When we experience addiction, we may hurt many relationships in our lives. Whether it is our relationships with significant others, family members, friends, or coworkers, these relationships can take time to rebuild. We may find ourselves experiencing polysubstance abuse, alcoholism, or any other addiction. Whatever it may be, chances are there are relationships that need some love and attention in your life.
First, we need to remember that it takes time to rebuild these relationships. Addiction affects families and relationships deeply, and the healing takes time. We may want to fix these relationships immediately, or even expect things to change because we’ve changed. However, the harm we caused wasn’t done overnight. Just as it took time to hurt those relationships or people, it takes time to heal them.
If we are too greedy or impatient, we may end up trying to force someone to be ready when they’re not. Although we have our own needs and desires, we can also tune into the other person’s experience. Recognize that you’ve caused harm and they are just trying to deal with their own personal experience. Perhaps you can try to put yourself in their shoes. Although you may not know their experience perfectly, you can try to understand that their process is theirs, and allowing them the space to heal is better than trying to force them if they’re not ready.
Sometimes we go through the process of making amends or apologizing for some behavior, only to find that this doesn’t quite fix things. Although our words have great power to create change, it is our actions that really count. Remember that it is through your actions you can show the change you’ve made.
Keep acting right, and show them the change. You can apologize and ask for forgiveness as many times as you want, but the truth is that we need to change our behavior. When we show somebody we are making a change, they are much more likely to understand it than if we just tell them. How often have we lied, omitted the truth, or broken a promise? This is the nature of addiction, and it’s understandable that our words may not mean a lot when we first get sober.
Recognize the Harm
Recognizing the harm caused is a great way to bring some understanding to our relationships. If you’re in a twelve-step program, you’re probably familiar with this idea. We do an inventory to look at these harms, resentments, and experiences (Check out Addiction Rehab Blog’s 4th Step Inventory Examples, Worksheets, and Guide for some resources on working an inventory). Even if you’re not in a twelve-step program, you can engage with some inventory process to look at the ways in which you’ve caused harm to others.
When we are presented with these situations, we can easily fall into the habit of beating ourselves up. This isn’t really useful, as it prevents us from even seeing the situation clearly. We can hold ourselves to standards without being mean to ourselves. Practice some self-forgiveness. This isn’t to give yourself permission to behave poorly or pretend that you didn’t cause harm. Rather, we can respond without so much self-judgement, and perhaps some patience with ourselves.
When in Doubt, Ask
This is something that can be really helpful. Communication is a great asset in any relationship. Ask the person what is going on with them, and what their experience is like of addiction. Find out if they’re doing something for themselves. Maybe they’re going to Al-Anon meetings or another support group for themselves. Ask if there’s anything you can do to support them or address and harms caused. By asking about their experience, we can really seek to understand and respond with some wisdom and compassion.