Support Sustains Us—Do You Have Enough of the Right Kind?

Support sustains us in everyday life when things are going well, and in the high-stress periods when we are stretched beyond our means. Support is more than a luxury of a good life. In fact, the need for support is hard-wired into us as a basic human need. People function most optimally within a group and have since we were cave dwellers—for safety at the bare minimum, but also for growth, development, health and well-being.

If you are browsing these pages, chances are you or a loved one have an addiction and are in need of some form of support to manage this personal crisis. If so, you are definitely on the right track. Support or its lack, play key roles in how you manage your daily life in these conditions, but also how well treatment and recovery efforts will go for people with an addiction as well as their loved ones.

Where You Find Yourself

Since addiction is not as easily spotted as a fever or chills, its symptoms can take a while to get our attention. It can be a very covert and slow growth condition, taking hold over a prolonged period of time while things on the surface continue to seem functional and ‘fine’. However, for anyone who has gone through the slow burn of an accelerating addiction, things are not fine for a very long time before others notice or before you become desperate. Further along the progression, things obviously aren’t well in the eyes of others. They see our decline in personal functioning and in the lives we should be participating in and maintaining. All along the continuum of progressive addiction, our relationships with others undergo significant changes, and their status says a great deal about where we are in relationship to our addictions, or to our loved ones who have them.

Cardinal Symptoms and Characteristics

Cardinal aspects of a situation or condition are those that are of primary importance. That is, they play a significant role in perpetuating the problem, or in characterizing it. In both addiction and codependency, cardinal symptoms and characteristics involve denial, progressive worsening if unchecked, a decline in healthy functioning, use of poor or self-harming coping strategies, and disordered relationships.

It is impossible to say that one symptom causes another. Symptoms of illnesses cluster together and appear simultaneously or over the course of an illness as stages unfold. They are entwined and have an intricate interplay. For example, denial allows one to ignore warning signs and to continue on until conditions are much worse. Similarly, worsening conditions may ignite more denial because one’s reality becomes too painful to see clearly. Another example is that poor coping skills can lead to unhealthy reliance upon compulsive behavior like substance use. Also, the debilitating effects of substance use can lead to poor coping skills.

Disordered Relationships in Addiction and Codependency

Isolation, social withdrawal, and other forms of disordered relationships are cardinal symptoms and characteristics of both addiction and codependency. Both conditions involve us in very self-absorbed and self-contained obsessions and compulsions. Consequently, we lose touch with whatever healthy supports we had before the conditions set in or progressed. And, sadly, many of us did not have those healthy supports in the first place, but went on in our problems to have even fewer resources—healthy or not—as problems grew worse. As with all things addictive or codependent, isolation, social withdrawal and relationship distress progress toward greater and greater suffering and dysfunction as time goes by. Only in recovery do we turn those things around. We have to in order to get better and stay better.

What Support Does for Us

Social contacts do a great deal for us, and they shouldn’t be confused with simply contacts you have during occasional social events. Social contacts broadly include any interaction we have with other people. Strictly speaking, they could be exchanges with family members, even one’s significant other. At the other end of the spectrum, they can include exchanges with co-workers, friends, neighbors… even strangers at the bus stop. You might also include the support you might have sitting in a group listening to a speaker such as at a 12 Step meeting or church. The over-arching factor is that we have contact with others in some meaningful way.

Meaningful and supportive contact is contact that somehow uplifts us, allows us to feel connected and allows us to communicate through expression and reception. It does a great many things for us such as:

  • Validates our humanity—we feel a sense of belonging to the larger group of humanity when we have meaningful contact with another person or participate with a group of people. This helps us decrease feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
  • Provides mirroring and feedback so we can see the commonalities between ourselves and others. This, too, increases a sense of connection and a sense of belonging. It combats alienation.
  • Helps us problem-solve and make decisions. Having discussions with others as you seek to solve a problem or make decisions can give you more ideas, stimulate your creativity and bolster your sense of confidence and capability.
  • Boosts our sense of optimism. Support from others decreases pessimism and increases a positive outlook. We feel better able and more hopeful.
  • Boosts our physical and mental health. Meaningful and supportive contact with others stimulates our physical immunity and builds mental and emotional resiliency.
  • Helps us with our tangible needs. Support people can help us meet our needs for resources during difficult times. We might, for example, need companionship when ill, or someone to bring groceries.
  • Nurtures us. Supportive and meaningful contact with others ‘feeds’ us in many ways. Our sense of self-esteem increases; we feel lifted up or encouraged, and more inspired to pursue our personal goals, as well as to meet challenges.

Our Needs for Support During Recovery

During any recovery process, we are first and foremost debilitated from what has ailed us. Depending upon what has happened to us, we have some range of difficulty to overcome that can be mild or moderate in severity or severe to profound. In addiction recovery, for example, at the bare minimum, we have physical withdrawal to deal with, and most likely, strained relationships, financial issues and mental and emotional issues to sort out. Similarly, in codependency recovery, we have our own issues unique to that condition. We might have to re-establish ourselves after leaving a relationship, but we will definitely have to tend to our distressed physical and mental health needs and learn to set healthy limits in our dealings with others. And, these are by no means the full menus of what we have to do in recovery from either of those conditions.

Simply considering the spectrum of either addiction or codependency recovery will suggest how and why we need the support of others during a recovery process. Very basically, for example, we need to know what the problem is we’ve been having and what to do about it. As silly as this may seem, most of us get to a point in our distress where we are so overwhelmed we have no clue what is happening to us.

In the lowest of our lows, we need educational and informational support from people who understand what the problem is, and we need their willingness to participate with us in a compassionate and encouraging way because we are very vulnerable at the outset of our recovery process. Essentially, we need someone to help us understand the nature of our dilemma and to point out the direction of help. That can be, for example, a trusted friend or family member, a healthcare provider, a member of the clergy, or someone at a 12 Step meeting. Getting information and acting upon it leads us to the rest of the recovery process.

Ensuing Stages of Recovery

Once support for identifying needs and resources are obtained, we move on toward those resources and the support they provide if we are to recover from addiction or codependency. In treatment, for instance, we have the professional support of people trained to get us through the initial stages of recovery. We learn from them how our condition works, what our needs are, how to cope more successfully, and how to avoid relapse back into our active conditions. Throughout those treatment stages, we also need to mobilize the support of anyone that can help us along. Involving family members and friends and community self-help members, for example, helps build momentum and sustains us throughout.

Sources of Sustained Support

People are the most significant supports in a recovery process of any type, whether they are professionals or loved ones, and no other resource can substitute for people support. However, you can find support of another kind in other resources that serve as supplements to your ‘people support’. These resources include recovery literature of all types such as pamphlets, articles, books and online writings. Also, self-help activities are great resources for support. You can attend meetings, watch DVD’s, view speaker videos online, and participate in chats and message boards via the Internet. 12 Step organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Alanon, or Codependents Anonymous have a wide Internet presence. Keep in mind, however, that although we live in a technology-driven world, and many of us are used to having ‘virtual relationships’, nothing can replace the healing power of in person, face to face contact with others. As you build your recovery efforts, keep trusted people in the center of your work and you will have the foundation you need to succeed.