Rebuilding Relationships Damaged by Addiction
In The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is an analogy that compares an alcoholic to a tornado that blows through the lives of family and friends, destroying everything in its path and then thinking everything is fine when the wind stops blowing. But frequently, things aren’t fine just because you finally got sober. The damage to your relationships with the people you love has been done.
While you can’t spend the rest of your life feeling bad about the things you have done in the past, it is important to recognize that your relationships may have been badly damaged by your addiction or alcoholism. In recovery, you will need to make amends to the people you have harmed. Making amends is much more than just saying you’re sorry.
First Things First
To repair your relationships, you have to put your sobriety first in your life. The first evidence you have to offer that you are sincere about changing your ways is to maintain your sobriety. Your loved ones may not understand this, especially at first. If you are married or in a committed relationship, your spouse or significant other may try to tell you that you spend too much time going to meetings and neglecting the family. There will be an ongoing challenge to find balance between spending time focused on recovery and spending time on the other aspects of life.
When it comes to recovering from the disease of addiction, sobriety has to come first. Without learning the skills needed to live a sober life, you will soon go back to your old ways. At the same time, you have to find time to work on healing your relationships.
Working to Repair the Damage
Getting sober isn’t a magic wand that will instantly undo the damage you may have done when you were actively abusing alcohol and drugs. Your loved ones may have a hard time trusting you or believing that you are committed to changing your behavior. They may have a lot of leftover anger and may lash out at you. They may remind you that all the promises you have ever made have been broken.
Encourage those you love to join you at open meetings to learn more about the disease of addiction. Spend time sharing your feelings with each other, but avoid getting drawn into arguments about things that happened in the past that can’t be undone. You may want to consider family support groups or couples therapy.
Healing Takes Time
Keep in mind that recovery takes time, and so does healing your relationships. It will take time for your loved ones to trust you. As long as you remain committed to your recovery, there is hope that your relationships may overcome the damage that was done by your addiction.
In some cases, relationships can’t get past the bad memories of the years of hurt and disappointment, and some relationships don’t survive the growth and change that occurs in recovery. For example, if you married your best drinking buddy and you get sober but your partner doesn’t want to, your relationship may not survive. If that happens, continue to go to meetings and talk to other people in recovery. You can get through the pain of ending relationships without picking up a drink or a drug.
Trust and Communication
The heart of all healthy relationships is communication. During the time that you were actively addicted, there may have been a lot of secrecy and dishonesty among you and your loved ones. Open communication may feel unfamiliar and scary, but it’s a skill that can be learned.
You and your loved ones may have different opinions about what is needed to heal your relationships. The more open and honest you are about expressing your needs and expectations and listening to the needs of others, the more hope there is that the problems can be worked through.
Relationships that have been badly damaged after years of addiction may require the help of a professional therapist in order to overcome volatile emotions that may have been bottled up. With hard work fueled by genuine love, it is often possible to repair your relationships as you continue to heal from your addiction.