Quite possibly the most important and most frequently asked question I receive is “How can I get my loved one into Recovery like you are?” I love that people ask this question, but the answer is very hard to hear. In short, you can’t. You cannot just force someone into recovery. What you can do, however, is provide a safe environment that makes recovery more accessible.
What does that mean?
It is vitally important that someone’s recovery be his or her own decision. The fact is, Recovery is a choice by definition. Some people never make that choice. They choose to remain sick and not work on it for their entire lives. This is the harshest truth to hear, especially for family members such as parents who are desperate to see their children succeed. Even for me, as a Peer Support Specialist, I am grieved when someone I work with chooses to reject Recovery and continue to make choices that keep them sick. I have to remind myself not to force things.
But what can I do?
There are many strategies for helping someone in denial of mental illness. My wording of that reminds me of a first step. Be careful about language. Most mental health professionals refuse to use the word “denial”, because it is very stigmatizing. The stigma can be triggering to the person with illness. Words are very important and people with mental illness can be quite easily triggered because of the discrimination we suffer. Discrimination has certainly decreased, but even close friends and some of my family members have treated me as somewhat inferior because of my illness. This experience is fairly universal among peers.
Learning how to use language in a non triggering way can be difficult and only comes with much practice. I’ve actively told my family and friends what many of my triggers are and they keep that in mind. That said, no one else is responsible for me taking something the wrong way. It’s a bit of a partnership with those around me. I learn to hear words in different ways to help with my triggers, and my friends and family learn about my experiences and what’s hard to listen to. I’m not saying we need a safety bubble around us, but language is important, and not only can we avoid triggers, but we can use empowering language that builds up the peer. Rejecting all stigma that we want to speak can help a peer feel more comfortable to confront his or her illness.
What should I not do?
Quite possibly the most helpful thing my parents ever did for me was their refusal to be a limitless safety net. I spent some time homeless when I wasn’t safe for them. I’ve been totally broke before, and they don’t just hand me money to get through. I have a fair bit of debt right now, but that’s my problem. Not my parents’ problem. They might give me good deals on things. My uncle sold me his old car for a dealer trade in price. That was very kind, and the best deal I’ll ever get on a car, but it wasn’t free, and I had to make payments on it for a few months. It’s helpful, but it doesn’t get me out of responsibility.
My parents used to offer me money for doing chores around the house. That’s actually a good way to support children who are still minors, but my parents used it into my mid 20s. They never gave me money for nothing, and they didn’t invent chores that didn’t need to be done. They also never forced me to do the work. It was up to me to find the motivation to work and get the money. It helped build a good work ethic in me. I love telling people about that approach because it was very hands off. My parents offered me a thing, but never made me do it. It was up to me.
What if it doesn’t work for my loved one?
Sometimes these methods don’t work. You can provide this semi hands off approach for decades with no results. I hate that. I hate that that can happen. But it’s life, and here we are. I have seen so many families try to make their kids well, and I see that it never seems to work. I know one man who found a better recovery when he moved a couple thousand miles away from his parents. His parents are wonderful, and I have very high respect for them, but their efforts were too powerful, and for the peer’s benefit he had to move away.
Sometimes life is just hard. Sometimes there’s no immediate solution, and sometimes there’s no solution at all. That said, I find that my recovery probably has a lot to do with my parents and their dedication to the semi hands off approach. And like I said, they were always there to help out with little things and to be supportive. They learned how to better use language. They believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. I could tell so many stories, and I plan to do so later, but for now, this is my introduction to supporting your loved one. The more I learn, the more I want to share what I’ve learned. Thanks for studying with me.