Recovery is about becoming a new person. Part of that involves repairing relationships.
Of all the terrible things addiction does, the effects it has on relationships are among the worst. Addiction is a very isolating disease, causing people to seal themselves away from others as they pursue addiction. It drives away the people who care about us and leaves us vulnerable to negative relationships based on exploitation, substance abuse, and predation.
In some cases, addiction can seriously damage relationships between the person struggling with addiction and their loved ones. Addiction can be frightening for people who aren’t caught in it, and the loved ones of an addicted person often experience trauma.
This trauma can leave loved ones feeling angry and even jaded about a person in recovery. The good news is repairing these relationships is often possible.
The bad news? It’s not easy.
4 Steps to Repairing Relationships Damaged by Addiction
Before we get too deep into this process, let’s be clear: every relationship is different, and the routes to repairing these relationships can be very different from person to person.
That said, these steps can be very helpful in putting relationships back on track after being damaged by addiction.
Step 1: Be Realistic
Recovery at a drug rehab or addiction center feels great. It’s a lot of hard work, and when we meet major milestones, we often feel we can conquer the world and are ready for a fresh start.
While that’s a great attitude to have, it’s easy to forget that many people in our lives may not be ready for a fresh start. Some might be nursing old wounds, some may be unconvinced of our new lifestyle change, and some may resent us for making the change in the first place.
Relationships damaged by addiction are rarely fixed immediately. This is a long, sometimes frustrating progress, and it’s important to keep that in mind when you set about the hard work of rebuilding relationships.
Step 2: Be Patient
Patience is a virtue in these cases. Addictive behaviors often involve making false promises and excuses, which in turn make people defensive, suspicious, and emotionally distant from the addicted person.
These emotions need a lot of time to heal and overcome. Being patient and giving friends and other loved ones some time to heal and process recovery is the only thing that will make the relationship work again. Sometimes, addiction permanently ruins relationships.
In this unfortunate case, it’s important to keep an expression in mind: “Keeping your side of the street clean.” This means fulfilling your responsibilities in a healthy, positive fashion while owning your mistakes. The other side of the street isn’t your responsibility – yours is. Living in recovery and continuing down the right path is sometimes the only thing you can do.
Step 3: Realize (and Accept) Things Are Going to be Different Going Forward
Addiction and recovery permanently change things, especially permanent relationships. Making peace with that and realizing that life changes are okay is a big part of recovery.
The friends and family members of an addictive person are going to have to relearn their relationships with that person. They’re going to set new boundaries, think about that person in a different way, and ideally, learn to live with the newly sober person’s new habits.
Addiction and recovery from drug and alcohol abuse change the nature of relationships. Eventually, most people around a person in recovery realize their loved one is stronger, and things have changed for the better.
Step 4: Make Amends for Past Mistakes
If you’ve ever been in AA, you know what step 9 is. Tracking down and communicating with people who were damaged by addiction is hugely important … and very hard.
One of the most powerful emotions caused by addiction is shame. Making amends is often a case of facing delayed consequences for past behaviors, and it’s a part of the healing process that can open old wounds and cause people to become angry and resentful over past events.
For a person in recovery, this requires them to understand both sides. It requires patience and giving old friends and loved ones time to express any emotions they have over past events – even if those emotions are deeply angry.
This is the hardest part of acceptance – sometimes the past isn’t fixable, and sometimes old relationships are gone forever. Moving on, accepting the present, and using this experience to grow stronger is often the only thing that can be done.
How Sober Living Helps Repair Relationships
Sober living homes are great places to recover because they’re drug and distraction-free. With no temptations to continue substance abuse available, a sober home allows us to concentrate on the truly important parts of recovery – like repairing relationships.
They’re also a great place for developing new relationships. Communal living spaces, sober homes are full of people on the same life journey. Recovery can be an intense bonding experience, and it’s very common to develop lifelong friends in a sober house who you’ll rely on throughout your lifelong recovery.
We’re not saying sober homes are places where you should shut yourself off from the rest of the world. Think of them more as safety nets that allow you some time to practice regular life before reentering the regular world.
Finding a sober home can be hard, though.
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