In a given year, there are 23.5 million people aged 12 and over who need treatment for drug or alcohol abuse problems, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That’s a reported 9.3% of people in that age range. According to the CDC, 28,000 people died from opioid use in 2014. That same year, 16.3 million people aged 18 and over had an alcohol use disorder, while 24.7% of the people in the same age group admitted to binge-drinking within the previous month of being surveyed.
Drugs and alcohol have been a problem for many Americans for years, and it’s just as true today as ever. Substances are still very prevalent in our society, and that means there will be an insurmountable number of lives ruined and damaged by them in the future. However, you’ve made it this far, and that means that while your life has experienced some damage, it is far from ruined.
You have battled addiction, and you’ve gotten to the point where you’re ready to work on repairing as much of that damage as possible. Perhaps you have hurt people while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Maybe you’ve hurt parents, a spouse or significant other, siblings, your children, your friends, or coworkers. Perhaps you’ve lied to them, cheated on them, stolen from them, or caused them some other type of harm or grief while you were using. Maybe it was even a combination of these things.
The important thing is that this was in the past and was directly connected to a life you are no longer living. You’re now sober, and it’s time to reconnect with the people you care about and from whom you seek forgiveness. It’s time to rebuild trust and make your new life one you (and your loved ones) can be proud of. This is not only the right thing to do for your friends and family, but also for yourself. With the right approach, you can rebuild relationships that can help keep you from relapsing.
As you embark on the journey to trust and forgiveness, remember that while it is very much about them, it’s also about you. If you can mend the bridges you’ve burned, you will feel better about yourself, and you can live your life with a clearer conscience that can help keep you from slipping back into bad habits. The journey may very well be uphill, but know that many other people have been in the same position as you and have worked things out with those important to their lives. What may seem impossible can be achieved with the right motivation and attitude.
If you’re having trouble figuring out where to begin, we hope you’ll find this guide helpful in getting you on the right track.
It Starts With An Apology
As you might have guessed, the first thing to do when you want to repair a broken relationship is to apologize. You would do so if you did anything else wrong in a relationship and sought forgiveness. It’s no different when your troubles stem from your past substance abuse. Just know that sincerity is a key factor of an effective apology that someone who has been hurt will be willing to accept.
How can you show your sincerity? You can acknowledge specific instances of wrongdoing, express remorse about them, and explain to the person why you know it was wrong and that you understand the pain that it caused.
Some people may accept your apology right away. Depending on the nature of your relationship, they may very well be ready to leave the past in the past and welcome you back to their good graces with open arms. This is a best-case scenario, but it’s not uncommon. You might be surprised how powerful a sincere apology can be. Still, there’s always the possibility that people will not be ready to forgive you at the drop of a hat no matter how sincere you are, and others still may never forgive you.
It’s very important that you keep things in perspective and accept that it’s going to take time to heal some wounds while others may never heal. You must be patient with those with whom you are apologizing to. Do not express bitterness or show that you are upset in the event that your apology is not embraced in the way that you had hoped it would be. Instead, show these people that you understand why they feel the way that they do, and do your best to demonstrate that you are putting old habits in the past. They have every reason in the world not to trust you. Trust must be earned. Try to demonstrate that you are committed to a sober and more positive life. This lets them know that you regret how you treated them and that you are doing what you can to turn your life around and stop hurting people.
We’ll get more into this in the next section, but along with your apology, you need to make things right in any other way that is called for. If you have stolen money or objects from people, give them back. If you no longer have what you took, give them something back that is even more valuable. That doesn’t necessarily mean in terms of monetary value if you don’t have the financial means, but you need to give or do something that has meaning.
It’s all about making amends. An apology is one thing (and a very important one at that), but you also need to right your wrongs when possible. Granted, some things just can’t be undone, but you’re going to do your best to try.
Consider the promises that you made to people but didn’t keep. You may not even remember all of them, but as you talk to your loved ones, some of these will become clearer. Ask yourself if there are ways to make good on these promises now. If there aren’t, think about ways you can make up for them.
Think about the lies you told. There are several types: those in which you were caught and called out on, those you “got away” with, and those in which you were caught, but not called out on (leaving you to only think you got away with it). Own up to any and all of them. Chances are that the person you lied to suspects the lie anyway even if they haven’t called you on it. Accusing someone of lying is not a pleasant thing to do, so taking responsibility for yourself can ease that burden for them and go a long way in helping them offer you forgiveness. It can make a world of difference to the person to hear you admit that you lied and you want to come clean. They may not immediately forgive you, but for some (depending on the nature and circumstances of the lie), it may be enough. At the very least, it will be a step in the right direction.
You should also come clean about things you might have done in secret, even if they weren’t direct lies. Remember, this is all about establishing trust. If your loved one sees that you’re willing to be honest about things you weren’t even called out on and they didn’t even know about, they’ll see your willingness to be honest and to take responsibility for yourself and your actions. This is a key component of re-establishing a relationship.
Perhaps you hurt somebody simply by acting irresponsibly or in a way that put them in danger or caused them trouble. Admit that you regret doing this and apologize for putting them in such a position.
Apologizing and making amends go together. These steps will often occur simultaneously or parallel to one another, and you’ll have to figure out the strategy that works best for you. Much of this will depend on how many people you’ve wronged and how badly you’ve wronged them. While it may be easier to discuss things with individuals one-on-one, don’t rule out a group discussion if it’s possible. Think about it like the opposite of an intervention. Instead of a group of your loved ones coming together to confront you about your issues, you’re getting the group together to convince them that you’re getting your life back on track.
Getting such a group together might be easier said than done depending on your personal situation and those of your friends and family, but there are potential benefits that can come from this approach. For instance, it might help one of your loved ones to see that they weren’t the only person to suffer from your actions. If they can see themselves as part of a larger pattern caused by your addiction, they might find that forgiveness comes a little easier. It can help them to know that it was not merely a personal thing between the two of you.
Making amends is a critical part of any twelve-step program (including the one made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous). Ultimately, it’s just about righting wrongs and repairing damage. It is important, however, to consider the feelings of others involved. If bringing something specific up would hurt the person more or cause them additional damage, find a better way to make it right. Like apologies, your attempts to make amends are not always going to be welcomed with open arms, and you have to be prepared for that rejection and not hold it against the person. Make every effort to do the right thing, but don’t expect 100% absolution.
Communicating What You’re Going Through
Much of this entire process of relationship bridge-reconstruction involves talking. Apologizing requires some heartfelt words on your part, and making amends includes admitting your mistakes, coming clean about the things you did wrong, and holding yourself accountable for them. As you seek trust and forgiveness, you’re going to exchange a lot of words with your loved ones. As you go through this, clear communication can go a long way, and that includes communicating what you are going through yourself.
That doesn’t mean making yourself out to be the victim. Remember, you’re taking responsibility here, but it can still help for the people in your life to understand what you’ve been through and what you’re going through. Think of it as being transparent and honest. The more everybody involved knows about the situation the easier it will be to have an open and honest two-way discussion.
Be open about your own feelings and the challenges you’re facing in your recovery. Talk to your loved ones about what led to your addiction and the steps you’ve taken to recover and are continuing to take. Recovery isn’t easy, and it can help to make people understand the challenges you face. It can be hard for someone who hasn’t been through it to fully grasp. Help them grasp it. For some people, understanding can lead to some amount of sympathy and/or empathy. Again, it’s not about making yourself out to be a victim. It’s about letting the person get a better idea of what it’s like to be you. Whether or not that makes a difference in how they feel will vary from person to person.
If a loved one has a hard time accepting your apology and offering forgiveness or sympathy to your plight, it might not be a bad idea to share with them some literature on recovery and what you’re going through. Even if it’s just sharing an online article, helping them be more informed on the subject could help them get a better handle on their feelings.
As a recovering addict, you may experience withdrawals that make you feel physically bad and want to distance yourself from others. It’s important to communicate with loved ones about what you’re going through so they don’t mistake this for a relapse on your part. You may find it embarrassing or awkward to bring up, but they already know about your past, and this is part of recovery, so you shouldn’t feel ashamed. They’ll be glad that you’re staying strong and working through it.
If you do go through this and people suspect that you’re using, don’t be resentful or react negatively to them. Once again, they have every right to assume the worst based on your past behavior. Just assure them that you’re doing the right thing and staying on track. Bitterness won’t solve anything and can only put more strain on your relationship.
Communication is a two-way street and it’s important to do plenty of listening and not just talking. Listen to what your loved ones have to say and do your best to address their concerns in an honest, authentic way. Also make it clear that you understand if they have a difficult time trusting you, and ask them if there’s anything you can do that would help. Then, do it. Make sure that they know you are ok with them feeling that way and that they have every right to. Just getting all of this out in the open may help them feel better about the situation.
Improving Yourself And Others’ Perception Of You
If you want people to trust you, it’s a good idea to project yourself as a person who is moving their life in a more positive direction. You should keep striving to improve yourself as a person and making choices that benefit your life and well-being.
Make good on your word. Keep the promises you make, and don’t make the ones you can’t. Show up on time when you have plans, and show people that you are committed to doing what you say you’re going to do.
Keep track of loved ones’ birthdays and other important dates. Do something nice for them even if it just means a phone call, an email, or a letter. For one, it shows that you care about them, but it also illustrates that you have your life together enough to remember such things.
It’s a good idea to do some soul searching and figure out what you want out of your own life. Then, take steps to achieve that. Work on your physical health as doing so will help you feel better both mentally and physically. It will help your self-esteem and help keep you from wanting to return to bad habits. A healthy appearance will also prevent people from thinking you have done so. Grooming and cleanliness also fit in here. Present yourself to people as someone who takes care of his/herself to help establish that trust that you haven’t fallen back on your addiction.
Stay active in the workforce. When you’re ready, either work full-time or strive to do so. Show your loved ones that you’re getting your life in order by frequently looking for work if you don’t already have it. Being able to hold down a steady job says a lot about who you are as a person.
Find new hobbies and activities related to things you’re interested in, and stick with them. This will provide you with an outlet or outlets for enjoyment that don’t involve returning to your old ways, and will show others that you have something else in your life to keep you away from them. These can also be a great way to meet new people that you can start clean relationships with. Additionally, staying involved in such things can bring you a greater sense of purpose as well as enjoyment that will help you feel better about your life and what you’re doing with it.
Part of self-improvement is dealing with your own feelings of guilt. While it’s important to make yourself accountable for any wrongdoings, to some extent, you must let go of the past. Once you’ve made amends with those you’ve hurt, move on with your life and don’t dwell on regrets. This can contribute to depression, which can lead you back to substance abuse. Additionally, if you use your past troubles as an excuse for things that aren’t working out today, it will also be hard for others to move on or see that you’ve moved on.
Staying On Track
Above all else, you must keep your commitment to sobriety, which shows the people you care about that you’re serious about your recovery and getting your life back in order. It also illustrates a reduced likelihood that you’ll hurt them again, and if they think there’s a chance that you will, it’s going to be very difficult to earn the trust you’re looking for.
As you keep this commitment, stay on track with any recovery programs you’re involved with. Keep following your steps and talking to counselors, sponsors, and people you’ve shared groups with. It may even be helpful to have a loved one, such as a spouse, go with you to counseling or meetings. This can help them better understand your current situation and see first-hand that addiction is a struggle that many people face. While they probably already know this, being involved in that environment can help them get a better sense of the struggle and the recovery process.
Talking To Others With Experience
As you seek forgiveness from loved ones, it may help you to get advice from others with experience. Many people have been in this position before. Gain some insight from others who have been there or are going through it at the same time. This could be a sponsor, other members of a group you attend, a therapist, or people you have met in online recovery groups, forums, chat rooms, etc. Whatever your situation is, there’s a good chance someone else has been in nearly the exact same spot. Just be mindful that just because one approach worked for someone else, that doesn’t mean the exact same thing will work for you. Not everybody reacts to things the same way and circumstances will always factor in. Use what you know about your advisor’s situation as well as what you know about your own loved ones to help you form your own approach.
Throughout the entire process, you have to temper your expectations and keep your head in reality. While there’s always the chance that you will attain forgiveness, you should never look at it as if the person owes it to you. Yes, it’s a great thing that you’re sober now and that you’re making this effort, but keep in mind that you’re the one who hurt them, and they have no obligation to welcome you back with open arms.
You can’t hold one’s reservations against them or show them that you’re angry about a lack of forgiveness. This is bound to drive them further away, and getting upset may lead you to a temptation that you need to steer clear of. It’s not fair to your loved one, and it’s not fair to yourself.
Regaining trust takes time. You have to be patient not only with someone else’s ability to forgive or trust you, but also with yourself and your ability to project trustworthiness. This is one reason why the “staying on track” component of this is so important. If people don’t come around right away, it might be tempting to give up and fall back into old habits.
You must be understanding of the way others feel. Things that you perceive to be bad may be perceived as even worse by the person from whom you’re seeking forgiveness. In some cases, forgiveness will take time, but in some it just may never come, and you have to accept that as well. You have to be willing to accept that some people you have hurt are simply beyond forgiveness and just will not let you back into their life. This can be difficult to swallow, but sometimes when the damage is done, it can’t be erased. Let this person know that you do seek their forgiveness and that you would like to be back on good terms, but if they’re not interested, try to focus on the people in your life that will accept you. It’s important not to dwell on the person or people who refuse to forgive you because this can lead you down the wrong path, potentially to a place in which you’ll consider returning to your past habits.
You have to understand that you must earn forgiveness, and nobody is required to forgive you just because you’ve changed or are trying to change. It’s your responsibility to put the effort into gaining back trust. Give people space if they don’t seem interested. Sometimes after some thinking of their own, they’ll come to you if they believe you to be sincere. Even if they don’t, you just have to move on.