Addiction; a Family Affliction
Addiction doesn’t just affect the lives of those suffering from addiction. Instead, addiction can have huge ramifications on family members, spouses, and friends, with genuinely damaging effects on those relationships. For example, drugs, such as heroin, can completely tear families apart, friends may no longer speak, and spouses may decide to end the relationship. [i]
As much as no one likes to think they have changed, addiction will change you no matter your background, race, family situation or career. As your addiction takes over, you may find your emotional and physical ability to handle relationships questionable.
In addition, as active addiction takes over and your behaviours and actions alter drastically, your loved ones may no longer recognise you.
You may feel your relationships are damaged beyond repair or are considering how to repair those relationships as you near the end of your alcohol treatment plan. Of course, this can be daunting, as improving your interactions and building trust with your family is essential to your sobriety.
Although rebuilding connections and mending faith is never easy, it is possible with some helpful tips.
Practise Patience and Manage Your Expectations
Rebuilding your relationships and building trust again can be a process that takes time and patience. Remember your spouse, family, friends, and colleagues haven’t been to rehab and haven’t had the same healing opportunities.
The potentially still raw wounds have not had a chance to heal as the lives of friends and family have carried on as usual while you were in rehab.
You may be met with cold shoulders and stiff hugs at first. It may take time for your loved ones to trust you, your words, or your actions. Most of your relationships need time and a little hard work to heal but be prepared for some to never fully recover.
Therefore, it’s best to manage your expectation and allow the necessary time for your relations to repair. Although you may find it hard to face resentment and unforgiving nature, don’t let this discourage you.
Work on Your Communication Skills
Learning healthy communication skills will help you build up your relationships again as you reopen the lines of communication. Essential communication revolves around practising listening and finding a way to respond to conversations, but without judgement calmly.
Let your friend, family member or partner talk; don’t interrupt them, make assumptions, or jump to conclusions. If you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, it’s much easier to understand their feelings.
If you want to reopen these lines of communication, be the first to make the first move and open up about how you have sought help with your addiction and have gone through an addiction treatment plan. Communicate in person how you are doing your best to piece the puzzle of your life back together.
If this isn’t possible or feels too difficult, you can also call, email, send a letter and even text. The point is to try. As mentioned before, a lingering resentment may mean you don’t always get a response or the response you want.
Although communication is a two-way street, you may need to work a little harder, with further actions to open the communication lines.
Forgive and Forget
Rebuilding relationships cannot be adequately done until you learn to forgive yourself and convince your loved one to forgive you too. Firstly, you cannot expect your loved one to forgive you if you can’t forgive yourself first.
Letting go of shame and guilt and learning to accept your wrongdoings and failures is an essential first step in rebuilding your relationships. You can’t turn back time, and you certainly can’t fix your mistakes, but you can create a better life in the future where you don’t hurt those around you. It’s the future that matters now.
Now, you can ask for forgiveness from whoever you wish to seek it from.
If they are reluctant or can’t seem to let go, try to encourage them that it’s not healthy to carry resentment or concentrate on the past, especially if they wish to rebuild their relationship with you.
Try to agree that at a certain point, they will need to let go of any past events you’ve committed, so you can have a fresh start to rebuild your relationship.
Let Honesty Create a Fresh Start
If your loved one is struggling to forgive and forget, and it’s almost impossible to repair your relationship, then being honest can be crucial. To start fresh, earn forgiveness and restore any splintered relationships, you’ll need to own up to all your mistakes and wrongdoings.
A heartfelt apology for any hurt you’ve caused goes a long way in earning forgiveness. But, honesty is also essential in letting your friends and family know about your treatment plan and how you would like the relationship to progress.
Don’t Miss Your Meetings
One of the problems you may face in recovery is a reluctance from your loved ones to take your sobriety seriously, especially if you have had several attempts at rehab. However, joining or keeping up with support group meetings or outpatient therapy after rehab demonstrates your seriousness about your sobriety.
Of course, you should be doing these things anyway as part of a successful relapse prevention plan.
Attending these meetings is also helpful in allowing you to connect with others who can share your experiences and pain. This doesn’t only relate to alcoholism; these groups can also help you learn how others have repaired relationships after addiction. [iii]
Actively Stay in Touch With Your Loved Ones
Relationships, whether addiction is involved, can suffer dramatically when both parties are not active. For example, when you were abusing alcohol, your friends and family likely became secondary to drink as you become less involved in your relationships.
Now sobriety is your goal and you have more time available, you can begin to spend active time with your friends and family. Take your spouse out on an alcohol-free date, take your kids to the park, meet a friend for coffee, or do whatever it takes to be active in your relationships.
What Relationships Need Repair?
Following these tips give you a better chance of improving your relationships. They work no matter what connection you want to repair. However, some relationships may require specific attention.
As a family disease, suffering from alcoholism means your family are one of the first and most important relationships you will need to work on. This fact is particularly true for young adults who have lived with their parents while struggling with active addiction.
Your parents or siblings have probably watched your behaviour and appearance change right in front of their eyes.
For those with children, these relationships will also take some time and care, regardless of age. However, the good news is that it will be easier for those with younger children to get the relationship back on track.
However, you may need to practice patience and understanding for older children, as you will need to put in extra time and effort to convince them that you are on the road to recovery.
Partners and Spouses
In contrast, when they’ve settled down with a significant other, the spouses and partners of those struggling with addiction often suffer the most. Living in proximity with their addicted partner, they’ve probably experienced the most hurt and watched them change drastically due to addiction.
But remember, they love you. Although partners and spouses may be struggling with emotional damage and trust issues, these were only created during your period of substance abuse, and you can turn this relationship around.
Friendships are a tricky issue in substance abuse, usually having been neglected due to your alcoholism or being the leading cause of your addiction in the first place. As you go through recovery, you must evaluate your relationships and consider which ones may need your more active participation and which have a damaging impact on your life and need to be removed.
Remember, to have a good and honest relationship with any of these people, getting clean and sober is vital. It may take time, patience, and some effort, but the longer you stay on your path to recovery and the longer you attend meetings and keep promises, the stronger your relationships will become.