Tough love, codependency, and self-love – how to show love for yourself, as a recovering addict, and how to show love to a friend or family member recovering from addiction.

As a recovering addict, it can be difficult to love yourself. In fact, for a lot of people recovering from addiction, it can be difficult to even understand the concept of self-love. Instead, former addicts often feel shame, self-loathing, or guilt over their past actions and the way they behaved during their addiction.

The problem with this is that these negative feelings can cause recovering addicts to relapse, which is why it is so important that former addicts learn self-love.

Not only that, but it also helps a great deal to be surrounded by individuals, be it family, friends, or colleagues, that show love and encouragement consistently during the recovery journey and beyond.

How to love yourself as a former addict

Learning to love yourself after addiction can be a lengthy process. 

It’s easy to dwell on past actions and blame yourself for damaged relationships and the things that were done as a result of the addiction. 

Stealing, damaging property, performing sex acts, violence, abuse; these are all common things that addicts can do while their addiction is active.

There are several things that you can do as a recovering addict that will help you on your recovery journey and help to increase your self-worth and reach a better state of self-love.

Look after yourself

This may sound obvious but the less care you take of your physical and mental health, the more likely you are to relapse. 

Studies have shown a positive correlation between good physical health and mental wellbeing and feelings of self-love. Eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, practising mindfulness, and going for walks in nature are all great ways to improve your physical health and mental wellbeing, among many other things. When you start to take better care of your physical health, the chances are you’ll see an improvement in your mental health too. 

By taking better care of your physical and mental health, you’ll also have more energy, motivation, and a better mindset; all of which will help beat your addiction and maintain your sobriety. 

Acknowledge what happened during your addiction

Trying to ignore or forget what you did or what happened while you were under the influence of your addiction won’t help your recovery journey in the long run. You need to show yourself some tough love and face up to your actions. Your healing process cannot truly begin until you do this.

This is often one of the hardest things to do as a recovering addict. Many relationships may have been severely damaged by your addiction and they can be extremely difficult to repair but you cannot mend anything until you’ve acknowledged the damage that has been done.

Acknowledging the things your addiction caused you to do and how it may have affected other people is the first step towards healing any bonds that may have become broken. One important thing to remember, however, is that acknowledging these things can have a heavy impact on your mental health and recovery, so it’s worth learning some self-love and improving your physical and emotional wellbeing first.

Educate yourself on addiction

Addiction is a recognised chronic disease and, as such, causes a functional change in the brain and body, severely impacting an addict’s ability to stop their addiction without the right treatment, tools, and professional help.

Most addictions are self-preserving, causing an addict to do whatever they can to maintain the addiction and obtain the next fix. Almost all addicts do things, when under the influence of their addiction, that they would never do sober or if they were not suffering from their addiction.

Once you gain an understanding of how addiction works, how it affects your brain and your decision making, you should be able to be more forgiving of yourself and recognise that your addiction and the things it caused you to do does not make you a bad person.

Learning about your addiction and not letting your past actions define you will allow you to move forward and improve your ability to let go of the shame, guilt, and other negative emotions associated with recovering from addiction. It will allow you to recognise that you still deserve to be happy and put you in a better position and frame of mind to heal both yourself and any relationships that have suffered during your addiction.

Try to make amends and heal damaged relationships

The number may be small or it may be large but there are probably at least a few people you may have hurt as a direct or indirect result of your addiction.

Once you have come to terms with your addiction and accepted that it was the addiction that caused you to behave the way you did and that’s not truly who you are, you can begin to reach out and try to heal damaged relationships and make amends for your actions.

The best way to do this is by offering a heartfelt and, most importantly, genuine apology and try to suggest ways or ask them how to make amends. For example, if you stole from a friend or family member, you could ask to repay what you stole or see if you can reclaim any items of sentimental value – only if you can do so safely and legally, of course, such as buying them back from a second hand store.

One thing to remember with this step, however, is that no one is under any obligation to accept your apology and, if anyone declines to accept it, you must respect and understand that. 

Once you have learned to look after yourself, learned more about your addiction and accepted that it was the addiction that caused you to do the things you did, and have tried to heal any damaged relationships, you’ll be well on your way to loving yourself fully.

How to show love for a family member or friend who’s recovering from addiction

When trying to support or show love to a recovering addict, it can be easy to fall into old habits, foster a codependent relationship, and even enable a relapse or addiction, all because you want to show love and want to make things as easy as possible for the recovering addict.

Tough love

A certain amount of understanding and leeway can be given to loved ones recovering from addiction but sometimes the best thing to do for both them and yourself is to show tough love.

Introducing healthy boundaries (and sticking to them!) and putting your health and wellbeing first is essential to ensure that you have both the energy and the frame of mind to provide support, but also to prevent the recovering addict from falling into negative patterns of behaviour, which can increase the chances of relapse.

It can often be important to remove any items associated with your loved one’s addiction from the household too. If they were addicted to alcohol, it would be wise to remove alcohol from the house and abstain from drinking too often in their presence. If they were addicted to drugs, you may want to lock any prescription medication away and keep them out of sight. By doing things such as these, you can reduce the environmental triggers for their addiction. 

Recovering addicts can sometimes become reliant on their support givers financially and emotionally, but also in terms of simple things such as chores around the house, childcare, and taking care of themselves. It can be very tempting to give them plenty of slack and let them get away with some things but this can easily increase over time, especially while much of their focus is on their recovery. The problem with this is that you can wind up giving so much of your effort, energy, and time to the recovering addict that resentment and bitterness can build up, which the recovering addict may pick up on and increase their likelihood of relapse.

By showing a little tough love by putting up boundaries to protect yourself, encouraging the former addict to take on shared responsibilities, and putting more of a focus on helping the recovering addict become self-sufficient and build a future for themselves, you’ll help them (and yourself) a lot more than by trying to be a care-giver.

Avoid Codependency 

You want to help your loved one. You want to see them get better and beat their addiction. The trouble is, sometimes the best intentions can lead to a codependent relationship, which is detrimental to the addiction recovery journey.

By desperately trying to help your loved one in any way you can, you can inadvertently end up enabling their addiction. 

If the recovering addict does something they shouldn’t, for example, and you try to shield them from the consequences of their actions, this is considered a codependent action and prevents the recovering addict from learning from their mistakes and taking responsibility for their actions.

When you have witnessed the devastating results of your loved one’s addiction first hand, it is very tempting to protect, care for, and help them in any way you can when they begin their addiction recovery journey. 

You could make excuses for their behaviour, help them avoid negative consequences of their actions, pay for damage they’ve caused, and even cover up for them, especially if they’re your child. However, this does not help them and it definitely does not help you.

It will be difficult but, to avoid a codependent relationship and to help your loved one with their addiction, try to:

  • Let them face the consequences of their actions (you can still support them and provide them with encouragement, but don’t cover for them or make excuses)
  • If they have (or should have) certain responsibilities, let them be responsible for them. Don’t take over any responsibilities they neglect. If they’re living with you, make sure they are contributing their fair share towards the rent and living costs.
  • Put yourself first – make sure you set aside dedicated time for yourself and your own self-love and care so that you’re not giving it all to your loved one.
  • Don’t take any responsibility for their addiction or feel guilty about it – it is their addiction and their problem to solve, you’re just there to help, support, and love them.
  • Insist on being treated with respect. Don’t let them be cruel to you or say or do anything disrespectful towards you.

Of course, be supportive, show them the love, care, and attention they need to help them on their addiction recovery journey, but be strong, too. Don’t enable their addiction by allowing a codependent relationship to form and continue, put in place and maintain strong boundaries, show tough love when you need to, and look after yourself and put yourself first when needed. All of this will allow your loved one adjust to life after addiction and help their addiction recovery journey.

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