It’s no secret that addiction tears relationships apart. When someone gets addicted for whatever reason, their actions typically reflect their emotional need for the next fix – they’ll go from openly living out their habit, to hiding it out of embarrassment or guilt, to desperately manipulating and lying their way to the next high. For many, it thankfully never gets to the last stage before things get better. But for some, that last stage can last a long time – long enough to wreck relations between them and their friends, partner, and family.
Reconnecting with family in recovery can be an immense source of strength. While your primary driver for recovery should be the will to get clean for yourself, being accountable to others – your spouse, your child, and your parents – can help by giving you a reason outside of yourself to stay strong even in trying times. But how does one really reconnect after addiction?
Step One: Be Clean
It’s the simplest, and yet the hardest initial step – you can’t start to reconnect with the people you turned on if you can’t completely cut yourself off from the addiction.
Being clean isn’t easy, initially. Some go cold turkey without medical supervision, which can be excruciatingly painful in the case of opiates, and sometimes fatal in the case of alcohol. Others enter rehab, where they detox under hospitalization. After the initial detox comes the beginning of recovery – you go to therapy, meet new people, go to meetings, and generally try to find yourself, or more aptly, find a new way to live and cope with living.
Sober living homes are a perfect way to get back into living in the real world, as they force you to stay clean while also putting you in a setting where you take care of yourself, maintain simple yet crucial responsibilities, and have 24/7 access to the ears of fellow recovering addicts, for support and camaraderie.
Being clean is step one, but it never really ends. It just continues, on and on, for the rest of your life. It’s not a curse or a limitation, but a mark of freedom, an expression of your strength and your ability to choose life over death.
Step Two: Learn to Love Yourself
Step two is hard for most people, but important before you can even begin rebuilding relationships or starting new ones. You can’t truly have friendships and loving relationships if you don’t first begin to love yourself. That doesn’t imply having a narcissistic relationship with your self-image, or becoming selfish – rather, it’s about concluding that you’re worth the effort of getting and staying clean. It’s also about realizing that your addiction isn’t a judgment of your morality or character, but an unfortunate circumstance, and an opportunity to reshape your life and start fresh.
Too many people build flawed relationships of emotional dependence with a fragile basis due to having deep issues with self-esteem and acceptance. If you want a healthy life, you need to have a healthy relationship with who you are – even if that means making changes to who you are until you’re happy with what you see in the mirror. It also means coming to accept and love the work-in-progress you see every day, rather than loathing your slow progress or becoming angry at setbacks.
Learning to love yourself also means knowing that you deserve good relationships. There’s no point in reconnecting with people who harmed you, or turned on you for your addiction, or deemed you worthless or weak because you began struggling in life. Reconnecting with family for the sake of being whole again is wrong – sometimes, it means having to make your own family out of the people who you know truly care about you.
Step Three: Prepare Yourself
Rekindling and rebuilding relationships within a broken family or in a damaged marriage is hard – it’s even harder when you’re initiating the rebuilding process. It takes years for trust to form once again, just as it will take years for you to completely convince everyone that you’ve beaten the addiction.
This isn’t something you can accomplish in a week, a month, or even a year. Reconnecting with family and becoming a family again are two separate things, but don’t hold your breath. Therefore, step two is so incredibly critical – while your friends and family may love and support you, to be an accomplished and recovered former addict and a truly accountable person, you’ll have to prove yourself. And you can’t do that if your primary motive for turning back towards family is for approval and a place of belonging.
Instead, you must know in your heart that you’re going to be fine, and that you’re already an accomplished and worthwhile person for all the things you’ve done. To them, their last clear memories of you before rehab and recovery were how fixated you were on your drug of choice.
When the rehab is over and the recovery begins, family as the backbone of your emotional support is critical. If your family was your source of stress and an unhealthy mental state to begin with, then you must adopt a new one, made up of your closest friends and loved ones. “Support” does not immediately translate into “family”, it’s about having your own circle of people, regardless of how big or small that circle is. There’s nothing wrong with going through life with two or three friends, instead of a big family and a neighborhood of “besties”.
Addiction makes us narrow-minded, it steals our ability to focus on the future and puts us in a tunnel vision straight towards the next high. People struggling with staying sober may cheat, lie and manipulate to keep a steady supply, even if they spent their entire life living up to a code of honor. Convincing yourself that you can be in-charge of your life again, and free from drugs, is difficult but not impossible. Convincing those around you who have seen you at your worst, however, is a lot harder.
But that doesn’t mean it’s never worth it – we all need support, whether we like to accept it or not. Being a part of a group is practically in our DNA, and we suffer tremendously if left alone and to our own devices for too long. If you don’t give up on your recovery – and if those around you don’t give up on you – you’ll have nothing to worry about.