Five Stages To Feeling Better When You Love An Alcoholic Or Substance Abuser

Five Stages To Feeling Better When You Love An Alcoholic Or Substance Abuser

Today we’re going to talk about the five stages to feeling better. And these stages exist whether you love someone suffering from addiction or not. It can be helpful to understand these steps as you’re working your way through this relationship. 

Listen to the podcast episode here: 

Read the episode transcript and find more details below: 

I know that this is a difficult time for you. I get it. I’ve been in our secret Facebook group and read the comments and understand that it’s really difficult with the virus and being quarantined and shut-in with somebody who’s suffering from this disease.

So last week I was giving you a little bit of tough love, all about how to find compassion, and I think sometimes that’s really appropriate and sometimes it’s helpful. And then other times I think that something a little bit more gentle and loving is necessary. And that’s what this week is. 

Today we’ll go over the fives step to feeling better

This podcast is going to be a little bit more educational too. I’m reading this book, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb. It has nothing to do with addiction. 

In her book she talks about different therapists, studies, schools of thought and more. It’s actually quite fascinating. She goes into detail about this model of behavior change. 

So basically, there’s this model of behavior change that was created by someone she covers in her book. The theory explores how people aren’t able to ‘Just Do It’. That, in fact, there’s a process they must go through before change is made.  

We can’t ‘just do it’, there’s a process.

And, for those of us that love someone suffering from addiction, this can apply to them. Our loved ones don’t just get sober. 

We can apply this to ourselves as well, and I’ll use myself as an example. I’m always looking to eat healthier. I have an absolute obsession and passion for cooking, and baking really delicious, unhealthy food. 

I keep feeling bad about my eating habits, and I always think that if I could just stick to a diet, I’d be fine. But according to the book, that’s just not how it works. 

Let’s talk about the stages of change.

The first stage is pre-contemplation. Yes, it’s a technical word, but I’m going to break it down for you. Basically, it’s the stage where you do not even think that there’s an issue. 

Stage One: Pre-contemplation

You’re not even thinking about change (eating healthier or getting sober). Think about when you met your loved one, and they were completely oblivious to the fact that they even had a drinking or drug issue. 

Maybe they were partying with all their friends in school and thought it was just a normal level of drinking and/or drug use. 

It’s the precontemplation stage. They do not even think that this is something they need to address. It’s often what’s considered denial. 

It becomes denial when their choices are having serious consequences. So they may be passing out, making themselves sick, or drinking copious amounts in small timeframes. Maybe they’ve received a DUI, had car accidents, or otherwise endangered themselves or someone else. 

They might not be willing to discuss the issue.

I remember at the very beginning of my relationship before I even married the man I eventually fell in love with and who had addiction issues. 

Probably the first couple of years of our relationship was just me trying to convince him that there was an issue. I would catch myself trying to convince him he was drinking too much, or putting himself at unnecessary risk. 

I remember a time when my ex-husband would refuse to go to movies with me. The only ones he would go to were matinees. We never went to movies in the evening and I couldn’t figure out why, and then it hit me: the movie theaters didn’t serve alcohol. 

The movie theater we went to eventually started serving alcohol, and then he would agree to go. The realization that he didn’t want to go see a movie at night because he’d miss out on two hours of drinking was big for me. I knew he had a real problem. 

So this is the first phase of the five stages to feeling better. 

And I just want to clarify one thing here: it’s their job to get to this stage. It’s never our role to convince them they have a problem. That’s their work. 

Our work, as the loved ones, is to take on responsibility and accountability for our future. And the current situation we’re in. We can’t just blame our loved ones for all their problems, but instead, need to take responsibility for ourselves here. 

Here’s the thing: we joined these relationships for one reason or another, and we’re either deciding to stay for now, stay forever, or think about leaving (or maybe you’ve already left). 

We agreed to enter this relationship, and now, as Oprah would say, we’re all responsible for living our best lives. 

So we have to take responsibility for how we ended up here. And why we want to continue. And what continuing (or not) looks like. 

So in Stage 1 of the five stages to feel better, we focus on ourselves. We don’t try to convince them they have a problem. They’re probably in denial, and that’s not our work, that’s theirs. 

Stage 2 of the five steps to feeling better 

Stage 2 is contemplation. And this is when the person recognizes there’s a problem, finally, and they’re willing to talk about it. And they’re not opposed to taking action, even if they don’t know what that action might be yet. 

Stage 2 is contemplation

They may have a problem following through or defining what they’ll do in the first place. 

Stage 2 of the five stages to feeling better can feel refreshing for you as the loved one. 

Maybe you’ve been waiting for years for them to actually admit there’s something going on. That’s huge. This alone can feel like a huge step in the right direction. 

It could be that you’ve felt crazy all the while because they’d never admit they had a problem. Maybe you’ve questioned whether you’re making all this up in your own head or not. I completely understand because I did the same thing. 

Let me lovingly remind you that you’re not crazy.

You know what’s going on, and it’s refreshing to hear them say it. 

This dialogue with them can bring on a new sense of hope. You feel so relieved and validated that it hasn’t been you at all, that you’re not crazy, that you’re actually an incredibly smart human being that has been sober and waiting for this relationship breakthrough to happen. 

This can reinvigorate the relationship. Oftentimes when this happens, we want to recommit to following through with the relationship. 

Perhaps you were contemplating leaving if things didn’t get better or you weren’t seeing signs of recovery.

But when your partner moves into Stage 2 of the five stages of feeling better, you may be willing to stick it out a little longer. 

They can start talking about what recovery actually looks like. Potentially outpatient treatment, inpatient, or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. 

They may even set guidelines for themselves, such as they won’t bring alcohol into the house. Or they won’t hang out with a certain group of friends that drinks heavily. 

These rules and guidelines they’re setting for themselves may give you a huge sense of hope. It’s possible you’ve never heard them talk in this way, and that can feel incredibly exciting.

This renewed sense presents an opportunity to recommit to the relationship. 

I do want you to be aware, though, that sometimes our loved ones know that we may consider recommitting if they start to get sober. So faking stage 2 is not all that uncommon. It becomes a form of manipulation and ultimately, the cycle of abuse. 

Try to stay grounded when they enter this stage. Humans are emotional beings, but try to stay logical about what they’re actually changing. Remember to look at their actions. Their behaviors. What does that look like? 

Another thing that can happen in Stage 2 of the five stages to feeling better is self-sabotage and/or procrastination as a way to avoid change. Remember, change is hard for us, and we don’t suffer from addiction. 

Self-sabotage can happen in stage 2

Even healthy individuals that don’t suffer from addiction struggle to giving things up. Think about cutting out sugar from your diet or adding in a regular workout routine, those things are challenging for most of us. 

We may feel a sense of fear and uncertainty because we don’t actually know what that change will look and feel like. That’s scary. We may not know how we’re going to fit it in, or if we’re cutting something out, what will replace it.

Now that’s about your loved one, but what about you? What does Stage 2 of the five stages of feeling better look like for you? 

Before we go there, I have a question for you:

Are you procrastinating or self-sabotaging as a way to ward off change?

Even positive changes because you’re reluctant to give something up. Some women have had to give up their house, give up alcohol themselves, give up their marriage, major, major situations here. 

And let me lovingly remind you: this is hard. It is scary. 

Your financial situation may look a lot different. There might be a different level of comfort. There may be impacts on your social circle. 

So are you self-sabotaging or procrastinating? 

There are other less tangible aspects that you might need to give up too: control, hope…

Are you reluctant to give these up, not knowing what they’d be replaced with? 

We did talk about this in a past episode: Why we stay in unhealthy relationships. Usually number one is that we love them. There may be underlying fears there too, that’s sort of ‘convincing’ us to love them. 

What does your future look like without them? That’s scary. Loving them or convincing ourselves we’re in love with them can be a form of procrastination and/or self-sabotage. 

In so many ways we’ve become addicted to addiction.

The idea of any other situation, even a healthy one, makes us uncomfortable. 

No matter what kind of change we’re making, we will feel roadblocks throughout the process, and this is part of Stage 2. 

We may be running away from healing because we’re afraid of what will come up. And this happens to our loved ones too. If they do decide to get sober, relapses often happen when a triggering event happens.

They may have past trauma that’s unearthed, and when drugs and alcohol are their coping mechanisms, they may feel at a loss for how to handle such intense emotions. 

It’s hard for us, and we don’t suffer from addiction.

We may already have healthy coping skills, and it’s still hard for us. 

So contemplation is Stage 2. A sense of hope, real thinking about a change, potential roadblocks. 

Stage 3 of the five stages to feeling better is the preparation stage

Someone in this process has spent enough time in Stage 2 that they’re ready to prepare to make a change. 

For our loved ones, they may start to do their own research. They may look up resources, meetings, treatments, or seek a therapist.  

And for us, the loved ones, we’ve gotten hurt enough and been in Stage 2 long enough that we too are preparing. 

We talk about all of this in our program, but you too may be starting your own research. In fact, maybe that’s how you found us. 

Maybe you’re researching ‘replacements’ for those things we mentioned earlier, both feelings and tangible changes.

You might be looking for communities to join or rediscovering things you love to do that have maybe fallen by the wayside. 

You’re preparing to break your addiction to their addiction. You’re preparing to get the life that you think you deserve. Preparing to commit to a wellness program or healing. 

This can look like preparing to take back power from your loved ones. Your happiness is no longer in their hands or ruled by their choices. 

It means when you stop waking up every day with the idea and the belief system that you are here and put on this earth to make their lives better. 

And instead, you replace those thoughts with ‘I’m not as healthy as I can be, and I’m preparing to change that’

I need to put all of that energy and focus on me and getting myself strong and recover from this relationship, which has really done a serious amount of damage to me, to my soul, to the way that I feel about myself,  to the way that I approach other people.’ You probably have trust issues. 

You may be preparing for therapy. Maybe you’ll join one of our programs

The fourth stage is exciting: Action! 

Whatever we’ve been preparing for, we do. We go on that vacation, join that gym, have an appointment with a therapist, create our safe space.

Whatever change we’ve been dreaming of, we do. With these changes, our lives start to improve. We feel better because we are better. We’re healing. 

This is where all our preparation and compilation pays off. We know what we want to do and how we want to do it. Now, we just do it. 

And the final stage, which is key for us and our loved ones is maintenance. 

Maintenance is probably the most important phase of this whole process because now that we’ve just done it, and now that we’re doing it and we’re taking action. 

It’s not as simple as one and done. Like you can’t just create this program for yourself, and then that suits you for the rest of your life. 

Our needs will change over time, so our actions will as well.

And listen, that might mean going back through this process step-by-step again. And that’s totally fine. 

Now that we’re familiar with something new, it may feel easier to do it next time. It takes away some of that fear and uncertainty. Change is always challenging on one level or another. 

So that’s it. Those are the five stages to feeling better, and what they might look like for both you and your loved one.

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.

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