It can be intimidating to plan for that first conversation with the newly sober person in your life. When a friend or family member has had an active addiction, you may have adjusted your language when talking to them or kept your guard up as a protective barrier.
After this person has gone through recovery, you may feel like talking to them is like talking to a new person, as if your relationship is starting fresh. You may also be nervous about saying the wrong thing or worry about triggering or pushing them toward old coping mechanisms.
Luckily, there are many helpful tactics to keep in mind when talking to a person with a history of substance use who has undergone treatment. Read on to learn more about how to frame critical conversations with newly sober people.
Start by Talking Less
If you are embarking on a conversation with someone who has recently recovered from a history of substance abuse, it’s helpful to approach the conversation without an abundance of words or things you need to get off your chest.
Instead, your goal should be to listen more than you talk. A newly sober person has undergone a life-changing experience and may have a wide range of emotions and thoughts about that journey and their current state.
The road to recovery is a lifelong, continuous process, and experts note that it is often difficult. A newly sober person may feel isolated or afraid of being misheard or misunderstood. You can offer the most help of all by simply listening and letting them share their experience.
A newly sober person has undergone a significant life shift, facing a radical change in their identity. To stay sober, they will have to build a new life with different habits, which may not resemble their former life very closely at all. If this is a person you care about, show that you support their new identity creation.
Ask them open-ended questions about themselves and what they have been learning in their sobriety journey. They may be developing new interests or getting very involved in new hobbies to occupy the time that was once predominated by substance abuse. This new identity creation is a very normal and expected part of the road to recovery. Show you’re interested in their new sober living—and ask!
Don’t Make Assumptions
Everyone’s road to recovery is different, so it’s helpful to try not to make assumptions when it comes to talking to a newly sober person. Some people with substance use disorders may feel enormously happy to have made it to the other side of the initial part of their recovery journey.
Other people may feel very unsteady during this period, and they may be fearful or even afraid for their future. Instead of assuming that a recovering addict feels a certain way, allow them to lead with how they’re coping and be open to talking about their emotional state.
Don’t Reminisce About Past Substance-Related Experiences
One of the least helpful things you can do when talking to a newly sober friend is to bring up anecdotes from the past that center on their addictive behavior. A newly sober person may interpret these conversations in ways that are not constructive.
First, they may feel shame about their past behavior. Or, they may feel that you are lamenting that they are not their former self or grieving the loss of their former self. They may feel that you expect them to eventually return to these behaviors by harping on their past.
However, it’s important to understand that a newly sober person intends to never drink or use again. Any language that alludes to them relaxing their guidelines at some point in the future is not helpful, and they may feel like you are pressuring them.
Use Supportive Language
People in recovery have likely endured a large amount of negative self-talk throughout their journey to sobriety. Diseases of addiction can be very difficult to reconcile with, and many people feel the weight of how their disease has negatively affected their own lives and the lives of their friends or family members.
For this reason, it’s important to use positive and affirming language when talking to sober friends. Instead of critiquing their past behaviors, or admonishing their former selves, focus on the positivity of the present moment—by praising their goal for staying sober and acknowledging the hard work they have done to improve their mental health.
If they have joined a support group to help them stay sober, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), you can show your support by encouraging this decision, too.
When you have friends and family in your life who are recently sober, it’s good to be sensitive to their needs and understand their triggers. This means that even if you, yourself, don’t have a disease of addiction—and you aren’t planning on making radical changes in your own life—you should still talk to a newly sober person in a way that supports their transformation.
You don’t have to give up alcohol entirely in your own life to show solidarity. However, you could talk to your newly sober friends about events that you’d like to attend together where there is no possibility of alcohol or other substances. Inviting them on a coffee date, for example, can help you show your support in a genuine, proactive way.
Manage Your Expectations
You may have been placing a lot of weight on your first conversation with a loved one who has recently gotten sober. You may be expecting to hear many things, including feelings of remorse, regret, and apologies for specific behaviors or hurtful instances. You may feel like you need to hear these things to move forward with your relationship.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that a newly sober person is—by necessity—very focused on themselves and their recovery. Because of the nature of their addiction, they may have been blinded to the instances in the past that you may feel they need to address in your first reunion. They may also simply not remember because of the way that addictive substances work.
Building back a relationship with a newly sober person will take time, and it’s important to just take small steps in a positive direction. To address your own needs as a friend or family member of a recently sober person, support groups such as Al-Anon can help you work through these conflicted feelings. Support groups can help you learn new ways of talking with a recovering addict that can also help you, yourself, heal.
Seeking Help for an Active Addiction
If you live in South Florida and are supporting a loved one with an active addiction to alcohol or drugs, Haven Detox is here to help. At our premier treatment center, we use evidence-based methods to help our patients address substance use disorders so that they can begin building back their lives, one piece at a time. Contact us today at (561) 328-8627 for further information.