Rebuilding relationships damaged by alcohol addiction can be difficult.
In this blog, Susan Laurie, who has been in recovery for seven years, shares her top tips for repairing relationships with those you love.
One of the most difficult things to come to terms with when we manage to achieve sobriety, is the damage that drinking has done to our relationships. From our friends and family’s irritation at the mildly embarrassing late night drunken phone calls that we often feel compelled to make in the early days, to more serious incidents of carnage and devastation in our darkest days of full-blown addiction, those closest to us are there throughout our journey with alcohol and tend to bear the brunt of the impact that alcohol has on our behaviour.
Alcohol eventually took everything and everyone that I held dear from me, and the fear of sobering up and having to face what I had done to them was one of the things that kept me – and many people like me – drinking.
But I did get sober and I did repair my relationships, and I want you to know that you can too.
Once you are sober, it’s time to move on from your old life and to reconnect with the people that you care about and from whom you seek forgiveness. Here are some tips which I found helpful in rebuilding the relationships with those I love.
Apologise and make amends
One of the first things we need to do when we want to repair a broken relationship is to apologise. You might be surprised how powerful a sincere apology can be.
Be mindful that sincerity is the key to an effective apology. We can show sincerity by acknowledging specific instances of wrongdoing, expressing remorse, and explaining to the person why we know it was wrong and that we understand the pain that it caused.
Making amends is about righting wrongs and repairing damage. Like apologies, our attempts to make amends are not always going to be welcomed with open arms, and we have to be prepared for that rejection and not hold it against the person.
One of the most valuable lessons that I have taken from Alcoholics Anonymous is that you should only ever try to make amends with people if it will not hurt them more by doing so. It is important 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.
Be gentle and patient
You cannot spend years spiralling into alcohol addiction without causing immense hurt and embarrassment to those closest to you. You need to be realistic and appreciate that even though you are ecstatic to be sober, people may not immediately forget everything that has happened.
No matter how much someone loves you, it would have been difficult to love you in active addiction. Alcohol robs you of your true personality and you may have done things that are not easy to forgive. Believing that the real you is back to stay, may take some time and you will need to be patient.
Take responsibility and communicate
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.
Communication is a two-way street and it’s also 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 and empathetic way.
Make it clear that you understand if they have a difficult time trusting you. Ask them if there’s anything you can do that would help. Then, do it. Make sure that they know that you understand why they feel that way and that they have every right to. Trust must be earned and you need to demonstrate that you are committed to a sober and more positive life by living that way.
Again, don’t rush them. Follow their lead and do things at their pace – talk about it when they want to talk.
Sometimes, you need to let go. 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. In other cases 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 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. 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.
Repairing the connection with those you love and care for will take hard work and time – but in the end will help you stay on your path to recovery and committed to your new, sober life.
Nurture your most precious relationships
The people who have stood by us and forgiven us, deserve our love and commitment. Although I now have a much smaller circle of close friends, these are the ones that make me a better person. I call them my ‘two o clock in the morning’ friends, the ones who have been and will always be there for me and who I will always be there for.
I try hard to ‘nurture’ these friendships like you would a plant that you love, and I do the same with my family. I let them down so often before, that I now make sure that I reply to messages immediately, arrange dates to see them frequently and let them know how much they mean to me. Second nature to most, but these were things that I let slip for years.
So always 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 card. It shows that you care about them, but it also illustrates that you have your life together enough to remember such things.
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 as this shows that you are committed to doing what you say you’re going to do.
Remember that it takes time
For me, re-building my relationships is an ongoing process and I always have faith in time being a healer, starting back when I first got sober with baby steps. Regaining trust takes time and we have to be patient not only with someone else’s ability to forgive and trust us, but also with ourselves and our ability to project trustworthiness.
But, perhaps my most important message – and please believe this, is that no matter how bad things seem or how scared you are to face the people you have hurt now that you are sober, the people who matter will be kind. The people you love and who love you will be so glad to have the old you back. Things are ‘fixable’ and life will get better because you are sober.
Written by Susan Laurie
Susan Laurie is a published author and details her experiences of addiction and recovery in her book From rock bottom to sober forever.
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, there is help available to you. Speak with your GP about what support might be available to you or someone you are concerned about. This is a great first step in finding help.
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. Calls are free and confidential. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9.00am to 8.00pm, weekends 11.00am to 4.00pm).
More information about organisations which offer help and support can be found on our support page.
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.