Whether it’s your spouse or a different family member in recovery, addiction generally affects your entire family unit with a ripple effect. Side effects from the disease often involve broken trust, boundaries that are constantly overstepped and feeling helpless. If a loved one is in treatment, chances are your family is going to experience a number of changes – some good, and some with barriers that are hard to break through. With time, communication and love as your foundation, it is possible to rebuild your family and become closer than ever.
Keeping your expectations level with your loved one is key. Addiction is a disease that is subtle with side effects that surface throughout a person’s life. Your loved one may be feeling optimistic and like a changed person after completing time in a rehab or graduating from sober living. This makes it easy for family members to place expectations on a loved one while they are going through treatment and especially as they build their life back together. Expecting apologies, overnight changes and for someone to maintain the same level of enthusiasm for extended periods of time will lead to certain disappointments. Trust that over time, the progress you are hoping for his possible to achieve. There will always be bumps in the road with good days and bad days. However, the combination of sobriety and doing the work in the twelve steps almost always leads to positive new territory in your relationship. The journey does not end after a recovery program is completed, so it is important to be patient but still define your own boundaries.
Patience is the hardest part of rebuilding your family. Patience with your loved one gives them room to grow and change. The work that they do in their twelve-step program can take years and they will need to work at maintaining sobriety for a very long time to follow. It is also equally important to be patient with yourself. You may find that it takes longer to rebuild trust than you expected, or that things aren’t going “back to normal” as soon as you had hoped. It is normal not to feel ready to forgive completely – but over time, your loved one can prove their progress through positive actions. Forgiveness is a good goal to work toward with your family. While your loved one is focused on his or her own sobriety, you can focus on how to move forward, together.
Along with patience comes a healthy distance from your spouse or family member’s recovery. This means practicing self-care and resisting the urge to manage their sobriety and progress. Many levels of co-dependency can develop during the height of a person’s addiction. It’s tough to break these habits because you love this person and the way you show it comes from a caring place. But your loved one is truly the only person who is responsible for his or her own sobriety. Remaining heavily involved can sometimes subconsciously cause expectations that aren’t reciprocated, which leads to resentment and tension. Having your own support group is essential. Even if your support group is your own family, you will want someone to talk to as well. You may also want to build a network with others who are going through similar difficulties in Al-Anon meetings. Whatever you choose to do, it’s important to remember that you are able to offer the highest level of support when you are taking care of your own needs as well.
Communication is one of the most important areas to maintain while your family regroups. Open, honest communication helps all relationships involved. Check in with your family members and the person who is in recovery. Let them know that they can talk to you about what’s going on. Communication also includes sharing your feelings when you may have previously kept them to yourself, clearly defining your boundaries and learning effective, respectful techniques that allow you to be heard and to listen to your loved one.
Your family is on a journey that will last a very long time. However, it does not always have to be difficult or emotionally taxing. Your loved one has entered a new chapter where they will become more present in their relationships and to recognize previous patterns that were unhealthy. The most important thing to remember is you don’t have to go through these changes alone and while the person who struggles with their addiction can build their own support system, you can do the same and have others to help guide you through it.