Part of the process of recovering from any type of addiction includes rebuilding broken or strained relationships. Whether it’s with a spouse, a child, or a coworker, the dynamics of each particular relationship is unique. Rebuilding trust is the crucial element to restoring most relationships that have been damaged by addiction. How is trust rebuilt? This happens only with time and a proven track record.
One of the biggest problems with rebuilding relationships is that the recovering addict usually expects people to trust him or her too soon. While successfully completing a rehabilitation program is obviously a great start, it’s only the beginning. It’s not realistic to expect others to completely trust a recovering addict days or even a few weeks after leaving rehab. Below we will give a bit of insight on the general process involved when attempting the task of rebuilding relationships.
Starting the Process
It is very helpful if a recovering addict has a strong network of support through the recovery process. Since those closest to the addict may not be in a position to adequately give support at this point because of the damaged relationship, they may need to find support in counseling or addiction support groups such as AA. The individual needs not only support, but guidance about how to begin the rebuilding process.
Restoring communication begins with making initial contact to individuals. Contacting people may be done by phone, letter, or face to face, depending on each particular relationship and situation. Once a line of communication has been established, that is the time to apologize and make amends for past behavior. This may also be the time when both parties want to re-establish boundaries and guidelines in the relationship.
In this case, the recovering addict is most likely close to the second party and there probably already is a certain level of communication. It may be a good idea, however, to sit down anyway and have a heart to heart conversation in order to formally apologize for all past actions and clear the air concerning specific events and situations that have occurred.
After contacts have been established and apologies made, the tough part of day-to-day living begins. Once that person has completely stopped whatever behavior he or she had previously engaged in, the most important element necessary to build trust again is simply time. The time needed to mend depends on how damaged the relationship had become for the individuals involved. Establishing a new track record doesn’t happen overnight. Someone recovering from addiction must realize that building trust and establishing a new relationship will probably take longer than he or she would like. However, those in the life of someone who is recovering must be willing to forgive and give the individual another chance.
Repairing Individual Relationships
Another problem that can complicate the restoration of a relationship is that the damage done to them often goes beyond the addiction itself. Some addicts may have never damaged the relationship beyond engaging in the addictive behavior. Many addicts, however, may have consistently lied, stole money, lost jobs, had legal problems, were unfaithful or even violent toward others while on drugs. The difficulty of restoring relationships usually depends on the extent to which they were damaged in the first place.
When rebuilding a relationship with a spouse or significant other, someone in recovery should agree to certain changes in the relationship. The spouse or significant other may want the recovering addict to call home at certain times each day. The addict should be willing to agree to reasonable requests. Communication may be difficult, especially in the early stages. Sometimes writing things down is a good way to get the channels of communication open again. Each partner can clearly and calmly write their feelings down on paper without an emotional confrontation or the fear of being interrupted. If possible, a spouse or significant other should attend counseling with the recovering addict as well so that they can learn more themselves as well as offer support and perspective.
If involved, children’s trust must also be rebuilt. They may be desperate to know if they have a parent they can rely on to show up at events sober, or even show up at all. Apologies and explanations regarding past behavior and the recovery process should be age appropriate. What children are told may need to be based on how much they knew about the situation to begin with. Some children, especially younger ones or those who have moved out, may have been sheltered from much of what was happening. Of course each child and situation is unique and professional counseling may be necessary to determine what and how much should be told. In some cases giving general information such as, “Daddy has a drinking problem, but he is working on getting better,” is sufficient. Being told details of specific situations or ugly incidents are usually not in their best interest.
Finally, there may be relationships that won’t survive even after someone with an addiction problem is in recovery and has put his or her life back together. They must prepare for the possibility of losing some relationships. For both the recovering addict and the others in his or her life, there is always the fear of relapse. Some people in their life may take a wait-and-see approach. They may refrain from starting a new relationship for a certain amount of time, waiting to see if they have truly changed. Ultimately, anyone with an addiction problem must focus on his or her own recovery and staying healthy whether all previous relationships are rebuilt or not.share