Rebuilding Trust in Early Recovery

This article originally appeared on ProTalk: a rehabs.com community

It’s a conversation that happens a hundred times a day around the world, in the homes of newly sober families. “You just need to trust me,” the newly sober person tells their distrusting family member.  “How can I trust you when you have lied to me before?” the family answers, weary of more disappointment. “I haven’t had a drink in a month! I am going to counseling every week. What more do I need to do to show you that I’m serious?” the sober person replies.

This is one of the widest chasms that exist between the recovering person and their family. The person in recovery looks at the effort they are making every day, maybe ever hour and sometimes every minute, to stay sober. Many times each day those well-used pathways light up in their brain and call out for a chemical fix, and just as many times the recovering person has to answer “No, I am not going to use today.” The recovering person might be avoiding their drinking buddies, passing on invites to party with friends, spending their free time in meetings or therapy, fully experiencing the sadness or anxiety or thoughts of old traumas that the drinking and drugs were helping them to avoid. Recovery is hard work. The recovering person rightly wants recognition for the effort that is being made today.

The family feels skeptical. Maybe the genuine goals of the addicted person sound too much like broken promises of the past. With only a few weeks of this new sobriety under their husband’s or daughter’s belt, it feels too early to trust the change. Sure, its nice to know they are aren’t using right now, but will it last? The family walks around holding their breath, waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” Its going to take a long time to ease the suspicion and cynicism that was hard-earned over the last few years.

Neither party is wrong. The recovering person is working hard and likely their efforts are sincere. The family, on the other hand, has been traumatized by living in fear and frustration for so long. They are rightfully cautious in their hopefulness about these new changes.

Trust is hard to build and easy to break. It takes time to rebuild the trust that addiction has dismantled. The recovering person can take solace in the knowledge that their behavior will speak for itself. Each day of recovery is one more brick in the foundation of a new reliability that the family will come to trust and believe in. Each day sober is speaks louder than a thousand promises.

The family can rest assured that feeling cautiously hopeful is a healthy response to something new that we are not sure is reliable yet. Like freshly formed ice, we want to know its strength before we skate out towards the middle. Trust does not materialize overnight and nor should it. But don’t let your cautiousness blind you to the successes and efforts of your loved one. Congratulate them on sobriety milestones. Applaud their recovery efforts. Share your pride in their accomplishments. Listen to their hopes for the future. Ask them what you can do to support their recovery. Be sure that over time your hypervigilance and anger is diminishing. If it’s not, seek out individual counseling support for yourself or family counseling for your relationship.

In the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, author Bill W described of the turmoil that addiction causes in the lives of loved ones. “The Alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others,” he wrote, “Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted.” Freshly sober and feeling like simply not drinking should be enough to mend broken hearts, “He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, ‘Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?”  So, yes, it is a relief to all that the wind has stopped blowing, but it will take time and effort to put the farm back in order.