How to Rebuild Trust With Your Family After Addiction Treatment
When most patients arrive in treatment, they have typically hit what we would consider rock bottom. However, the floor on which “rock bottom” sits is not fixed or impenetrable. This means that the patient may have hit what their families think of as rock-bottom many times, only to find that the floor falls out and there’s further to drop. This unfortunate circumstance shows how addiction is a chronic relapsing disease and is difficult to treat. It also illustrates why many patients will have attended multiple treatment programs, some successful, others not, but ultimately continuing to relapse.
During this time, the unfortunate reality is that the bonds of trust, especially between family members, are often broken. Much like a wound, the skin can heal, but there will always be a scar. As such, repairing family relationships is one of the most important and challenging parts of the recovery process.
First, the family has likely suffered emotionally, financially, and possibly physically at the hands of their addicted family member. We like to say that when the individual is addicted, the whole family is sick. Addiction does not just affect the person using the substance but everyone around them too.
Second, addicted individuals usually lash out hardest at those closest to them, including their families. What is said can be discouraging, difficult to hear, and even offensive to the family members. It’s tough to separate the individual’s core goodness from the addicted individual that presents outwardly.
Lastly, with the ups and downs of addiction, it’s easy for family members to believe that this is simply another up and that they should expect the next down soon enough. We can’t blame families for this, as this has likely been a pattern that has been repeated for years.
The Foundations for Rebuilding Trust
As with most things of great value, trust is easy to lose and difficult to build. When patients battling addiction are under the influence of their substance of abuse, they do not think about the long-term effects their actions and words will have on those who trust them. Invariably, the sacred bond is broken, and similarly, it becomes tough to repair. Patients can take several essential steps to rebuild that trust, but it’s also critical to understand that this will not come easily or quickly.
First, understand who has suffered and continues to. Once the individual is off their substance of abuse and out of treatment, they likely see a world of hope and opportunity. Similarly, they look back and see the incredible suffering they have experienced at the hands of their drug of choice. It’s easy to look inward and be a little selfish to make up for lost time and celebrate this newfound freedom, but to repair relationships truly; they must understand that this is where the hard work begins. The 12 steps, for example, helped tremendously to bring those around us back into our lives after even the most difficult times. But this relies on the individual understanding what they’ve done to those around them, and having the strength to confront those concerns, even if it means uncomfortable conversations or situations (and some anger or pushback).
Honest Communication Is Essential to the Rebuilding of Trust
Communication is not just calling regularly; it involves having deeper discussions and keeping those in the inner circle apprised of progress and failures, too. The most challenging part of honest conversation is to admit the struggle. Patients, especially those far along in their recovery, tend to shut down when they face challenges to their sobriety. Instead, this is when they should connect with the support resources around them, whether it’s the treatment center, a sponsor, a support group, or family and friends. Having that open, honest, and vulnerable conversation can go a long way to helping family members understand that you are sincere and that this next step is genuine.
Involve Family in the Therapeutic Process
One of the primary reasons families have difficulty recovering from the events surrounding a loved one’s addiction is not having the family be a part of the therapeutic process. In an ideal world, the family would join the individual battling in recovery for structured family therapy sessions. At The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center, we have regular family nights. Patients, current and alums, and their families get together to support each other and discuss topics of interest and concern. These sessions are essential in helping families understand that their experience is not unique and that they are not alone. This helps them know that what their loved one did or didn’t do was not personal but rather driven by the substance. This is also an excellent time to educate family members on the signs of relapse and what to do if an adverse event should occur.
Everyone involved in the trust-rebuilding process needs to have what feels like unlimited patience. There will be tears, there will be ups and downs, even in recovery, and there will be times where one can’t help but think back on how bad it once was. By focusing on gratitude, the present, and the future, most patients and their families can overcome the hump of distrust and rebuild their relationship.
Don’t Return to Old Habits, Places, and Friends Involved With Substance Abuse
As much as one’s family may be unaware of the circumstances surrounding the beginning or worsening of the patient’s addiction, hindsight is 20/20, and families will have a good idea of who enabled the addictive behavior and where these issues occurred. After treatment, patients should stay away from the places of people that got them into trouble in the first place. This is important for continued sobriety and shows family and true friends that they are no longer interested in the life that they have promoted or enabled, substance abuse, and addiction.
If you’ve had addiction treatment outside of your hometown, should you return home? This personal decision must be made with several considerations in mind and with the help of your therapy team. We have a comprehensive article on whether you should go home after treatment here.
In the end, with some patience and inclusion, family and friends in the therapeutic process, patients can rebuild the trust that may have been lost over the months and years prior and creates the foundational relationships that are necessary to continue a life of sobriety. The process is complex and fraught with potential pitfalls up to and including relapse, but patients can rebuild trust with a sound support system and mindfulness of family and friends around them. That is the foundation for the relationships closest to them.