Five Things NOT to Say to a Person in Recovery
We know that people don’t know what they don’t know. That’s why sometimes we all put our proverbial foot in our mouth. For those folks not in recovery, here are some things you shouldn’t (and should) say to a person in recovery: Referring to persons in recovery as Addicts People in recovery are, first and foremost, people. This wording is called Person-First Language, and it’s a more accurate and respectful way to address or refer to people. Try instead: person with a substance use disorder or person in recovery “We’ll make sure there’s no alcohol at the party.” People in various stages of recovery can have vastly different comfort levels when it comes to being around alcohol. You may think it’s a considerate gesture to remove alcohol from your party or baby shower, but sometimes it just makes us uncomfortable to know you are re-arranging your whole life. Plus, we can almost feel the anger from your guests sometimes! It’s kind to be considerate, but usually you can just tell us so we can make our own decisions about our comfort level. If you really want offer to make the event dry, you can always ask us. Try instead: “I wanted to let you know there will be alcohol at the wedding shower.” Or perhaps: “Would you feel more comfortable if there was not alcohol at the game night? It’s no problem to do punch instead.” “Good for you for having that kind of willpower!” Well meaning, yes? But still a little off the mark. For those of us in recovery, we don’t consider our addiction a problem of will power. We know it as a brain disease. Calling addiction a matter of will puts down all of our friends and loved ones who are still struggling by making it sound like they could get better if they were better people or wanted it more. We know you are trying to encourage us–but there are more informed ways of saying so. Try instead: “You are very blessed to have recovery!” “When can you stop going to meetings?” Recovery is not something you ‘graduate’ from—it is a life-long process. And going to meetings is a resource for many people in recovery, not a sentence. Try instead: “I’m so glad you found a place where you can get support and understanding!” “So what drugs did you do?” This one is situational and perhaps personal. You hear people in recovery ask this of each other all of the time. Many people don’t mind when people who are not in recovery ask this question if it seems like they are interested in learning about addiction. But it can get awkward when you get asked in the middle of a party by someone who just seemed fascinated by how “bad” you used to be. People may feel comfortable enough to say, “I’m in recovery,” but that doesn’t mean they want to tell a bunch of (possibly uninformed) strangers that they used to be a cocaine addict. And it’s definitely not OK to ask during a job interview! Try instead: “What has that journey been like for you?” Then let us share as much as we are comfortable.