One of my partners has recently gone sober; I myself have been through rehab for eating disorders. I wanted to see if you had advice for what I and our other partner could do to support her? She has reached out to people and is going to AA meetings.
I asked a friend of mine who is polyamorous and 5 years sober for some thoughts - so this is my very first Polyamory Advice Guest Blogger column! Yay! Here’s what my friend has to say:
It’s great that you want to help and that you’re reaching out for advice! Not everyone going into recovery has understanding friends who proactively want to help, and you can be a great asset.
A very important thing to remember is that everyone’s recovery journey is unique, and you should never assume you know what will help, even if you have gone through something similar yourself.
As with poly relationships, communication is key - let her know you support her and want to help, then ask her what she wants/needs. The answer might be “nothing,” or “I don’t know,” in which case I suggest you keep asking what you can do as time goes on and when it seems appropriate - many times the first offer can be seen as a token attempt, and repeatedly saying you want to help lets her know you mean it.
That said, here are a few things I and people I know have found helpful from friends, all with the caveat that if she says she wants something different you should respect her word above mine.
- Don’t radically change the way you act around her. Being overprotective or tip-toeing around the subject of alcohol is more likely to annoy her than help her. Her life is undergoing radical change, and there’s tremendous value in friends and partners who stay firm and stable throughout.
- Explicitly let her know that you support her sobriety but will also stay with her through a relapse, if one were to happen. A common danger point is someone relapsing but being too afraid to tell their support network because they don’t want to disappoint them, leaving them without the resources they need to get sober again.
- Give her permission to set clear boundaries, but don’t set her boundaries for her. Make offers like “if you want me to hide the alcohol in my place when you come over, just let me know,” or “hey, I’m happy to not drink when we go out, would that be helpful?” Hopefully this will make her feel comfortable enough to ask for what she needs without prompting, too.
- Don’t inform others about her sobriety without her explicit permission. Especially early on, many people in recovery need to control who knows and how they find out. Don’t out someone’s sobriety without permission, just as you wouldn’t out them about being queer/poly/kinky/etc.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure you’re keeping up with whatever recovery work, therapy, self-care, medication, etc. you’re on. It’s not selfish - it’s why airplanes always tell you to put your oxygen mask on first! You can’t help someone else if you’re fighting for your own survival.
- Don’t discount the incredible usefulness of practical help. Driving her to an AA meeting, helping with paperwork for a therapist, doing some laundry or dishes, taking her car in for maintenance because the little light thingie has been on forever - whatever it takes to reduce the background anxiety and overall life clutter that can feel overwhelming or like a major obstacle when you’re working on your mental health.
Good luck to her, and to you! Recovery is not an easy or painless process, but it is worth it.
P.S. Since this isn’t a question unique to polyamory, know that you can also get support experts in the field. Al-Anon is an organization designed to help people whose loved one is dealing with addiction, so check to see if there is a chapter in your area! If she is getting pushback from mental healthcare providers or people in her AA group about having multiple partners supporting her in recovery, check to see if there is an LGBTQ-specific AA meeting in the area or a poly-friendly professional she can work with.