Healing relationships in addiction recoveryWritten by Dr. Gregory Jantz
There comes a point in most counselling for addiction issues when a person’s support structure is brought into the process. This support structure is, generally, immediate family members, such as spouses, parents or children, but can also include extended family and friends.
The goal of these support sessions is for the person to realize they are not alone and others are willing to assist in their recovery. But these sessions are not always easy, as the addiction has universally damaged these relationships. No matter how strong, these relationships are not whole and need to be acknowledged and addressed.
A significant disconnect can develop during the recovery process between someone struggling with an addiction and their family members or friends. The addicted person believed it was the duty of the family member or friend to support recovery without bringing up any objections or consequences from the past. Some people have a sense that recovery is a “do-over” and whatever happened in the past should stay in the past. Because the recovery is new and the emotions are still raw, people are reluctant to confront the past with a mindset that, to move forward, the past should be off-limits.
“I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths . . . I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.” (Psalm 30:1-3)
This mindset, however, does not account for the pain experienced by the loved one because of the addiction. That pain, while it may have happened in the past, is still very present in the mind and heart of the loved one. And that present pain may not have had any outlet for expression in the past. While the addiction was active, the addicted person was compromised and often incapable of truly recognizing the truth of the other person’s pain.
However, during the recovery process, as the person’s mind clears, their ability to recognize the pain of others comes into focus. The relationship can shift to include the feelings and perspectives of the other person. Those feelings and perspectives can be negative, centred on the frustration, anger and despair felt as a by-product of the addiction.
This pain felt by loved ones is not just relegated to the past or the present. In the mind of the loved one, pain remains a distinct possibility for the future. This is often due to the cyclical nature of addiction recovery. It’s rarely a “one and done” and often takes multiple efforts to accomplish. So, often the loved one has been at this place of recovery before, only to have the person relapse. They naturally may fear that this recovery will not last and that the addiction as well as the pain it produces could resurface.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
If the addicted person is in a relationship, recovery from addiction, by definition, must encompass recovery from within the relationship. Because the relationship involves more than one person, the addicted person cannot solely dictate what healing will look like. The other person, who has already been marginalized by the addiction, must have the opportunity to voice their experiences, even if it’s extremely uncomfortable for the recovering person to hear. They must have a voice in the path to relationship recovery.
Why is relationship recovery so important within addiction recovery? At its core, addiction is a relationship. In some ways, the relationship with the addiction becomes more intimate than with other people. A dictionary definition of “relationship” is the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected. An addict has been intimately connected to the source of their addiction. This addiction connection warps all other relationships. Those people connected to the addict become recipients of the collateral damage.
One of the difficult truths of recovery is that it may end the addiction, but it is not guaranteed to undo the damage. The reality of the damage must be accepted and internalized by the recovering addict. They may need to have patience with loved ones whose paths to healing are slower.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
Once recovery is well under way, it is essential to address harmed relationships. Healthy relationships are key to a healthy and balanced life. Understanding the hurt and damage inflicted on important relationships is necessary to making amends and rebuilding them. Honest, contrite and two-way communication, putting everything on the table, is critical to enabling everyone to feel heard. In doing that, everyone can move forward. Loved ones are able to wash themselves of the base issues that have hardened, and overcome the wall that addiction created.
It takes time for your family and loved ones to learn to trust you again. Be patient, and be consistent. It may be challenging for them to conceive how a short time in addiction treatment can lead to meaningful change when their tactics they’ve laboured through for years were not effective. As you all navigate daily life, and they see a consistent you dealing honestly with integrity, trust will develop over time.
If you are struggling in this area, we encourage you to reach out for help. Our team of registered counsellors offers a free one-time phone consultation and can also refer you to a trusted counsellor in your area. Call us at 1.800.661.9800 Mondays to Fridays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or visit FocusOnTheFamily.ca/Counselling to learn more.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center: A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse, and a bestselling author of 37 books. Learn more about his work at APlaceOfHope.com.
© 2022 Dr. Gregory Jantz. All rights reserved.
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