Trust, it has been said, is the hardest thing to gain and the easiest thing to lose. And when it comes to addiction and relationships, the loss comes at a hefty price.
It is widely known that addiction leaves a trail of destruction in its wake. And when people in recovery are in the process of picking up the pieces of the emotional debris after the storm, they often find their relationships are in pieces or gone.
When addiction and relationships mix, people break away from their families or people who care about them, which can include just about anyone, from neighbors to co-workers to casual acquaintances.
The good news is making amends while in recovery allows people who are overcoming their addiction to start healing from past hurts and to help others start healing as well.
For recovering addicts, one way to do this is to reach out to loved ones who were hurt by your actions when you were abusing drugs and/or alcohol. This process can be difficult, but it is an important one. However, restoring those ties with friends and family can be more challenging than many people realize.
How Addiction and Relationships Are Affected
The emotional ups and downs of a relationship with an addicted person often place a great deal of strain on everyone involved for various reasons. The denial, lies, deceit, broken promises, and manipulations that accompany a life of substance abuse all break the sacred bond of trust, which, in some cases, will never be restored.
Relationships also change when people with drug addiction steal from their loved ones or neglect others when they need them most. They also may disappear to do drugs or spend a great deal of time alone abusing drugs, deepening their dependence on chemicals and abandoning the ones they care about in the process.
While people with addiction are going through their changes, so are the people who love them. Those who are affected by their loved one’s use of alcohol and/or drug addiction may find themselves waiting for their relative to change or acknowledge their problem and fix it. They may grow increasingly disappointed as interventions fail to work and just give up on the addicted person altogether.
Others may choose to love from a distance, making themselves as scarce as possible until the person with addiction and relationship issues pursues a plan to turn his or her life around for the better. And even if the person does come around, those who they left behind might not.
Why Say Sorry Only to Do It Again?
Some in recovery may repeatedly apologize for their actions and then fall back into their old ways again, reoffending the ones who want to trust that they will change. While they mean well, this cycle of apologizing only to repeat the offending action may be beyond their control to some degree.
Overcoming addiction is a battle, not an easy or quick one. People in recovery need time to get well and focus on rebuilding their lives. For some, that will mean false starts, broken commitments, and promises that aren’t kept. Much of that is due to the chemical nature of addiction.
Addiction, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.
“It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.”
As these brain changes set in, the addicted person’s relationship with drugs or alcohol changes as well. They become more chemically dependent on the drug, and as they do, they will become increasingly focused on using it.
Addicted individuals may start to only hang out with friends who they do drugs with, pushing out their relationships with others. Addiction often takes over the person’s life, poisoning their health and healthy relationships.
Substance abusers may often apologize for their deeds, only to repeat them again and again. After so long, “I’m sorry” and “I won’t do it again” falls on deaf ears and causes a rift. The longer time passes, the wider the rift will grow, leaving addicts isolated and alone.
Losing key relationships could be “rock bottom” for someone addicted to drugs. People in this group will come to realize at some point that they will need to make amends with those they have disappointed, hurt or upset during the time they were deep into their addiction.
How they decide to go about it is up to them, but the decision is a big one and requires a great deal of thought and a plan.
How Does One Go About Mending a Broken Relationship?
Many whose addiction derailed or ended their personal relationships seek to heal the past by making amends for what they have done to the people they have hurt. This is not just about apologizing, however. Saying “I’m sorry” is only a part of the amends process. It mainly, however, involves taking proactive steps to correct a past mistake or misdeed while saying sorry just acknowledges what happened.
Step 8 and Step 9 of the 12 Steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program urge participants to go beyond the apology and correct the situation where it is possible to do so. Step 8 says, “Made a list of all the persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all,” and Step 9 is, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Everyone’s making amends approach will not look the same, but here are some general steps in going about reconnecting with people you were close to.
Start slow. Make a list of people you want to touch base with and reach out to them via phone, email, text messaging, snail-mail letter, or some other means. Be patient with yourself and your loved ones, and ask for more time if you need it. Likewise, if they need more time or space, allow them to have it. The more time you take to meditate on what you want out of the exchange or the act of making amends, the better for you and the others involved. Just be sure that you are thinking of others, too, and their needs as you start the process.
Review the past honestly. This will require you to step outside of yourself to consider what your past actions look like from others’ perspectives. Empathy plays a key role here as it will help you understand how others feel and guide you as you write your apology and make attempts to rebuild your relationships with people you care about.
Accept responsibility. This is a good time to put excuses aside and claim your role in the situation that split you and the other person apart. Owning up to your words and actions during the time of your addiction, while also acknowledging how you hurt someone with your behavior, may make the other person open to what you are saying. It also can empower you to own past situations so you can move forward for good, leaving them in yesterday. Accepting responsibility without excuses is one way to show other people that you are serious about doing things differently should the relationship change for the better.
Have compassion for yourself. It’s OK to admit to your mistakes to yourself and others, but don’t forget that you are human, and humans do mess up. Forgive yourself for misdeeds you committed while addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. This will take time, but for you to be able to move on and look others in the eye, you have to pardon yourself and commit to being a better person. It is necessary for you to acknowledge the past, but you don’t have to keep reliving the pain and guilt of yesterday. You can’t change any of it anyway. All you can do is learn from it and resolve to do better and be better.
Hear the other person out. Part of the healing process is hearing what others have to say. Prepare yourself for the possibility that you may not like what you hear, but if it is the truth, then you are both better off hearing it, addressing it, and seeing if you can truly move forward while it’s all out there on the table. Be open and ask questions if you don’t understand what the other person is saying. Even if you don’t agree, the information you glean from the conversation can help you during your life in recovery and may even help improve relationships.
Be realistic. Understand that not everyone will be open or willing to review the past with you or reconnect with you permanently if they do decide to meet with you. While it is important that you are clear about your intentions and know what you want out of the exchange, be mindful that some people will not want to reestablish contact, and that’s OK. Either way, the goal is to move forward on a positive note. Those who want to share in that journey with you will.
A Note About Amends…
There are different kinds of amends, according to John MacDougall, who was interviewed for the article, “Making Amends Is More Than an Apology” on the Hazelton Betty Ford Foundation website.
According to MacDougall, making amends is about restoring justice as much as possible. That could mean returning money to a person that was used for buying drugs, or replacing an item that was stolen or repairing one that was broken.
All of those instances would be considered direct amends. Indirect amends means doing something to correct a situation that can’t be undone. For example, someone involved in a drunk-driving accident that left someone dead could donate their time to speaking to young people about the dangers of drunk driving. That would be considered indirect amends because the survivor of the crash can’t undo the other person’s death.
Making amends show people that you’ve made a true change and that you no longer let addiction rule your behavior or run your life.
Whatever method of amends you choose, the goal is the same: to restore respect and trust in your relationships.
What If My Attempts to Make Amends Are Rejected?
While no one can undo any of their past actions, they can make a decision to start where they are today to try to make things right and regain the trust they lost when their addiction cost them their relationships.
There may come a point when you may have to face and accept that your attempts to make amends may not be accepted. Some cuts run deep, and no matter what you do, you may not be able to help the other person move past the differences between the both of you.
But as they say, when you lose, don’t lose the lesson. Really, there is no losing in this process. The knowledge you have gained about yourself and others will help you as you continue on your journey.
Help Is Waiting for You
If you are struggling with substance abuse issues and notice that your addiction has affected your relationships, it may be time for you to start the road to recovery so you can gain the tools and clarity you need to reconnect to those you love.
Addiction and relationships are not a good match, and one drains the other; just one of the consequences of living with substance abuse.
Citrus Recovery offers an effective drug and alcohol treatment program that can help you and your loved ones get back on the right track. Our recovery plan can be tailored to meet you and your family’s needs. Call us today at (855) 478-1034 for more information.