What SHOULD You Say to a Recovering Alcoholic?
Alcoholics in recovery are in a vulnerable state and need the love, support and understanding of everyone who cares about them. Family ties and the bonds of friendship are powerful healing tools, and any person going through a life crisis related to substance abuse can be helped tremendously by the loving efforts of the people who matter most.
However, our best attempts to aid and assist our loved ones during their darkest hours can backfire if we say or do the wrong things. When the issue is chemical addiction, awkward situations often arise that can confuse us and even intimidate us into silence, since we lack confidence in our ability to take the most constructive approach.
But when a person we know who has been struggling to escape the death grip of alcohol dependency finally takes that big step out of perpetual intoxication by entering into recovery, this is undoubtedly and undisputedly cause for celebration and an invitation to action that we should not fail to heed. So if you know and love someone who is truly attempting to leave her drinking problem in the past once and for all, you should suppress your fear of making things worse and participate in the healing process in any way you can.
Here are just a few things you might say to a recovering alcoholic that can help strengthen her resolve and encourage her to stay on the straight and narrow for the duration:
- “I know someone else who had a serious drinking problem and he made it all the way back.”
Some people are reluctant to share their own experiences with alcohol, or the experiences of someone they know, with a person who is new to recovery. They believe it is insensitive to talk about the success of others to someone who has only just begun her fight for sobriety. But as long as the stories have happy endings and are honest about the true nature of the struggle (sugarcoating should be considered verboten), such tales of triumph can shine as beacons of hope lighting the way for recoverees.
- “You can talk to me about everything you’re feeling and about how hard it is to beat alcoholism; or we can talk about something else entirely—it’s your call.”
We all need someone to lean on from time to time, and this is certainly true of recovering alcoholics. But it should be left up to the recovering alcoholic herself to determine just exactly what they need from us at any particular time. That is why you should offer them whatever type of moral and emotional support they need and let them choose the terms of your involvement in their journey to permanent good health.
- “Did you hear the one about the accountant who went into the ice cream parlor with a parrot on his shoulder … (or the opening to any other good joke you might know).”
Jokes and good humor aren’t inappropriate for a recovering alcoholic. It will help her not to dwell on her problems all the time, and humor is one of the best ways any of us has to cope with stress, chaos and uncertainty. Encouraging someone to laugh is the same as encouraging her to heal. There really is no difference.
- “Uh huh … uh huh … tell me more.”
Sometimes—most of the time—the best thing you can do for someone going through a crisis is to just listen and say as little as possible. Good listening skills are the backbone of great communication, and recovering alcoholics have a lot to say and a powerful need to be heard.
- “I love you and I’m glad you are in my life.”
Even the most stoic and outwardly unemotional person needs to hear these words on occasion. You don’t want to be overly sentimental about it because that can seem phony, but expressions of unconditional love can buoy the self-esteem of recovering alcoholics at a time when they are filled with potentially destructive self-doubt.