What to Say to a Recovering Addict
The Pain Between Recovery and Relapse
For most recovering addicts, relapse is almost inevitable. What can you say to a recovering addict who is craving the substance of their addiction? Finding the right words to say to someone who is caught between recovery and potential relapse is not easy. It is at this time that the addict is most vulnerable to their substance of abuse, and most sensitive.
Anyone who has ever been addicted to a drug will tell you that the pain associated with the recovery stage of drug addiction is implausible. It is indescribable with words. It can be so overwhelming that at times it is almost as if there are two of you, one urging you to take the drug and the other begging—and I do mean begging—you not to take it. So just what do you say to someone who is in recovery?
I am a recovered crack cocaine addict, and I have been clean since 1994. During the time that I was going through withdrawal, many times I found myself in this precarious position. My friends and family members would try to comfort me, but their words seemed empty. No matter what they said it didn’t register with me.
Many people tried to comfort me as I struggled to recover from a serious crack cocaine addiction. In all honesty I will say that there were three people whose words had the most profound impact on my recovery—and my life, for that matter. A friend whom I have known since I was seven years old, my son, and my daughter. These are the three people whom I would say are directly responsible for my recovery.
In the darkest hours of my recovery, when I was on the border line of once again being swallowed up by the drug that had caused me so much misery, my friend would call as if she telepathically knew that I was thinking about smoking another crack rock. She wouldn’t lecture me like many of my other friends did; instead, she would tell me, “You don’t have to do this alone. I’m here for you." And although I have not craved crack since 1994, those words still reverberate in the core of my being today.
Incredibly, my daughter who was only eleven years old at the time had never given up on me. I was ashamed to face her, and she knew it. But she would often say, “I love you, Daddy, and I know you’re not going to be like this always.” It meant the world to me to know that my baby girl could genuinely love me in the despicable state that I was in.
Then there was my son, who would tell me time after time, “You can do this, Daddy. If no one else believes you can, I do.”
When I faced my demons in recovery I felt I was alone because after all, I had lost everything I owned, including my family. It amazed me to learn that in the midst the darkest hours of my life, these three people chose to love me unconditionally and that they were willing to stand with me.
When I think back to that time in my addiction, it was their words that gave me the courage and strength to endure the pain of withdrawal.
Finding the Words
The most heartening words anyone could ever say to someone who is in recovery would undoubtedly be words of encouragement. Drug addicts do not like to be lectured. It is probably because they have already experienced whatever it is you are lecturing them about. One of the worst things you can do to an addict in recovery is to begin scolding them about their drug use and telling them how their world will come to an end if they start using again.
Even after an addicted person has stopped using, their recovery will take some time. A little love, lots of patience, and a caring attitude form the core of the best medicine for someone who is in recovery. But above all, genuine words of encouragement will do more to help a recovering addict than you can ever imagine.