Maybe the saddest part of addictive disease is that those closest to person with the addiction get hurt the most. It’s hard to watch someone you care about self-destruct. You feel helpless and out of control. Fear, anger, and overwhelming grief are typical emotions among these families and friends. Loved ones try to control the impossible. Or they try to stop caring. The relationships are damaged either way.
Winning trust back
Those who have been hurt as a result of addiction find it nearly impossible to trust again. Lying, broken promises, financial ruin, shame, and immoral behavior cause deep wounds. Early recovery restores hope but gaining trust back is not so easy. It requires three things:
- Stop using drugs or alcohol and change your lifestyle.
- You need complete and painstaking honesty. Become the person who you say you are. Actions speak louder than words.
- The third is time. How much time? As long as it takes.
Trust is not the same as love or forgiveness. These are three different things. You can love and forgive someone without trusting them. But those who want to restore their family life must work hard to earn trust. Love and forgiveness are a choice. We can choose to love and forgive a recovering family member. Trust takes honesty and good choices. All this can be accomplished through sustained sobriety and time.
Forgiveness is at the core of healthy families. It is not a psychological problem. It is a spiritual issue. Forgiveness is a determined change of heart by those who have been hurt. It doesn’t mean you weren’t hurt. It means not letting hurt steal your peace and your future. Not forgiving and bitterness will only make you sick.
Forgiving may not come naturally. In fact it can be very hard. It may be the only thing that releases families from their shame and restores the possibility of trust and intimacy. Twelve-step recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous stress the importance of making amends to those who were hurt and seeking forgiveness. Faith-based organizations like churches and synagogues know the power of forgiveness too. Talking with a person of faith can be very helpful.
Taking down the wall, one brick at a time
Restoring a broken relationship is like trying to take down a large brick wall. No matter how hard you try, it won’t come down all at once. Be patient. Good recovery allows you to remove only one brick each day. Over time, there is a hole in the wall large enough to talk through without shouting. After a while the opening is large enough for a hand to reach through and offer a loving touch. And one day, trust can be restored.
Remember that alcohol and drug use disorders can happen to good people. It causes people to make bad choices. It also causes them to engage in hurtful and destructive behavior. Some days it feels overwhelming and like there is no hope. Unconditional love, trust and forgiveness are keys to healthy family life. Don’t give up. A loving family is worth the fight.