Learning from Scott Weiland’s Death: How to Support Someone Recovering from Addiction and Protect Yourself
Scott Weiland’s recent death hit me hard. I had met him a few times, always when he was sober, and in those moments he seemed a warm and delightful person to be around. I’m not surprised by his death. I too am a person with substance use disorder and truthfully, the gift is when any of us makes it.
As Weiland’s ex-wife wrote, what died with him was the hope that he would be one of the lucky ones, that he would change and be returned to his family, become present, and the support that his children wanted him to be. If you love someone who is using or relapsing, what can you do to be an encouragement to help your loved one make a commitment to the path of recovery, and at the same time protect yourself if your loved one doesn’t make a healthy choice? Here are a few suggestions:
- Educate yourself. The best way close family members and friends can encourage someone in recovery is to learn more about their addiction and any physical or psychological disorders which may have contributed to their substance abuse. Get counseling for yourself and your family so that you will have reasonable expectations and learn how to draw strong, but loving boundaries. Know what recovery looks like and what to expect at different stages. One place families make mistakes is in early recovery, expecting a lot of change very quickly. Real transformation takes time. Keep your vision right-sized. Learn self-care.
- Forget the “tough love.” If the addict in your life is sincerely trying to get a foothold on recovery, they need your love, support and kindness more than ever. When a person is struggling in early recovery, the warmth and kindness shown by therapists, family members and others will go a long way in helping them along their journey. This can be difficult for some, because in many cases the addict has caused a significant amount of damage to relationships, finances, friendships and much more. Patience and understanding are a large part of helping someone overcome addiction. There will be plenty of time to work through interpersonal issues in a therapeutic environment, but give the addict at least four months to get a firm footing on recovery before delving into the really tough interpersonal issues.
If the addict in your life is not making a sincere and concerted effort to recover, set clear boundaries that minimize their ability to do you harm. This isn’t “tough love” or punishing a person with substance use disorder for not doing what you want them to do. It’s self-preservation. “I love you and the only call I will take from you is to help you go to treatment,” is a perfectly acceptable boundary to set. Then follow through and go on with your life. Practice self-care.
- Set goals together. Addicts need concrete goals that they can achieve in recovery. Families need these goals too. One way you can help is by supporting those goals, both for the individual and the family. If the goal is to be able to include Uncle Joe in the regular Saturday touch football game, stop serving beer at the event, so that Uncle Joe is coming into a safe, supportive environment. Instead of harping on your loved one about whether or not she went to a 12 step meeting, if that’s important to you, start going to your own 12 step recovery group and model the behavior you hope your loved one will copy. Make a plan for a weekend getaway to celebrate a year of sobriety. By making recovery part of your lives, you can help your loved one reach their goals for themselves and make the family stronger for the effort.
Most addicts die. That’s the hard truth. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are millions of people who have overcome this disorder and your loved one can choose to be among us. Educate yourself on what you can do to be part of the solution, but don’t martyr yourself in the process. Death from addiction is sad and lonely. If you can’t save your loved one, at least save yourself.