In life, we heavily rely on the relationships that we build. Family and friends are how we manage to stay sociable and happy outside of the other pleasures in life such as success in our careers and children. We build these relationships over time, learning to love and care for those around us and knowing that in times of trouble we have a support system ready to catch us as we fall. Friends come and go in life as we evolve and grow, and it’s important to remember that the relationships that we build take work to maintain. When we love someone, though, it’s easy to want to maintain that relationship and that connection. Careful nurturing of those connections that we build are critical to our own happiness and continued security with our choices in life. When things go well for us, the people in our support network celebrate and uplift us. When things go wrong, the idea is that those same people are there to support and love us regardless of our mistakes and miscalculations. The trouble is, sometimes our own destructive behaviour can cause the relationships we rely on and crave so badly. The way we carry ourselves, speak and interact with others all effects the way we manage our relationships, and when issues such as addiction arise, our relationships are the most fragile thing we have left.
When someone in your family develops an issue with substances, it doesn’t just affect them. Imagine an array of hats: one has the personality of the person that you love, one has ADDICTION written across the front. When the addiction hat is on, the personality of the person you love is stifled and hidden. No matter what the drug of choice is, or whether alcohol is a factor, their addiction is going to affect every person around them and they cannot help it. Addiction is recognised as a disease of the brain for a good reason, and an addict often cannot help the behaviour that they display. The lies that come easily, the selfishness that comes as part of trying to get their next fix and in extreme cases, the theft, is not easy to cope with. That addiction hat is ruling the mind and all they can care about is the high. For everyone involved around the person, it’s a time of uncertainty, stress and fear, because they have no idea how to reach the person again. This disease can pull apart families, ruin friendships and cause isolation to the person suffering when what they need is support. Most families and friends will try to step in and help, and find themselves rejected, excluded and forced out of the life of the addict. Again, it’s the addiction hat speaking and not the personality of the person that they have always loved.
Escaping an addiction is an achievement like no other, and a big part of that escape is relying on the support of family and friends. The biggest issue with that, is addiction is very isolating. People who have tried to help and be a support in the past have been pushed away, leaving just you and your hat of addiction to cope with. You’ve finally taken off that hat and seen the light of day, but those family and friends that you rejected won’t be stood waiting for that to happen for the most part. Especially since most addicts go through periods of temporary recovery and then relapse. If you are a person who has come through recovery for addiction, your first thought may be to rebuild the relationships that disintegrated during a time of your life that you were not yourself. If you have been the witness to addiction, then you already know that the person who suffered through the addiction was not the person you know them to be. Relationships – both normal and fragile – take time to evolve. It takes a lot of work on both party’s behalf to forge a connection that is long-lasting and if you have been in the throes of an addiction personally, then you will know that addiction often comes before the relationships you’ve got with friends and family.
It’s a selfish behaviour, but it’s the behaviour of addiction. It’s ruthless, self-absorbed and cares for nothing other than that fix it craves. Any drug treatment center worth the money paid to be used will help you through the recovery and the withdrawal of addiction, and they can support you in rebuilding the network you tore down while you were in self-destruct mode. The important thing to remember is that the relationships that you tore apart are not always going to be easy to get back on track. Not everyone in your life will be ready to forgive your behaviour, nor will they forget it. An addict may not even remember half of the behaviours that they displayed when in the depths of their addiction, but those around them WILL remember it. Patience is difficult for a recovering addict, especially when they imagine they can walk back into their old life and not the one that they have destroyed. Unfortunately, it’s just not how it works for the most part!
The positivity a recovering addict feels when finally getting through all their steps at a treatment center puts them on a natural high. Breaking a cycle of destruction and being able to step forward into a new life is a promise – a seedling – of possibility. It means that they are excited to get their life back into order and they could feel like a conquering hero ready to take on the world all over again. It can be deflating to realise that there may be more work involved in repairing relationships than you anticipated. You may even have to face the fact that some relationships may be irretrievable. Rehab should prepare you for this possibility, especially as the resentment that an addict in recovery can feel when their support system is no longer around is overwhelming. A person who has worked hard at becoming sober still has to accept that they caused a level of pain to those around them, and sometimes that part is the hardest to accept about addiction. Rebuilding relationships in recovery takes some time, and while healthy relationships can be achieved, time is needed to get there. There are some things that can be done to help work toward healthy relationships again, and we’ve put them here for you:
- Apologies can go a long way for the friends and family of someone recovering from addiction. Most people understand that an addict displays behaviour caused by an addiction, that their outbursts and upset are not their real personality. It doesn’t mean that it hurts any less. To see the person that they know and love start to become themselves again and sincerely apologise can mean everything.
- Actions will always speak louder than words. Addicts have an uncanny ability to tell lies and believe the lies that they tell, so when in recovery, it can be difficult to make people understand that they speak the truth now. By putting effort into recovery and following the steps that a recovery programme has laid out, they can show the people around them that they are working towards a change.
- Understanding that people you have hurt do not have to forgive you is going to be a tough part of the process. Building trust and forgiveness takes some time, and while an addict has time to recover, those around them still need more time to do so.
- Step 9 of a twelve-step programme asks to make amends. Working on step 9 means making amends because there is sincerity involved. A person in recovery needs to want to make amends without expecting anything in return.
- A big part of recovery is letting go. Dwelling on old behaviour that wasn’t part of their personality, but a trait of the addiction that they faced, is a good way to head back to addiction. Feelings of guilt and blame will always be there, but self-forgiveness is important to be able to move on.
- Patience is something that everyone involved in recovery will have to display. It takes time to forgive someone who has been off the wagon and it takes patience for a person in recovery to rebuild relationships.
Some relationships won’t survive after addiction. It’s not because people forget who a person was before the addiction takes hold, but when addiction is the most important thing in a person’s life, it’s hard to wrap your mind around that. People who have been hurt as a result of addiction will find it very tough to trust the person in recovery. Their feelings have been hurt, possibly more than once, and trying to get over that is not easy. You can love and forgive someone that is recovering from addiction but not trust them – they are not mutually exclusive. Taking the time to understand where friends and family are coming from with their hesitation is going to be a big part of recovering, and as long as you give yourself that time you’ll get there.