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Rebuilding Relationships Damaged by Addiction
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Note: To protect the confidentiality of our sources, we’re using only their initials.
One of the most challenging aspects of addiction is how the person with the disease can become completely focused on the substance, at the expense of everything else, including their job, friends and even members of their family.
Unfortunately, this behavior affects nearly everyone, when you consider that about 21.5 million Americans have a substance use disorder, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. It’s safe to assume that most of those 21.5 million individuals have many personal and professional relationships.
T.C., a recovering alcoholic, says he had already begun losing clients when he decided to quit drinking two years ago. “They knew I was good at my job, but they weren’t sure if they could depend on me,” he shares.
It was the fear of losing his family that finally convinced him it was time to take action. “My wife was getting ready to kick me out and the small relationship I had with my daughter was faked,” he shares. “I was more focused on getting drunk than anything else and that tore my personal and professional relationships apart.”
Addictive behavior can be so pervasive that it affects almost every relationship the person suffering from the disease has, including with a spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends and co-workers. Many of these people may have stepped in to try to help, only to have their efforts rebuffed. Or worse. Trust has probably been abused, if not destroyed. And there may be financial or physical damage.
Depending on how long the addictive behavior has gone on and the level of damage, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rebuild these relationships. However, for true recovery to happen, it’s imperative to try.
It Takes Time
After trust has been destroyed, rebuilding it doesn’t happen on its own. Part of this process is coming to terms with the addiction and the behavior. People in recovery have to take responsibility for, and deal with, their actions and the results of those actions.
The person in recovery also has to demonstrate that they have truly changed, as it’s likely they’ve made similar promises in the past and may even have been sober for a period of time.
T.C. says the road back has been challenging, but it comes down to two things – time and consistency. “You have to prove that you mean it this time and that you’re going to stay sober,” he shares. “And then you have to actually stay sober.”
Honesty is The Best Policy
People who have been hurt by the behavior of someone in addiction might be unwilling to trust again. It’s up to the person in recovery to reach out, explain what steps are being taken and demonstrate the change. And open and honest communication is critical.
S.C. is the oldest of four siblings and her youngest brother has been struggling with addiction for many years. “When he’s sober, he’s a highly successful banking executive,” she shares.
She says her family is tight-knit, but it’s difficult not to think about how selfish her brother has been and how painful his behavior has been for the entire family, particularly her father. “It’s painful for all of us, but for our father, it’s been crushing,” she says. “And that’s where the resentment comes in for me.”
She says her brother had been on the wagon for four years. Though he recently fell off, he got right back on and she takes that as a positive sign.
S.C. says that for her, the key to rebuilding the relationship is honesty. “I find it really annoying when he calls and pretends that nothing has happened and that ‘everything’s fine,’” she says. “But the last time we spoke, he was really honest and called it what it was. We appreciate when he’s honest so we can be honest.”
Being honest about the behavior is important, but along with that comes the need to apologize for any past wrongdoings. T.C. says the act of asking forgiveness is as much for the person asking as it is for the person being asked, and forgiveness doesn’t always happen. “But you have to try,” he says. “I talk to people I’ve wronged, apologize and ask what I can do to fix it. Often that might be in the form of some kind of restitution.”
“Just saying I’m sorry isn’t enough. I have to do more,” he says. “It has taken a long time to repair the relationship with my wife and daughter and it will take a lot longer to fully repair it.”
T.C. and his wife have a process where they say they’re looking in the rearview mirror at the life they had before he got sober. “As time goes by, you hope those things get smaller and smaller,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean the brakes don’t get hit occasionally. A memory will spring up and she’ll get pissed off all over again. That’s going to happen. And I just need to prove that it’s for real this time.”
Some Relationships Will End
There will be some relationships that no longer work once a person is in recovery. There will be people who are incapable of trusting again and no longer want anything to do with the person who hurt them so badly. There are others who are still using drugs or alcohol, which can create too much temptation for the person in recovery. And there are still others who are co-dependent and not interested in having a relationship with a person they no longer need to shield from the consequences of their own actions.
“There are some people who are no longer comfortable with me now that I don’t drink,” T.C. shares. “And I just have to accept that I have lost some friendships over this and may lose more.”
T.C. is very open about his disease and the steps he has taken toward recovery. And he says this openness allows him to help others who might be struggling or who love someone who is. “When people ask me why I’m not drinking, I tell them the truth,” he says. “And often they’ll want to talk about their own problem or that of someone they love. I always give them my card and tell them I’m happy to talk about it anytime.”
“Alcohol is totally ingrained in our society. It’s everywhere,” he adds. “And it can be hard to make the decision to give it up, especially for younger people, when they have to accept that they’re not ever going to be able to have a drink again for the rest of their natural lives.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, give us a call at 1-844-222-OVER to determine whether Over the Influence can work for you.