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Restoring Trust Damaged by Addiction (Part 1 of 3)

Part 1 – Honesty and Open Communication

Trust can be strained or broken by an addiction.  An addict often fails to follow through on well-intended promises, is dishonest, and engages in risky behaviors that can harm the addict and their loved ones.  Secretiveness and hiding are common to those caught up in addiction and will lead an individual to do things uncharacteristic of their true nature.  Rebuilding relationships requires trust.

Once a person enters recovery, they achieve a higher level of awareness and clearer thinking.  They want to regain the things in life that were lost due to the addiction and often most important is the restoration of relationships that were harmed by the addiction.  Central to rebuilding relationships is restoring trust and both the recovering addict, as well as their loved ones, must begin to recognize that regaining trust takes time.  There are several steps the addict and their loved ones can take to begin to restore trust with more love and less turmoil.

For this and the next two articles related to trust (Accountability & Healthy Boundaries and Overcoming Shame/Guilt and Forgiveness), we will discuss the primary steps toward restoring trust.  The first two steps are open communication and honesty:

For the Recovering Person – During early recovery, the addict may experience acute and post-acute withdrawal symptoms that affect their moods, emotions and psychological balance as well as how they interact with others.  Early recovery is also a time of transition: letting go of unhealthy relationships and environments and creating new sober associations and healthy sober leisure activities.  These transitions help the addict heal and reinvent themselves and should be shared.   However, it can seem foreign to share what is going on with the addict after years of secrecy, hiding and dishonesty.

For Loved Ones – Loved ones often remember past experiences and behaviors of the addiction, so changes made by the recovering person and by the loved one can be challenging.  In addition, loved ones lives will change once recovery begins.  They may feel upset, overwhelmed or left behind by the changes, even though the changes are desirable.  They may also not be used to sharing regularly because the addiction kept the addict and the loved one separated.

Open, Frequent Communication:  During addiction, communication is often diminished or eliminated entirely, or any conversations that do occur usually center around the addiction.

It is crucial for the recovering addict and their loved ones to communicate what each person is experiencing as changes occur.  Increased communication that shares both the progress and the challenges each person is facing helps everyone better understand each other and be more supportive. Here are some examples:

  1. If the recovering addict feels ill due to withdrawal. They may begin to isolate, become distant or withdrawn.  Those closest to them may suspect a return to using. If the recovering person instead shares their physical challenges, loved ones will have less cause for alarm.
  2. A recovering person may begin attending 12-step meetings, going to treatment, and juggling their life responsibilities without being in touch regularly with their loved ones.  It is common for the loved ones to imagine the worst, or loved ones may feel left out or abandoned.  Regular communication allows the recovering person and their loved ones to share in the recovery process and heal together.
  3. A loved one may struggle with how to reorganize their life and responsibilities now that the recovering person is taking care of themselves.  Sharing these feelings and concerns allow for the loved one and the recovering person to manage these changes together, which builds mutual trust.

In addition to increasing overall communication, it is vitally important that both the recovering addict and their loved ones discuss the fears and concerns driving any feelings of mistrust.  Discussing fears and concerns take them from unknown and overwhelming to being manageable.  Some fears may be unfounded, some may be based on years of past interactions, and some may realistic – only by expressing and dealing with the fears and concerns openly can they be handled well or dismissed as unnecessary worry.

Honesty: Lack of honesty is a primary reason for distrust.  People are dishonest for many reasons but generally it is to avoid being confronted, to avoid disappointing others, to hide their true behavior, or to avoid hurting others.  Unfortunately, dishonesty eventually leads to the very thing sought to be avoided.  If loved ones make it safe and beneficial for the recovering person to tell the truth (and vice versa), there will be more honesty.  If honesty is met with appreciation, truthfulness will continue while at the same time if the truth is met with arguments, penalties, and no chance for a healing discussion, honesty will not continue.  Communicating with honesty takes courage, so everyone should show appreciation and gentleness in order for the honesty to continue and grow.

Seek Help if You Need It! Honest and open communication is not frequently modeled in many families, but it can be learned.  Many could use help and support to create new healthier relationships – counseling with a licensed professional may help the recovering addict, spouse and/or family to support the changes everyone wants.  Once the process of change has started it takes concerted effort not to slip back into old ways of communicating and interacting.

New Hope Recovery Center is a drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Chicago.  We lovingly treat those addicted as well as their family and friends.  We understand that addiction is truly a family disease and that everyone affected must receive the support and guidance needed to heal from its consequences.  If you or someone you love has had their life negatively impacted by drugs or alcohol, please call us at 773-883-3916 or via email at [email protected].