The Role of Love and Compassion in Recovery

Treatment and therapy for substance abuse frequently focus on educating patients and families about the disease of addiction. We know it’s essential to show people who are affected by addiction that it is not a choice, it is an illness. It is no one’s fault that substance abuse happens. Blaming ourselves or one another, holding grudges or pushing each other away only serves to make the effects worse.

But putting these principles into practice often goes against the years of isolation, guilt and frustration that come with addiction. We internalize the idea that giving in to addiction somehow makes us a bad person or makes us unworthy of others’ love. It becomes easier for us to withdraw from others because it allows us to indulge our addiction under the illusion that we are only hurting ourselves. We create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which we let our problems make us feel like we deserve a life without love, and in turn, allow our problems to persist.

When we do seek recovery, however, we need to let love and compassion back into our lives. We need to learn to forgive ourselves and our loved ones, and to look to our futures instead of allowing our pasts to define us. When we stop searching for a way to justify addiction and instead focus on finding a way to leave it behind, we can more clearly see that we don’t need the object of our addiction to feel good. Surrounding ourselves with love — for ourselves and others — can bring a more profound sense of fulfillment that doesn’t wear off, and that breaks addiction’s cycle of self-defeating behaviors.

Self-Love in the Face of Addiction 

Self-love is something that everyone struggles with, not just people who have dealt with addiction. We tend to focus on the negatives about ourselves — we are our own worst critics. While being self-critical helps us admit our own flaws and learn to better ourselves, it can quickly become a downward spiral if it is not balanced by a healthy appreciation of our strengths.

Addiction is a breeding ground for negativity. Addictive behaviors cause significant disruptions in natural brain chemistry. They flood our brain with false feelings of happiness and confidence, but they also leave our brain drained of positivity as the effects wear off. We fall into a pattern of only feeling good about ourselves when our consciousness is augmented by artificial chemicals.

In recovery treatment, we spend much of our time learning how to love ourselves again. We come to understand that we cannot blame ourselves for addiction. We work with counselors to train ourselves how to have natural positive thoughts again. We focus on our strengths and talents and find ways to feel proud of who we are. In time, we come to see that self-love is the cornerstone of recovery: it fills the void that is left when we leave behind addictive habits and gives us the inner strength and confidence to say no to addiction every day of our lives. 

Compassion for Others Through Recovery

Recovery also brings us back to a place where we remember that we are not alone. Whether we have family or friends to return home to or we have established important new connections through treatment, part of healing from addiction involves building a support network and learning to be part of others’ support networks. Compassion is at the heart of this: we must open ourselves up not only to let others in, but to extend ourselves outward.

Through recovery, we learn that our experience with addiction is not the only one. Millions of people struggle with this disease, and it can affect people of all walks of life. When we recognize that there is no rhyme or reason to addiction, we can feel more comfortable coming to terms with — and letting go of — our own worries. We also see that sharing our experience gives this same comfort to others. Sharing our stories in group therapy or meetings helps others feel less alone. Sharing with family members helps them understand that we know we have hurt them. We build compassion every time we think about what someone else may be thinking, feeling or going through.

With a strong sense of compassion, we take another step in recovery: understanding how our actions affect those close to us. Isolating ourselves does not solve this problem; the hurt we can cause by letting addiction win remains. But through recovery, we can heal these wounds in ourselves and others.

Choosing Empathy Over “Tough Love”

For families and friends, loving someone who is struggling with addiction is an ongoing challenge. We want to offer support, but we don’t want to enable. We hear that people who struggle with addiction must help themselves; that no matter how hard we try to get them to see that their behavior is problematic, they must ultimately come to this conclusion on their own. We might eventually turn to “tough love” tactics — cutting them off financially, kicking them out of the house, letting them get in trouble for their actions. We hope that these “hard lines” will be the reality check they need to finally get help.

While there is validity to the concern that support can be enabling, there are other kinds of support we can offer that don’t put our loved ones in danger. Research into recovery outcomes is now showing that empathetic familial support throughout the recovery process improves patients’ long-term sobriety. Instead of setting rules and consequences, we can treat our loved ones with respect and dignity. When we show an addicted loved one that we see them — that we understand they are struggling, that what they are going through is valid —  it provides encouragement to seek help rather than leaving them feeling abandoned. You can walk their path of recovery with them — if you are feeling unsure about providing healthy support, family resources and therapy are available.

Love and compassion are key human emotions that are stripped away over the course of addiction. Building them back into your life is the best way to restore your hope and confidence and to find lifelong recovery. If you or your loved one is ready to start their recovery journey, contact Riverside Recovery today at (800) 871-5440.