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If you’ve recently left rehab or decided to stop drinking or using, the first thing you’ll likely notice is that you’re estranged from friends and family. That can hurt, especially if those friends and family were there for you, helped you to go to rehab, or if you know you hurt them.
Unfortunately, things will never be exactly the way they were before addiction. However, you can work to build new relationships and family ties, based on who you are now and your current life skills and possibilities.
Rebuilding family ties means putting in work, consistently working towards a goal of prioritizing family, and showing your loved ones that you’re working on yourself. These 8 steps are a way to get started.
Chances are, you spent a lot of time lying while addicted. Whether about how much you were using, responsibilities you would uphold, how you felt, or even what you were doing, doesn’t matter. Your friends and family know you were lying to them and one of the first steps to repairing that damage to your relationship is to commit to honesty. That means sharing about addiction, sharing about recovery, sharing how you feel, and being honest about how you feel about yourself. It also means setting boundaries and being open about them.
For example, any of the following fall under being honest:
Honesty also means honesty to yourself, which can be extremely difficult. Addiction affects your sense of self and your ability to be honest with yourself. For example, you may lie to yourself and practice self-deception about how bad your addiction actually is – so that you can maintain your sense of self at the same time. That habit won’t go away after recovery – instead, you’ll have to actively work on it.
It’s easy to tell your family that everything is better now, you got treatment, and you will continue to heal. It’s also easy to make big promises about being there for everyone, not hurting anyone ever again, or that you’ll make up for everything. Those kinds of promises are also extremely easy to break.
Instead, it’s better to tell your loved ones that you’ll try, that you’ll do your best, that you understand they might be skeptical, but you’ll work to build trust again.
Setting lower expectations means you’ll have more room to be human, to trip and get back on your feet, and to make mistakes.
Rebuilding relationships means consistently being there for those people. Often, that’s a simple case of just doing the things you say you will as often as possible, showing that you love people as often as possible, consistently being true to your word, and consistently taking time to make an effort for your loved ones.
That can be a lot harder than it sounds. But, if you also manage boundaries and what you agree to and why, you can manage that. And, being there for someone doesn’t have to be a large thing. It might be as simple as calling your mother once a week or dropping your kids off at school and picking them up and then spending time playing with them.
Accepting criticism can be difficult, but allowing your family to be heard can be an important step in healing. That may mean listening to how you hurt people. It may mean accepting significant criticism of your actions and behavior. If you ask your loved one to share, it’s important to listen to and accept that, without rebuttals of “I’ve changed”, or “that was the old me”. Instead, accept that criticism is valid, apologize, and share that you will try to be better moving forward.
Why? Your loved ones need to be heard. In addition, they’ve probably heard a lot of you saying that the mistakes you made were in the past. Owning up to those mistakes, apologizing, and actively expressing regret will do a lot more for your relationships.
Continuing to invest time in yourself and in your recovery might not sound like something that’s good for your relationships, but it is. In fact, just seeing that you’re continuing to go to 12-Step meetings like AA or NA can convince your family that you’re still actively trying to stay in recovery. In addition, maintaining good habits that help with your mental health and recovery can work to ensure that you stay in recovery – which will improve your family relationships. That likely means eating well, keeping your space clean, taking time to go to therapy, exercising 4-5 days per week, and working towards goals you set for yourself.
It’s also important to invest in your family. That may mean taking them with you to 12-step or therapy. It might also mean spending time and designating time for them. On the other hand, it may mean learning and sharing information, learning how your family members communicate, and otherwise putting time and effort into your family, as individuals. That can be significantly difficult, especially in early sobriety when you’re likely struggling with a lot of recovery activities on your own. However, it’s important not to drop your family during this time, as they will likely be hurt, anxious, and worried about you.
Having simple conversations can do a lot for rebuilding family ties, even if your family members are relatively young. For example, you can sit down to discuss how your family feels about recovery, to ask about their fears and concerns, to ask what steps you can take to alleviate those concerns, etc.
Conversations can hurt. But, as above, it’s important not to get defensive. Accept criticism and responsibility when it comes. And, don’t make big promises because you may end up hurting your loved ones and damaging your relationship even more.
Family therapy can help you to assess underlying problems in your relationship, to get over emotional hurt, and to give you a safe space to share hurt. In addition, it can give you the tools to rebuild hierarchy and roles. Therapy can vary greatly between families, therapy types, and what you end up treating but it can help you to rebuild family ties, or to build new ones.
Struggling with an addiction can greatly hurt your relationships to family, whether grandparents, siblings, parents, children, or more distant family. Addicts struggle to prioritize relationships and life responsibilities, often lie, and often prioritize alcohol above anything else. That can severely damage your relationships and as you move into early sobriety, fixing that will likely be first in your mind. However, it’s important to go slowly, to understand that healing takes time, and that rushing things and asking people to forgive you immediately may just make things worse.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for alcohol or other substance abuse, contact us at Stairway Resource Center today. At Stairway Resource Center we provide a 60 to 90-day outpatient program that takes place in an engaging and supportive community setting. We offer dual diagnosis treatment and daily group and individual therapy for our clients, in addition to fun community-based events and activities.
Cristina is a bilingual clinical social worker with over 10 years experience working in the field of mental health and addiction, both in the non profit and private sectors. Cristina received a diploma as a certified substance abuse counselor before returning to school to receive a Masters Degree in Social work at USC. Cristina uses a client-centered trauma focused approach in her treatment modalities, blending evidenced based practices such as CBT and EMDR to create an individualized treatment plan to support each client’s unique needs.