Mending Broken Relationships During Recovery

“Staying sober one day at a time is a non-verbal message of, “I am serious and want to be sober and a better person.” This message gradually starts to be believed, so that the fear turns to faith and the mending of a loving relationship can start.”

~Thomas Morgan, Journey to Sobriety

Addiction is lonely, isolating disease that destroys the lives of everyone close to the addict. Years of denial, deflection, dishonesty, and deception creates vast gulfs between you and the people you care about. One of the first things people in alcohol or drug rehab want to do once they have progressed in recover is to begin healing the hurt their dysfunctional, addiction-driven behaviors did to their friends and family. In accordance with the Ninth Step of Recovery, they want to make “direct amends” to people harmed by their drinking or drug use. That is easier said than done.

There may be years of pent-up anger, resentment, and pain, so it will often take considerable time and effort to repair what addiction has broken, so the best advise is to be patient. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you try to rebuild your personal relationships during recovery:

  • Forgive Yourself FIRST — If you want your family and friends to accept the “new”, sober you, you have to first let go of any lingering anger, resentment, or bitterness directed at yourself. Why should anyone else forgive you if you can’t forgive yourself?
  • Put Your Past Behind You – Focus on moving forward with positivity, rather than looking back with negativity. Strive to acknowledge and learn from your past mistakes, instead of allowing them to them control the life you are living today.
  • Don’t Just Apologize — DO Something – Addiction means letting others down. When you were actively addicted, you probably said, “I’m sorry” A LOT, without ever changing your behaviors. After a while, your apology stopped meaning anything to the people you hurt. You can change that by backing up the WORDS of your apology with demonstrable ACTION.
  • Respect the Feelings of Others – People who you have hurt in the past are under no obligation to accept your apology just because you have offered it. If they choose to forgive you, it won’t be when you are ready – it will be when THEY are.
  • Sometimes, Just LISTEN — The people hurt by your addiction aren’t interested in your explanations, rationalizations, or justifications. If you want to know how to repair your broken relationships, learn to actively listen to what they are saying. Listen to HEAR, instead of listening to RESPOND
  • Practice Tolerance — Just because you are seeing things differently now that you are sober does not mean that yours is the only legitimate viewpoint, and it doesn’t guarantee that other people will agree with you. Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
  • Accept What Cannot Be Changed — If you are sincere and consistent, most of your loved ones will eventually accept you again. They WANT to see you successful and sober.

But for some, there is just too much pain and anger for them to attempt reconciliation yet again. The Ninth Step of Recovery guides us to “make direct amends”, except where attempting to do so will harm others. Forcing your way back into another’s life, you end up causing even more damage. It is better for everyone concerned to simply accept reality – however painful – and move on with your life. As you progress in your recovery, you can even learn from their refusal to reconcile – always be mindful of how your deeds and words affect others.

You DESERVE Happiness

Stay humble, but never forget your own self-worth when trying to repair broken relationships. Abasing yourself and lowering your self-esteem sets you up for a return to dysfunction. Always be sincere in your efforts to reconnect with your loved ones and be willing to show that you value the relationship, but never forget that YOU have value, too. Active addiction separates you from those closest to you, but successful recovery can often mean better, stronger, and healthier relationships in the future.

by Albert Fontenot