No one recovers from addiction alone. The more support you have, the better. Feeling connected to others, having people to rely on, and feeling a sense of accountability to people you care about make recovery easier. Unfortunately, during active addiction, many people alienate the people who care the most. They may lie, manipulate, or steal to get what they want, regardless of who they hurt. This destroys relationships and it’s also one of the primary reasons people finally decide to get help. While entering treatment is a big step in the right direction, it may not convince friends and relatives that you’ve changed. You may have to do a lot more work to repair the relationships that were damaged in active addiction. The following are some tips for rebuilding relationships during addiction recovery.
The most important thing is to be patient. You don’t ultimately have any control over whether someone else decides to forgive you or trust you. You can ask for forgiveness or try to demonstrate your trustworthiness but you can’t control how other people feel. You just have to accept that it falls under the heading of “things I cannot control.” You may know that you’re sincere and truly committed to recovery. You know that you’ve been working hard but they don’t. They only know they’ve been hurt and it takes a while to trust someone again. If you insist that others should forgive you and trust you, you risk growing angry and resentful and alienating others even more. It takes as long as it takes so try to be patient.
When you are ready to mend relationships, one powerful practice is to ask for forgiveness. This is not just apologizing, although apologizing may be a good place to start. Asking for forgiveness really does two things. First, you acknowledge that you did something that hurt someone else. Put yourself in the other person’s place and really try to understand why they’re angry at you. Often the superficial harm–stealing money, or whatever–is not as bad as the violation of trust so think deeply about why the other person feels hurt. Second, asking for forgiveness rather than just apologizing makes you vulnerable. When you victimize someone else by lying, stealing, manipulating them, or perhaps even physically attacking them, you take away their autonomy. When you ask for forgiveness, you give the other person the power to grant it–or not. You may never get someone’s forgiveness but asking for it may be a way to start healing the relationship.
Lying, deception, and manipulation are typical of addictive behavior. Since drugs or alcohol become someone’s top priority, they will use any means necessary to get them. It is also common for people with substance use disorders to try to hide their substance use, so they’ll lie about how much they use or deceive people in other ways. It’s often the lying that alienates people and makes them feel like a means to an end. Therefore, it’s crucial in recovery to make a habit of honesty. This is easy when things are going well but it’s much harder when you encounter setbacks. For example, if you slip and have a drink, you may think it doesn’t matter and there’s no reason to tell anyone because they’ll just be mad and you won’t do it again and so on. However, this apparently small lie of omission is similar to addictive behavior and it only compounds your original mistake. When you come clean about setbacks and minor slips, you are holding yourself accountable and showing the people you care about that you’re committed to being honest, even when it’s hard.
When you want someone to forgive you and trust you and perhaps even like you, the tendency is to try to explain yourself as thoroughly as possible. You may want someone to understand why you became addicted to drugs or alcohol, how the addiction was responsible for your bad behavior, how hard you’ve been working in treatment and recovery, and how far you’ve come but explaining all that may not be as effective as you hope. The other person probably has something to say about how bad your behavior was and how much you hurt them and so on. Instead of trying to explain yourself, listen to what the other person has to say and try to understand and empathize. If the other person feels heard and understood, you have the start of a real connection.
When you’re trying to rebuild a relationship, it’s not enough, to be honest once, or show up on time once. You have to demonstrate repeatedly that you’re honest and trustworthy. Forming relationships and repairing relationships depends on consistent effort. You have to make an effort to stay in touch with friends and family. Trust and familiarity are built up over many repeated interactions. If a relationship is important to you, make it a point to contact that person at least once a week–unless she doesn’t want you to, in which case you have to respect that. If you show over the course of months or years that you’re honest and reliable, most people will start to trust you again.
None of this matters if you don’t keep making progress in recovery. Sticking to your recovery plan and putting in the daily effort are what allow you to honest, consistent, and patient and to better handle the complicated emotions around vulnerability and rejection. As long as your recovery continues to get stronger, other good things will happen. This is why support services are so valuable, especially early on. Personal recovery assistants and recovery care management can help keep you on the right track as you mend relationships.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.
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