Tough love in recovery is an often misunderstood and misapplied concept to those new to the Program, and those with time as well. While there are no rules in recovery, there are some things to keep in mind about the tough-love concept.
First of all, tough love in recovery should focus on the second word—not the first. Our primary purpose is to help the addict or alcoholic still suffering, but that means we must help. Most of us come in with plenty of people already berating us. The last thing we want is one more who may or may not be familiar with our story.
It is also a dangerous place for those just starting to sponsor people or with time as well. It is easy to forget that we will always be new travellers on the path down which we guide newcomers. We may have walked it before, but it always looks different and more surprises lie in wait. To think that we somehow have all the solutions when our own experience and futile efforts showed we ran out of answers ourselves is a bit haughty.
Further, when we put ourselves in the role of overseer, rather than sponsor, it puts us in the very position we should not be—that of our sponsees’ Higher Power. No human power can relieve us of addiction, so to think that we are the bearers of such power is not only wrong, but it threatens our own addiction recovery as well.
Finally, addicts and alcoholics are a diverse bunch. We do not all respond to the same tactics. It is important to match the approach with the personality, or else we can end up doing as much (if not more) harm as good.
That said, some people really do need tough love in recovery. We have either been let off the hook for too long, suffering no or few consequences; or maybe we have not had to be accountable prior to entering the Program. In this sense, tough love can be one of the biggest gifts that we can give. Especially when that accountability comes from someone who had similar issues and experiences as we have, it makes their message all the more resonant.
Again, though, neither the soft nor heavy hand will fit every circumstance.
As sponsors, it is our duty simply to show what we did, and how we got to where we are. That is it. We are not therapists, friends (although friendships often do develop), religious leaders, or anything beyond an addict or alcoholic who no longer uses or drinks. We are just as far from the drink as they are. The only difference is the sponsor has been through the process before, and has access to the tools. The newcomer? Not so much.
Tough Love in Recovery
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