Rebuilding Bridges: Learning to Trust Each Other Again

Oct 27, 2021

Drug and alcohol abuse thrives in secrets, lies, and betrayal. Simply put, relationships don’t. And once we have broken the trust of a friend or family member, it takes tremendous effort to put the pieces of that relationship back together. Rebuilding trust tends to be a long and sometimes arduous process, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen within a few days of returning home from the addiction recovery center.

The good news is that it will happen when you and your loved one both commit to put in the time and work to rebuild that trust. That’s because, contrary to conventional wisdom, creating a new foundation of mutual trust is a two-way street. While the onus of ‘earning’ back trust falls on the perpetrator of the heartache, the victim also has a responsibility to open their heart to forgive and allow that trust to grow.

12 steps of addiction recovery

(StockSnap / pixabay)

Two of the 12 steps of addiction recovery involve being willing to make amends with the people we have hurt along the path of our illness. The people on this list can include brothers, sisters, spouses, friends, other family members, co-workers, etc. After compiling this list, the next step is to reach out to these people to express remorse for our actions and try to make things right.

Counselors at substance abuse facilities like Renaissance Ranch also shared some thoughts on what we can do to “make things right” and build trust with those closest to us.

Keep Your Word

Your loved ones will be anxiously watching you to ensure you don’t relapse into old habits. They want to see that your recovery is real and that you are committed to it. Get to work on time, go to your 12-Step meetings, and show up for appointments (including lunch or dinner dates with your loved ones). Basically, do everything you can to instill confidence that you are serious about sobriety and that you care deeply about your loved ones.

Initiate Contact with Family and Friends

Your loved ones may be tentative about reaching out to you after treatment, not really knowing what to expect or how to react. Get in touch with them first and assure them that you are still the same person, only healthier than when you last saw each other.

You may have already called them or sent them a text or email to ask forgiveness and make amends per the 12-Step program. If so, follow up on those initial contacts and let your loved ones know they are important to you and you would like them to be part of your life and your recovery.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Making things right does not mean wallowing in guilt for every awful thing you may have done under the umbrella of addiction. It means seeking forgiveness, promising to do better, and diligently working to keep those promises.

What’s done is done, and nothing can change that. You, however, have changed, and now it’s time to forgive yourself and let go of the past.

Be Patient

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and trust won’t be, either. Maybe some of your loved ones aren’t ready to put their trust in you just yet. That’s OK. It’s normal for them to be reticent, especially when they feel they have heard the “I’ve changed” bit before, only to be let down. Be patient with your loved ones and be patient with yourself. You’re a work in progress.

Tips for Loved Ones

We talked earlier about trust being a two-way street. It’s critical for those who have loved ones with substance use disorder to be open and willing to forgive and move past the hurt. Here are some points to consider:

Begin or Continue with Your Own Therapy

It can be tremendously stressful for you when your loved one first comes home after treatment. Chances are you will be hyper-vigilant and worried about everything they do. For example, if she’s a few minutes late coming home from her 12-Step meeting, you think maybe she’s meeting her dealer. Or perhaps you wonder when he leaves the house in the morning whether he’s really going to work or going to a bar to drink the day away.

As you have these feelings, it’s critical to recognize that right now, it’s you who may be stuck in the past. You need a person who has the knowledge, experience, and tools to help you work through your fears and misgivings. Addiction affects the entire family, and as such, families must have resources to tap into when grappling with a loved one’s recovery. In light of this need, the Ranch offers free online family addiction classes and many other resources to help ease the mental and physical strains of addiction and recovery.

Let Go of Past Hurts

At some point, preferably as soon as possible, you need to let go of the pain and the hurt and allow yourself and your loved one to move forward. Nothing hurts a relationship more than an unwillingness to forgive. Chances are your loved one is having a tough time forgiving himself, so you have a tremendous opportunity to let him know he has your unwavering support.

Live in the Here and Now

Often, when our loved one is in recovery, it’s difficult to live a normal life with its daily annoyances and challenges. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells because you feel like you might say something wrong or that she’ll crumble if you get mad at her about something. She’s not fragile; she’s in recovery. Express annoyances or frustrations promptly and then forget them. Don’t let things pile up. Share the good, positive feelings, too.

Ultimately, you and your loved one have changed through the addiction and recovery process. But this doesn’t have to be a negative thing. By working together, you and your family are starting a new, improved relationship built on trust and love. That’s something worth celebrating.