How to Repair Relationships After Addiction

Having a strong social network is one of the best tools to achieve success in addiction recovery. A sense of belonging decreases stress and anxiety and makes you feel like you have a greater sense of purpose. Strong social ties also give you more resources to handle life’s inevitable setbacks. Therefore, creating a strong social network should be one of your top priorities in recovery. Some of that network will comprise new sober friends, including people you meet in treatment and in 12-step groups. However, you will also want to strengthen ties with friends and relatives, at least some of whom you may have alienated during active addiction. It’s often possible to smooth things over and build stronger relationships with those people. Here are some tips for rebuilding relationships damaged by addiction.

Manage your expectations.

First, as with many aspects of recovery, it’s important to manage your expectations. Keep in mind that others don’t know what’s going on in your head. They only know that they’ve been hurt, disappointed, or betrayed and they don’t want to get their hopes up. You know how much work you’ve put into recovery, how much you want to stay sober, and how much progress you’ve made, but they don’t see any of that. As a result, you might come to someone feeling like a different person, but they still see the old you. That can feel unfair, but it’s just the way it is. Getting sober and working hard in recovery won’t automatically solve your relationship problems, but it’s a great start.

Be patient.

Your friends and family are wary of being hurt again. It will take them a while to accept that you really have changed. Even then, they may be slow to trust you again. Unfortunately, there’s no way to speed things up. Friendships typically take years to grow strong and that’s starting from a neutral position. If you’ve caused someone a lot of pain, it will probably take some time to get over it. What’s more, everyone is different; some will be quicker to forgive than others. Be persistent, but give people time and space to come around.

Work on your communication skills.

Most of think we’re pretty good communicators, but in reality, most of us aren’t. We’re often unclear, we don’t say what we really want, or we don’t communicate at all, expecting others to just read our minds. Worst of all, most of us are poor listeners. We don’t listen to what others are telling us, we don’t try to see things from their perspective, and we mostly just wait for our turn to speak. If you want to rebuild your relationships, start by listening and really trying to understand what the other person is saying. Others need to feel like you hear them and validate their experiences, especially if they feel like you’ve hurt them in the past. After that, work on being open and honest. Let others know what they mean to you and why you want them in your life. That kind of vulnerability is hard but it can bring you closer together.

Be careful who you invite back into your life.

After treatment, you won’t want to renew contact with everyone who was in your life before. Some people are negative influences, either because they use drugs or alcohol or because they are negative, critical, or otherwise stressful to be around. In some cases, as with family, it may be worth it to try to repair the relationship, perhaps in family therapy, but otherwise, it may be best just to let those people go.

Reach out.

You’ve probably stayed in contact with close friends and family members, but others may be more or less out of your life. They may not know that you went into treatment, that you’re in recovery, and that you want to renew a relationship. If you want those people in your life, you will probably have to reach out yourself. Contact them and ask if they want to get together. Ask for their forgiveness, and tell them why they are important to you. This can be difficult and it won’t always work, but if you want to rebuild those relationships, you will probably have to make the first move.

Forgive yourself.

You may feel bad for some of the things you did in active addiction, but carrying that guilt and shame with you won’t help you recover. You can’t change what you did in the past; you just have to try to do better in the future. If you feel like you deserve to be punished indefinitely, you will have a hard time asking forgiveness from others.

Make amends.

Making amends is part of 12-step programs and it’s often a good way to start rebuilding relationships. Making amends is more than just apologizing and asking for forgiveness; it means actually making some sacrifice to set things right. Words are cheap, but if you repay a debt, replace damaged property, or volunteer for a person’s favorite charity, it shows you’re serious about clearing away the wreckage of your past.

Keep working on your recovery.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to prove definitively that you’re committed to recovery and that you’re a different person from who you were in active addiction. Even if there were some way to prove it, some people wouldn’t accept it. All you can really do is keep working on your recovery every day. Keep going to meetings, keep yourself healthy, and keep building your sober network. In time, your old mistakes will fade and people will hardly remember who you were before recovery.

Accept that some people aren’t coming back.

As hard as it is, you’ll just have to accept that some people won’t want anything to do with you, no matter how much progress you make. Some people won’t even answer your calls or text messages. If that happens, you just have to file it under “things I cannot change.” You may feel sad not having that person in your life, but you can’t control other people’s feelings. Just focus on strengthening the relationships you do have and making new friends when you can.

Burning Tree provides programs specializing in long-term residential treatment for clients with a history of drug and alcohol relapse. Our long-term approach and extensive aftercare programs help clients break the cycle of relapse and transition to healthier, more fulfilling lives. Contact us for more information or visit the websites of our three locations: Renewal Lodge, which offers a 30-60 day treatment program, Burning Tree Ranch, which offers year-long treatment.


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