out to dinner and reading them a letter expressing your heartfelt gratitude is another way to say thank you,” says Fisher. If the person you need to thank is no longer in your life, a written communication is still an option. “You could write them a letter or email expressing your sincere gratitude for the role they played in your life,” he says.
- Prioritize recovery. The best way to thank those who have stuck by you is to continue with your new behavior and recovery efforts, says Cyntrell Crawford, MD, a psychiatrist based in Pennsylvania who works with addiction issues. “You must continue with your recovery plan,” she says. “Monitor your daily habits and cravings. Stay in your support environments whether it is AA/NA, therapy or continuing with your doctor. Don’t go back to an environment that can put you at risk of using again.” Most importantly, she says, if you happen to relapse, don’t let shame stop you from getting help immediately.
- Accept other people’s process. Fortunately, most of the people you want to thank have loved you or cared for you and they want to know how to support an addict in recovery. They want to see you healthy and happy. However, there will be times when friends or loved ones do not want to stay connected. “You can reach out to the person you have harmed and be willing to apologize,” advises Crawford. “But if they are unwilling to allow you back into their life, just acknowledge what you did, give a sincere apology and move on with your life and your recovery efforts.”
There are some people who will not respond immediately but will feel good about your apology at a later time. Live your best life, be helpful to others, and express gratitude through action whenever possible. Healing will follow.