“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”- Helen Keller
People in early recovery face mixed responses from the members of their families. After countless broken promises, family members may not be quick to trust. Reactions vary. Each member responds in a different manner according to their temperament and level of connection to you. Some family members applaud your attempts at recovery. Others are wary; waiting for the addict to disappoint them again.
Remember, each child expresses their feelings in different ways. Their reactions range from quiet to argumentative. Some children make extra efforts to keep the peace, while others refuse to obey. A wide spectrum of behaviors can be expected. Some will do anything to assist in whatever way they know. Others disconnect to protect themselves from the possibility of more turmoil.
The challenge of healing from substance abuse in the home can be difficult. How do you handle the not uncommon response of distrust and distance? Your words and actions are critical. Too many hurts can block the tenderness that is possible between you. If one of your children or your significant other exhibits distance or withdraws, here are some suggestions.
Make sincere amends
To avoid making matters worse, use the direction of a sponsor. Listen and acknowledge their pain. Express your understanding of how your addiction affected them. Rather than a general sweeping apology, try to be specific when appropriate. Surely there are times when ‘less is best’ is warranted, but quite often being specific is far more productive. For example, rather than “I’m sorry for all the times I hurt you,” you could search your mind for a particular circumstance when you hurt them. A better approach might be, “ I remember when I told you I would come to your recital and I never showed up. I was wrong. I imagine you were hurt and mad. I want you to know I will do everything in my power to not break my promise to you ever again.” Additionally, “What can I do to make things better between us?” might be wise. Let them talk and really listen. Without counterpoint. Without judgment. Without defense.
Work on communication
Perhaps the conversation between you is strained. Conversation is a two-way street. You can not talk to a wall for long without frustration and discouragement sets in. Try to be understanding. Many small moments over time serve to rebuild our relationships. To be a good speaker you need to be a good listener. Be aware of what is actually being said, as often it pales in comparison to what isn’t being said. The ability to read non-verbal clues and behaviors increases your chances of a successful encounter. Pay attention to the positive exchanges. Celebrate minor victories.
Spend time together
When you spend time with your child or significant other, trust is restored. Many children have missed opportunities to do normal activities with their addicted parents. It’s new to them to be able to engage in activities many consider normal. In the beginning, many children are uncomfortable with you on some level. Full healing takes time. It’s not a one-shot deal. Consistent effort will yield great rewards. When you plan to do something together make sure you keep your word. Integrity of this sort is essential toward rebuilding your relationships. Spending time together demonstrates how much you care and shows you cherish them in a concrete way. Recently I read a beautiful quote that expressed this truth, “To a child love is spelled T-I-M-E” I can’t agree more. When you put attention on your child and give of your time, they begin to recognize their value to you. They will start to trust you again.
The damage created by addiction can be overcome. True healing in the home takes time, commitment and effort. One day at a time, relationships do mend.