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The Self-Supporting Newcomer

The Self-Supporting Newcomer

Many families struggle with finding balance when it comes to when and how to support their newly sober loved one. Being executive director of a treatment facility, and a former addict, I have seen both ends of the spectrum and hopefully can provide a model that will walk a family through giving their loved one the ability to be self- supporting.

I have a difficult time watching individuals, most of whom have bled their family of large amounts of financial resources, get sober only to bleed them further. On one end of the spectrum you have families that are so happy their loved one is sober that they will go to extremes such as buying them a car for ‘graduating’ treatment. A little advice: you NEVER graduate treatment or recovery. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the family that completely cuts their son or daughter off and won’t even pay for food much less continued care such as sober living after treatment. I lean more towards this formula: supporting the individual as a family is capable, ONLY while the individual is doing well, and ONLY as much as a family is able for a short period. The most successful situations that I have witnessed have been set up with the loved one incrementally taking on more responsibility over the course of a few months. Little by little the newly sober person builds self- esteem and confidence as they become more self- supporting.

Regarding continued care, assuming a family is able, I don’t see anything wrong with paying for sober living, food and a cell phone after treatment. Practically speaking, what I have seen proven effective is giving your loved one a week or so to settle into his/her new living environment then looking for a job with a fair sense of urgency. Try not to put more pressure on your loved one than necessary, this usually has an adverse reaction. Most addicts/alcoholics do not handle stress appropriately. This is one of the tools that a successful pattern of continued support can help foster. Place a soft deadline on getting a job. In most cases, it isn’t unrealistic to find a job in a couple of weeks. Most addicts/alcoholics can get paralyzed by fear which can cause what appears to be laziness. We want to tell them something like, “look, it doesn’t matter if you are a stocking shelves at a grocery store or if you are the CEO at Google. Just get a job!”

Once they meet the goal of getting a job, it is important to encourage and congratulate your loved one. Your encouragement, coupled with their newfound job, will continue to build their confidence to meet EVERYONE’s goal that they be self-sufficient. We have a motto at Genesis, “Never work harder than the client is willing to work” and a supporting loved one should not either when it comes to financial support. As you offer them encouragement at having met their goal, now we move on to the next milestone. Mention to them that you would like them to start contributing to one of the expenses for which you are currently paying, e.g. cell phone, half their food expense, etc. I suggest keeping it small. Again, the idea is to continue to build their confidence in meeting small, achievable goals. Each of these milestone’s is not a suggestion, it is a choice for them to choose to walk in this new responsibility. For example, your mention of them assisting by paying their cell phone bill means that you are no longer paying the bill. Make sure you are clear on the specifics. If they fail to meet this obligation the problem is theirs, not yours. After this milestone, I would not mention anything again for a month or so. Let them get used to contributing again. Always try to encourage and applaud your loved one for taking some the financial burden from you.

After a month, maybe even two, tell your loved one that they are doing a great job (assuming of course that they are) and ask him/her to take on another piece of the finances/responsibility. For example, the rest of their food or the gas in the car. Now your loved one is handling the cell phone and gas or all of their own food. I am sure you get the point. Ease your loved into supporting himself slowly. This will take time depending on how long/much you have been supporting them throughout their addiction.

Assuming all has been going well for a few months, now ask your loved one to chip in on half the rent. You can increase their responsibility in this way until they are fully self- supporting. It is the most rewarding thing for an addict to stop burdening their family, even if they don’t recognize it at first. If your loved one is not receptive to being self- supporting and he/she is attempting to use old tactics such as guilt to continue old patterns of behavior, set proper boundaries and ask for accountability from others. We will discuss these areas more in another blog.

The bottom line: Your loved one should cheerfully take on more and more responsibility the longer they are in recovery. It is human nature to desire encouragement and to want our loved ones to be proud of us. Addicts/Alcoholics are no different. I have seen the model described here work for countless individuals and their self- esteem boosted to a healthy level far more than individuals who have either been given too much or the opposite; absolutely cut off. Balance is the key and remember, “never work harder than they are willing to work”.

Please contact me if you have any further questions or need support:

Thomas Hathorn
Executive Director
Genesis Recovery, Inc.


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