There is no doubt that treatment from drug and alcohol addiction can be a time of healing and hope for the future. Unfortunately though, with statistics for relapse as high as 50 to 90 percent, staying clean long-term is not only challenging for the recovering individual, it can be equally challenging for loved ones watching it all happen. Let’s face it, it is difficult to trust someone who has lied to cover up their using and made tons of broken promises to stop. However, for most recovering addicts, like myself, the burden of trying to prove ourselves and earn back trust can be overwhelming at times.
So what are the steps necessary to help us repair the damage done to our relationships through substance abuse?
When I am helping someone with their recovery efforts, and they are complaining about their family member’s lack of trust, the first thing that I tell people is that they must take personal responsibility for how their actions have hurt other’s trust towards them. Blaming someone else for problems you’ve helped to create only keeps you stuck. Resentment towards the loved one because of their lack of trust can even be a precursor to relapse.
Taking personal responsibility for how we have hurt others involves two of the most challenging of the twelve steps from the AA Big Book: Steps 8 and 9. Steps 8 says “Made a list of all people we have harmed and became willing to make amends with them all.” Step 9 says “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” This kind of action demands what the AA Big Book calls, “going to any lengths” in order to recover. Without this type of thorough and humble response to our own shortcomings, we are certain to head back out and use. We must submit ourselves completely to the AA program of recovery to have fully healed relationships with our loves ones.
Steps 8 and 9 are not just about saying sorry. They are about giving the other person our listening ear as to how we have hurt them. We listen with our defenses down and do not make excuses for our behavior. We cannot blame our using on others or on our circumstances. We must humbly acknowledge that no one put a gun to our head and made us drink alcohol and/or use drugs. The mess we are attempting to undo is of our own making and we must be humble about that or we are destined to relapse. We must not get into an argument with the very person we are trying to apologize to. As the AA Big Book says, We are there to “sweep our side of the street.”
After we listen and apologize for where we have blown it, we ask if there is anything we can do (from their perspective) to make an amend. In the process of listening, we may find out other hurts. Sometimes, it may involve paying back a debt. After making amends, it is time to move on.
The next step to rebuilding trust involves following through and doing the things we say we are going to do. Addicts have a way of making a lot of promises they do not follow through on and this behavior is often a much-engrained habit even after a person gets sober. Often times, recovering addicts don’t really believe what they say, so they don’t have a difficult time making excuses for why they didn’t follow through on something. However, if we want to rebuild trust with our loved ones, we MUST do the things we say we are going to do. Two things are helpful. First, promise way less. Don’t make the mistake of setting unrealistic goals and then telling everybody your unrealistic goals. When we fail at these goals, it is just another reason why our loved ones doubt the things that we say and this will make us feel even more isolated.
Second, set some really small goals each day, put them on a list and cross off each item on the list when it is done. For example, put things on your list like emptying the trash or loading the dishwasher or sweeping your front sidewalk. This might seem trivial, but when we follow through and do the things we say we are going to do, we not only build trust with others, we build trust with ourselves too. It is a set-up for self-hatred when we don’t follow through and this again, can lead to relapse. Don’t overwhelm yourself with big goals. Your goal that day might be to go to an AA meeting and when you go, pat yourself on the back. You did something right that day.
Lastly, it is important to remember that we are human. One of my favorite lines from the AA Big Book is “We claim spiritual progress, rather than spiritual perfection.” When we blow it, and we will, it is important to remember Step 10 “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitting it.” We all make mistakes and the important thing is to be humble, not make excuses and to forgive ourselves and move forward. If we do that and try to learn from what happened so that next time goes a little better, we will make progress and growth is what it’s all about.