How to Be the Only Sober One in Your Family

Family dynamics are complicated, even before you consider the impact of substance use disorder (SUD). The various relationships you have with different family members can be hard to maintain. Preserving healthy relationships becomes especially hard if you start making changes to your life that drastically change things, like getting sober.

Family Reactions to Your Recovery

There are two ways that a family member who is not sober can react to you entering recovery. On one hand, they might be proud of you. When struggling with SUD, you do not consciously want yourself to become addicted. Addiction causes a dysfunction in the brain that makes quitting very difficult. As a result, they may look at you as someone who was able to do something they could not. In a strange way, being the only sober one in your family can be like being the first person in your family to go to college—you have overcome something that has seemed impossible for generations.

The other reaction is more negative. Your family may shame or guilt you because of your sobriety. Much like the first instance, this reaction stems from the same place of you being able to achieve something they could not. If you get a negative reaction to your choice of sobriety, it may result from shame or feelings of inadequacy on the part of your family member. They may want to change but find they cannot. This does not mean that the behavior is okay, but you can be empathetic to their struggle, knowing how hard you have worked to get where you are. Keep in mind that they may be mad or passive on the outside, but on the inside, they want what you have.

Being Sober Is the Most Important Thing

You may feel pressure to use from your family. For instance, birthdays and holidays can be incredibly challenging when other people are drinking or using and you cannot. Try to remember that your sobriety is of the utmost importance. Some of your family members may not struggle with SUD, but you do. That relationship can be difficult to maintain at times, but it is possible.

You may see people in your family who struggle with the same issues you did, but unlike you, they are not looking for help. Sadly, there is nothing you can do to change that. You cannot force someone to seek treatment, all you can do is be there for them if they reach out about getting help.

Being the only sober one in the family can cause a chain reaction where family members come to you about their addiction problems. Be there for them if they are asking for help, just be careful not to sacrifice your own sobriety journey for someone else's. If you compromise your recovery, you will be unable to help someone else, even if it is a loved one. Sobriety can mean being selfish at times, and that is okay. When you are not good and comfortable in your sobriety, you will be of little help to others.

Recognizing Triggers

When it comes to family functions, the events can be triggering. They may involve loved ones you are used to interacting with in a certain way when you were under the influence of substances. These people may pressure you to use or drink again. Perhaps family gatherings make you feel anxious, and you used substances to cope with these feelings. What coping techniques will you use now? Even if no one is pressuring you to drink, smoke, or anything else, those things may be happening around you, and you must have a plan to deal with those triggers.

You must know your limits. If a situation becomes too uncomfortable, have an exit strategy. Ask a sober friend if you can contact them to pick you up if your sobriety is in danger, or ask them to come with you and keep you accountable. Do whatever you can to remove yourself from triggering situations and calm down before reentering.

Effective Communication: Setting Boundaries 

Effective communication is key to mending these new relationships you will have with your family members. Before a party or family function, make a phone call or group text to your family members to set some boundaries. Explain your triggers and how people can help you avoid them.

The other option—which is not as simple—is stepping away from your family for a bit until you become more stable in your sobriety. All of the things listed here are great tools for easing some of the tensions with the family dynamic but they are not guaranteed to work. Taking time away from family does not have to be permanent but, again, your sobriety is the most important thing. Even family should not stop you from enjoying a free and sober life.

Being the only sober one in your family can be difficult. There can be a lot of familial pressure on top of the normal pressure that comes with being sober. Sometimes it can get the best of you and you might stumble, but the important thing to do afterward is to pick yourself back up. Sometimes you might need help with that. NorthStar Transitions, located in Boulder, CO, can be the place to find that help. Our experienced staff can help you and the ones you care about navigate family dynamics and sobriety. We offer support for those who are having issues with SUD, even if you're recovering from a relapse. If you or someone you know needs treatment, you want to do all that you can to help. You can take the first steps by calling us today at (303) 558-6400.

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