Addiction and substance abuse does more than damage your health; it can destroy close family bonds and friendships, cripple opportunities, and bring bright futures, full of potential to a halt. When one chooses to break the hold addiction has on one’s life, it is the beginning of a complete transformation. Beginning in rehab, a skilled team of counselors and therapists can help you to cope with urges and triggers, remove cognitive ties to substance abuse, and gain a healthier, more positive outlook on life.
But what about the external damage cause by a substance abuse disorder? Is there no way to mend what has been broken while under the influence of an addicted mind? Must what is broken remain so?
Thankfully, our profound human nature allows for flaws and mistakes; we use these traits and experiences to learn and grow as individuals and as a global society. This adaptive nature also fosters the ability to forgive and progress in our lives and relationships- if all parties are willing to work for the betterment of the bond. If you are in recovery and seeking to rebuild bonds broken in your active use phase, following the 5 tips for rebuilding a bond broken by addiction is a good place to start.
1. Be Honest
You cannot ask for forgiveness without admitting wrong. Rebuilding external relationships begins within; you have to understand, or at least attempt to understand your wrongs before you can atone from them. Recognizing another’s feelings and your part in them is key to beginning the relationship healing process. That’s not to say you are solely responsible for others’ emotional well-being, but part of being a mature adult is recognizing and accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions.
Approach your loved one open and honestly. Verbally acknowledge the cause of contention and the part you played in the perpetuation of it, and express your feelings on it. Be sure to tell your family member or friend that you want to fix the problem, why, and how. Giving a solid, planned course of action helps them to see you are serious about overcoming the issues and moving forward with a stronger bond and appreciation for each other.
It’s equally important for the person whose forgiveness you are seeking to be able to speak honestly about their feelings regarding past transgressions. To help facilitate an atmosphere in which they feel comfortable being open and honest with you, make sure they know you are listening- really listening. That means an in-person (if possible) conversation which has your undivided attention: no multi-tasking, no electronic devices, no other physical crutches.
While it may be difficult for you if you are anxious about the conversation, showing that you are serious about rectifying your mistakes can go a long way in helping mend what has been broken. Sincerity, above all else, must be the core of your intentions if you wish to be successful in mending the bonds broken by addiction. If you find you cannot act in a sincere manner, or that your efforts are not being truly accepted and appreciated, perhaps you should rethink if the relationship is worth salvaging.
3. Be Cooperative
It’s one thing to listen, but you also have to be cooperative. Getting defensive will only serve to cause tension and further widen the divide between you and your loved ones. That doesn’t mean you have to accept abusive language; by all means, if you’re being attacked, feel free to get up and walk away. Fixing the kind of damage addiction causes to your interpersonal relationships is rarely a smooth road- but if you are forthright and willing to put in the work necessary for redemption, it is possible.
When faced with friends or family members asking you to modify certain behaviors in order to salvage the relationships you value, at least consider their words and viewpoint. However, there are some things which are not up for debate on which you should not compromise, such as:
- Your gender and/or sexual identity and your right to express it
- Your right to feel safe and respected
- Your sobriety
- Your right to be heard as an individual
- Your universal human rights
4. Stay Consistent
One of the main reasons people are hesitant to believe in people in recovery is that, while under the influence of addiction, one becomes unreliable, inconsistent, and flaky. With one’s priorities shifted by a substance abuse disorder, being there for others or committing to one’s responsibilities rapidly fall into the background. Unfortunately, some view a history of relapse as reason to doubt one’s reliability rather a part of the struggle to conquer the chronic disorder. So how do you rebuild this faith with the odds stacked against you?
There’s not much you can say to rebuild broken trust; but there is plenty you can do- by backing up your words with actions. Following through with your promises and staying firmly on the sober path can help re-establish the trust and confidence past actions may instill in others. Beyond that, sticking to your word and your goals is a great way to build confidence in yourself and your ability to turn things around. Learning to rely on yourself is essential to successful recovery addiction.
5. Know When to Walk Away
The reality is, no matter how much we may wish to repair the damage caused in the past and rebuild relationships, it often isn’t up to us. Sometimes we simply cannot let go of the hurt or anger- and sometimes that is for the best. Anyone who would insist on holding your past against you even as you attempt to improve yourself and your life is not someone you need in your future. You do not deserve abuse, neglect, or mistreatment, no matter what others may say.
Walking away from bad relationships- even ones within the family- is the best thing you can ever do for yourself. With time and distance, you will come to realize those relationships only served to hold you back in the long run. Ideally one would have the support of friends and family through the recovery process, but if they cannot recognize your attempts to better yourself, it’s okay. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people- they’re more important than salvaging a relationship better left in the past.