Repairing Relationships After Addiction

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When your brain is hijacked by an addiction, you’re not typically functioning as your full self. Important values and relationships—even your entire social network—may begin to fall away. Friends might have become concerned, and backed off spending time with you. Or, you may have repeatedly declined or ignored invitations to the point where people stopped reaching out.

In most cases, this wasn’t your genuine self responding. Instead, it was the effects of alcoholism (or other addictions) slowly eating away at your happiness and important relationships.

Once you begin to see things more clearly, and you’ve started down the long road of recovery, you may feel it’s time to start repairing relationships after addiction. This can be a challenging—and sometimes humbling—process. But you’ll also likely find it’s an important part of personal growth. Here are some ways you can begin this process, and continue as you rebuild your life without alcohol.

Take Stock of Your Relationships

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Many people who’ve struggled with alcoholism or alcohol misuse have formed a social group that revolves around their addiction. This may include friends who also struggle with similar issues, or who are, for one reason or another, attracted to those who do.

Like you, others involved in heavy drinking may not be making choices based on what’s really important to them. It may be helpful to consider if spending time with them is good for you (or them) in the long run. Consider what your boundaries are, and decide what you are and aren’t okay with.

Identify Priority Relationships

We all have different levels of relationships. Our inner circle is likely to include close family, partners or children, and longtime friends. Beyond that, we may have friends we care about and socialize with, extended family we see occasionally, and work colleagues or acquaintances.

Most people won’t have the energy to repair all of these relationships in one go. Instead of trying to do so, identify the people who are non-negotiables, and start there.

Your loved ones may feel hurt, confused, or unsure how to handle what’s happened. If you’ve tried recovery before, they may be hesitant to trust or hope for things to change. Try to accept that while this is painful, it is a normal part of the process of repairing relationships.

Your role isn’t to change how your friends and family feel about you, or even what’s happened. It’s simply to make amends if possible, express your own needs when appropriate, and open the lines of communication.

Read More: How To Talk To Your Partner About Your Addiction

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Reach Out to Your Closest Loved Ones

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Once you decide which relationships are the priority, prepare yourself for healing conversations. Here are some steps you can consider as you work towards repairing any damaged relationships.

  1. When you’re ready, reach out to your loved one.
  2. If they’re willing, meet with them in person, or via phone or video chat. Let me know this is an important conversation to you.
  3. During the conversation, acknowledge any harmful, dangerous, or hurtful behaviors you had around or towards this person.
  4. If this is an emotionally safe and trustworthy person, and it does not violate any boundaries, be as open, vulnerable, and as sincere as you can.
  5. Don’t expect any specific response or reaction.
  6. Let the person know what you’d like within the relationship going forward, but explain that you understand if they don’t want the same thing.
  7. Give the person time to digest and respond to the conversation, even if it takes a while.

Remember that while you’ve had plenty of time to think about this, the other person likely hasn’t. They may need time to consider what they want. Or, they may need more time to understand or trust you again. This would be a demonstration of an appropriate boundary, and not necessarily a bad sign for your long-term relationship.

Reach Out to Broader Connections

Plenty of people who’ve struggled with addiction to alcohol have said embarrassing things during a work happy hour. There may be similar dynamics in place at your church, or other groups you spend time with.

If it’s appropriate within your job or group, you can consider making amends here too. You likely won’t share as much or be as vulnerable as you might with those closest to you. However, you can explain that you’ve had some emotional problems, and are getting help for them. Apologize for any damage you’ve done, and be specific.

Examples of healthy communication might include:

“I know I got loud and said inappropriate things when we went out after work. I’m sorry for anyone I made feel uncomfortable. That is not a reflection of who I normally am, or how I want to act.”

“I’m sorry that I dropped out of the commitment I made. I shouldn’t have agreed to do something I couldn’t follow through on. I’ve been having some personal issues and I want to apologize for any harm I’ve caused.”

While it can be frightening to share even these vulnerabilities, it can actually be helpful to you and others. Most people have either struggled themselves, or been otherwise impacted by addiction or mental health problems. Hearing you acknowledge your own struggles and mistakes can be refreshing and welcome.

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Prepare for a Challenging Process

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Sometimes, people might respond with bitterness, disbelief, or even hurtful remarks and condescension. There are a variety of reasons for this.

Your openness could trigger someone’s feelings about something they’ve struggled with themselves, and they may feel defensive. They may also feel hurt, and not know how to understand or express their feelings in the moment. Or, they may feel guilty they didn’t handle things the way they think they should’ve in the past, and want to deflect.

None of these responses are actually about you—they’re about the other person’s feelings and experiences. And just like recovery and healing is a process for you, it will be for them as well.

Allow your family, friends, and colleagues time to work through this new information. Rebuilding your relationships will take time. Sometimes, they will eventually come around, and reach out. In other cases, they may not.

Either response is okay. It can be a difficult truth to accept, but the only thing you can really control in recovery from alcohol is your own choices.

Lean on New Friends

If much of your life revolved around drinking before, you may need to develop a mostly new support network. This might involve friends who are also in recovery, or new acquaintances that simply have common interests outside of drinking.

If you struggle with meeting or making new friends, look into ready-made groups. These might involve church groups, a book club, alcohol-free Meetup groups, or any other structured group activity not focused on drinking.

Repairing relationships after addiction isn’t easy. It will likely lead to at least a few disappointments. But in other cases, it can lead to more open, sincere, and healthy relationships. The most important thing to remember is that this is about taking care of yourself—and in the long run, that’s what’s best for everyone around you.

If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, or wondering how to begin rebuilding your life, Ria Health can help. Not only can we help you quit or cut back on drinking, our program features weekly meetings with licensed recovery coaches to help you establish healthier habits, and rework harmful thought patterns.

Learn more about how our evidence-based addiction treatment program can help you recover, or get in touch with a team member today.

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Written By:
Jennie Lannette, LCSW
Licensed therapist, writer, and published author, with a focus on trauma recovery.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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