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Celebrating Your Partner Ally in Recovery

Issue 33

Search “celebrating recovery” online and you will find thousands of articles on how to celebrate recovery from substance use. From annual AA celebrations to monthly chip clubs, community gatherings, “birthday” cakes, and constant support from partners and families, these are well-deserved measures to honor their hard work.

Typically, these celebrations not only mark an anniversary date of sobriety, but also the more intensive process of self-reflection, making amends, and navigating behavior changes.

Yet, what about the partner in the relationship who has learned healthy strategies to support their partner? As a partner in active recovery, they have battled their own demons to change their codependent behaviors. Whether through individual therapy, Al-Anon, or other mutual aid support groups, they learn self-care by setting boundaries and curbing tendencies to control, enable, interrupt, and obsess. Sometimes these partners can feel left out and not appreciated for their own recovery work.

This partner has no “one date” to celebrate their journey of self-discovery. In many support groups, they celebrate the date they entered the group. Yet their “relapses” and “recoveries” can occur multiple times a day and require constant vigilance.

In our couples’ work, we suggest partners regularly acknowledge the healthy work their partner has done, and to mark times to celebrate their partner’s achievements.

Suggestions for acknowledging and celebrating:

  • In your daily “catchup” time, take turns talking about insights, behavior changes, challenges, and needs.
  • Decide how you may each like to set and celebrate an “annual date of recovery.”
  • Be spontaneous with your compliments when you see self-care changes your partner has been working on.
  • Learn ways of communicating that emphasize listening, connecting, and resolving conflict.
  • Consider couples therapy to dive deeper into codependent behaviors that affect your relationship.
  • Attend each other’s recovery groups to gain insight.
  • Create frequent outings that serve as mini celebrations of appreciation.

Following the often-quoted “three A’s of Al-Anon”— awareness, acceptance, and action — is a good way to remember how to work on change.

Awareness of one’s current state and environment can be heightened by using mindfulness techniques or daily meditation.

Acceptance is recognizing the implications of one’s attitude and behavior. Journaling can help with this step to question one’s beliefs that trigger negative thoughts and behaviors.

Action may be asking for help, talking with a sponsor or therapist, sharing with your support group, or simply sitting with awareness and acceptance until action presents itself.

These are all ways to help change habitual fears and behaviors. The goal is to become more of your authentic self and to increase self-compassion, which always results in more compassion for others.

Creating rituals of celebration is important as they honor a new way of life. Recognizing the work it takes to change behavior not only supports your partner but also reinforces interdependence and commitment toward living a deeply connected life together. And that is worth celebrating.

Elaine Shamos
Elaine Shamos
Elaine Shamos, MPH, has 30 years experience as a public health professional and is the former director of Dartmouth’s Women’s Health Resource Center. Glenn Simpson, LCSW, CADC, has a private practice specializing in substance use disorder, and couples therapy. They are working together on a book for couples in recovery.

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