When we enter treatment, our families find that they feel quite relieved. They no longer wait up all night, wondering if we’ll make it home safe. They no longer fear that the neighbors will see us passed out on the porch because we were too wasted to remember how our house keys work. They don’t worry about us driving drunk and getting ourselves (or someone else) killed. And more importantly, they know that inpatient treatment will give them a reprieve from us. For at least a few months, they won’t have to deal with all of the little ways in which we used to break their trust. But what about after? what about rebuilding family trust after addiction?
After we get out of treatment, some of this worry may return. Our families may fear for our recovery, even if we elect to stay safe in a sober living facility for a while. This fear exists because, as much as they may want to, our families often have trouble rebuilding the trust that we have broken. We’ve heard some counselors say that it can take up to two years for the trust to repair on its own. Fortunately, there are a few things that we can do to help usher it along.
We intend to focus on three aspects of trust building. First, you must learn that others will not trust you if you do not trust yourself. Second, you must act in such a way that your family is able to trust you. Finally, you must learn to trust them back. We cannot expect others to trust us if we do not give them the same benefit of the doubt. Addiction can injure trust on both sides of a relationship, but have faith that it will return in time if you cultivate the proper mindset and behaviors.
Rebuilding Trust in Yourself
Addiction therapy forces us to realize some harsh truths about ourselves. When looking back over our past actions, it may be hard to face some of the things we have said and done. This causes us to wonder if we are good people, as some of us will likely have performed actions that we now find to be beyond forgiveness. We no longer trust ourselves to be good people. What are we to do when we find ourselves in such a worrisome predicament?
Believe it or not, this initial distrust can be somewhat beneficial. It is what helps us break through our denial and complete Step One. Perhaps this will not feel so great at first. We will feel hopeless and defenseless against our disease. But over time, this will subside as long as we begin discovering our internal strength. Yes, we have done regrettable things while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. But we come to realize that sobriety enables us to live quite differently. Sobriety is what will allow us to trust ourselves by developing a sense of accountability. Of course, we will not do this alone.
To put it bluntly, there may be times at which we shouldn’t trust ourselves. This is why people get sponsors. This is why they build up extensive sober support networks. During the times in which we cannot hold ourselves accountable, we need others to do it for us. The more we use our support network, the more we realize that we are still trustworthy in a wonderful sense. In sobriety, we find that we are more able to recognize when our thoughts or actions may lead us down a dangerous path. In these times, we can turn to others without fear, for we know that we are not alone.
Our support network is also a major part of our relapse prevention plan. Other components include knowing our triggers, knowing what to say when offered drugs or alcohol, and making sure we nurture our recovery through readings, literature, service work and contact with fellow recovering addicts or alcoholics. More than anything else, our relapse prevention plan is what will allow us to truly trust ourselves. It not only keeps us accountable, but also ensures that we know what to do in troubling situations. We have reason to fear relapse, but we should never live in fear of ourselves.
Helping Your Family Trust You
First of all, note that everything above will help ease your family’s concerns. They will be greatly relieved to know that you are armed with a solid relapse prevention plan and a network of caring individuals to help keep you sober. They may still worry from time to time, but this will go away much faster as they see that you are continuing to do the right thing. You must simply ensure that your positive behaviors are consistent, or else you run the risk of losing progress.
Also, remember to include your family in your support network. You do not have to go to them for everything, but you should try to be honest with them when it is most needed. It wasn’t too long ago that we told the story of one man’s experiences with chronic relapse. There were many reasons for his troubles, but one of them was his failure to open up when he felt afraid. Had he shared his fears with those he loved, perhaps they could have helped him. Instead, his relapse set back the trust he had been regaining for over a year.
You also need to make amends. This is not as simple as apologizing to your family for your addiction or your prior actions. If you are trying to stay accountable and become a better person, then you are already making what is known as “living amends.” But you also need to make financial amends if necessary, and enhance your living amends by going out of your way to demonstrate the changes you have undergone. Help out with chores or other responsibilities. Tell your spouse, parents or children how much you appreciate them. Don’t lie or say things that might feel hollow, but express true appreciation through both words and actions. And if they criticize your behavior at any point, do not respond with anger. Be truly attentive to their observations. You might not always agree, but the least you can do is listen.
Remember that some trust unfortunately cannot be rebuilt. Your family may never trust you to go certain places, do certain things or interact with certain people without relapsing. On top of that, some people such as ex-spouses may never be able to trust you again. This is not for certain—it depends largely on the person and the ways in which they were hurt by your addiction. But if it turns out to be the case, you must embrace acceptance. Perhaps they’ll come around one day. Perhaps they will not. Either way, keep living a better life and you will never be alone. Pressuring someone to accept your amends will only make things worse for both of you.
Learning to Trust Your Family
Lies have a tendency to propagate more lies, and we tell many in the course of our substance abuse. We might feel betrayed by somebody in our family who went through our belongings to find our hidden stash. Perhaps a spouse looked through our phone or emails to figure out if we were cheating on them or contacting our dealers after we said we would quit. When we enter sobriety, we still feel a sense of betrayal. Even though we had been dishonest, we are upset that a loved one didn’t trust us.
On some level, our feelings are justified. Nonetheless, we cannot allow them to fester and turn into resentments. This will not regain any trust, and it will certainly not merit much in the way of respect. When we make amends and ask for others to trust us, we must focus only on cleaning our side of the street. If someone in our family does something that makes it harder to trust them, then we should consider healthy confrontation. We should tell them how their actions make us feel. But we should do so respectfully.
We must also remember to look only at ourselves when it comes to character defects. It’s one thing to pursue a healthy confrontation because someone betrayed our trust. It’s another thing entirely to point out that someone could be slightly better than they are. Since we are still focusing on removing our own character defects, we have no right to tell others how they must manage theirs. Yes, we may feel as if it is unfair for us to work on more than our loved ones. But they are not the ones who let down countless people because they could not keep their substance abuse in check. We should give them a break. As we said earlier, we should focus on cleaning our own side of the street. Let others work on their defects in time.
If we can trust others while trusting ourselves, we will find our relationships on the mend in no time. You may feel that you have improved quite a bit since getting sober, but don’t let it go to your head. If you start trying to manage other people’s personalities, they likely won’t enjoy your company for very long. Work only on yourself, and you will be rewarded in the long run.