Relationships are among a long list of things we ruin when we’re in the midst of our addictions. Relationships between friends, family, significant others, bosses, if it’s a relationship that matters to us, there’s a chance it’s affected by our drinking/using.
By the time I crawled back into the rooms in May of 2015, I had burned all my bridges with former friends. Well, maybe “burned” isn’t a strong enough metaphor. I had dropped nuclear bombs on my bridges. The infrastructure surrounding my relationships had been destroyed, seemingly beyond repair. Key word, “seemingly”. While I haven’t been able to fully repair all my relationships, I have at the very least cleaned up the wreckage and rebuilt the infrastructure.
This doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen if you follow the steps. In this article, we’re going to discuss ways to repair relationships in recovery.
The Importance of Repairing Relationships in Recovery
Our disease is one of isolation. To drink and use, we isolated ourselves from our friends and family. We isolated away from healthy people and gravitated towards people who drank/used the same way we did. To combat the isolation aspect of our addiction, we can utilize the help of recovery support groups and build a community through those.
But it is also important to build healthy relationships with those who aren’t in recovery, which includes our friends and family. The more healthy friendships and relationships we get, the better.
Isolation isn’t the only thing that needs to be avoided, resentment is another thing that should be acknowledged and handled. Damaged relationships can lead to resentment, which is dangerous for any addict/alcoholic. The Big Book says it better than I could:
It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die. (p. 66)
The Link Between Addiction and Relationships
Addiction impacts every portion of our lives, including our relationships. From ruining trust to ruining finances to perpetuating toxic relationships. Our interpersonal relationships are intertwined with our addiction.
The Damage Wrought By Addiction
My addiction deeply impacted my personal relationships. Part of my story is the overwhelming loneliness of the later stages of my alcoholism. As mentioned above, I had dropped nuclear bombs on all of my bridges. Constantly lying about drinking and constantly embarrassing myself while drunk ruined romantic relationships, because apparently, girls don’t like it when their boyfriends do those things (shocking, I know). My friends grew tired of the constant embarrassing things I did, so I pushed them away too because they got in the way of my drinking (because I’m an alcoholic and that’s the messed up way my brain works). My family also got pushed away, were constantly worried about me, and didn’t trust me at all.
I’m not alone, countless alcoholics and addicts have the same experience as me. The constant lying and constant unfulfilled promises we give in the midst of our addiction can wear out anyone. The way addiction affects relationships goes beyond trust violations and pushing people away. Serious financial strain can be caused by a combination of us losing jobs over our drinking/use and wasting money in pursuit of drugs and alcohol. Financial strain that can be the undoing of relationships.
Relationships that Perpetuate Addictions
We don’t push everyone away during our addictions. Oftentimes, the only people we don’t end up pushing away are the people who drink or use like us, which complicates things when we decide to quit drinking/using. Many of these relationships end up focusing solely on drinking or using, and when the drugs or alcohol are taken away, there doesn’t seem to be much depth to the relationship.
While newly sober, pursuing relationships with using or drinking friends who are still using is extremely risky. There’s no getting around how bleak that fact seems, and this is one reason why building a sober community around yourself is important. As for those using friends, there is always hope that they will quit and I have seen those relationships rekindled in sobriety, so all hope is not lost.
Rebuilding Relationships in Recovery
This article may have seemed bleak so far, and to be fair, it has been. But there is always hope, and it comes in recovery. There’s a reason there are multiple steps centered around repairing relationships. Steps 4,5,8,9 center around repairing our relationships, 10 centers around maintaining relationships, and 12 centers around building relationships with newcomers in the program. So much about relationships!
- Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
- Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
If you’re an alcoholic/addict, you have resentments. As mentioned above, resentments are incredibly dangerous for us. This is why it’s critical to look at our role in our resentments, as oftentimes we play a major role in them. In my experience (and I am just one alcoholic), step four was the “wow, I’m extremely petty” step.
Repairing relationships can’t begin until we acknowledge our role in our resentments. Unless we know what role we played in our problems, how can we possibly make up for them? Guesswork? That wouldn’t be an effective way to do things.
- Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all
- Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
These are the steps where we make amends to those we had harmed. This involves much more than simply saying “sorry” and there’s a reason these are divided into two steps. First of all, how can we possibly make amends unless we fully acknowledge what we did? Second of all, we need to have more tact than simply saying “sorry” for the 1,000th time.
Consider the 8th step the planning step. During step 8, we carefully craft what we will say or do to make amends. Oftentimes, this means a carefully planned statement where we calmly list the actions we took that violated trust and damaged the person we’re making amends to. We then acknowledge that we were in the wrong, without making any excuses or bringing up anything we have against the person. We just clean up our side of the street. The key words here are honesty and humility.
The 9th step is where the planning comes to fruition. We deliver our amends with honesty and humility. This step can also involve a monetary amends if necessary. In some cases, like with young children, a living amends will be the primary means of making amends. This means changing your behavior in the long run.
That said, all amends have a living amends afterwards. The first amends is where we open the door to trust and forgiveness, the living amends is where walk through the door and truly regain trust and respect.
- Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
This is the maintenance of our relationships. It’s a simple concept, we take a nightly inventory where we look at our actions during the day (you can do this at any point in the day really, but usually the recommendation is nightly). We look at our behavior and interactions during the day. If we have a resentment pop up, we take a quick inventory. If we notice anyone we need to make amends to, we do our best to make amends.
- Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all of our affairs
Guiding others through the program helps us be of service to other alcoholics and to build up our sober community. With our experience, we can help take other addicts/alcoholics through these steps and be of service.
Be Patient and Set Realistic Expectations
As much as we love instant gratification as alcoholics, these steps take time. We are not going to rebuild our relationships overnight. Our constant broken promises and lies would make skeptics of anyone. The important things to remember when rebuilding our relationships are patience, humility, and honesty. Acknowledge that changes aren’t going to happen overnight, realize why that doesn’t happen, and actually change your behavior.
There is a possibility that some people won’t accept your amends. I had that happen to me with a couple of my amends. I reached out, and they wanted nothing to do with me. While sure, I would’ve preferred they forgave me, it makes complete sense they that wouldn’t want to. hear it from me. There was still a massive weight of relief, because I know that I was honest with them and that my side of the street was now cleaner than it was prior.
Handling Relationships with People Still in Addiction
We are in a unique position with these types of relationships, in that we understand why someone continues to drink and/or use even though it’s destroying them. You can’t force them to quit using, you can only hope they seek the rooms on their own volition. Be a living example to them of the results of ceasing use. If they seek help, step 12 fully applies and you have a great opportunity to be of service.