Early recovery can be an overwhelming time for most people. The world looks much different from behind sober eyes. Every human being also has the basic need for food and shelter and the basic need to belong to a group and form partner relationships.
Relationships on the norm can be difficult even after years of working on them. The excitement of completing a rehab program and desire to reconnect with friends and family is a new beginning of belonging and rebuilding those relationships. As you work to rebuild relationships, you must have an understanding that not everyone will be willing to forgive and forget the “past you.”
How relationships and recovery help with rebuilding
Early sobriety is the time most people have just been discharged from rehab and returning home to family and friends. In most cases, they find that those who love them most may have the least trust in them. Family members can appear like they are walking on glass, anticipating a relapse.
Family members and friends will react in different ways, and a combination of these reactions as the rebuilding begins:
- They may get upset and angry remembering all the ways that the addiction “behavior” negatively impacted their trust of the person in recovery.
- If the family member or friend abused the substance along with the person in recovery, they might be in denial from deep feelings of guilt.
- Fear is a common response due to trauma triggers from memories of the harmful behaviors that happened in the past.
A person in recovery may experience their loved ones strong feelings like anger, fear, guilt, and trauma from emotional pain. However, happiness is just around the corner as the life of an addict becomes a new life of sobriety and hope. Most people will be happy just to see their family member or friend be in a place of recovery and honestly trying to stay clean and sober.
In early recovery, it is all about learning a new way of living – one without using drugs and alcohol. Over time the decisions not to use drugs and alcohol will give the individual in recovery a renewed inner strength, and they will find a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
Boredom is a potential “relapse trigger” since many people developed an addiction to alcohol and drugs during times of feeling lost, depressed, and apathetic about life. When someone loses their motivation due to boredom, it is too easy to fall into the trap of the past drug seeking as a focus of life.
It is also highly stressful during the transition from inpatient rehab treatment to home environment, leaving a protected structured environment of a rehab facility can create more “spare time” a risk for boredom to reappear. Finding new ways of spending any spare time is key to avoiding this “boredom trigger.”
Recovery should be spent finding others who have similar interests and helping to rekindle past interests while developing new interests to keep your focus off the past and on the “now.”
There are several recovery programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous, which suggest a “one-year rule” regarding engaging in relationships with people who are new to recovery. The recovery process should be a time for inner reflection as the person now in sobriety sees life from a new perspective. It should be a time of gaining new insights and building on new learned coping skills to choose a life without drugs and alcohol.
An individual’s unique and natural personality is reforming itself again as the person who is in recovery takes a minute, hour, a day at a time. Once the individual finds their authentic self, they integrate a healthy relationship with themselves – “love thyself.” This new emotionally healthy self-opens doors for future healthy and happy relationships.
Consider that It is not fair to a potential future partner to commit to a serious relationship if the person in recovery is not able to be available to the relationship.
It is possible to maintain a relationship that is healthy and maintain recovery goals as you set goals to be true to yourself and the relationship. However, it is about setting priorities first to yourself to stay focused on recovery. You must love yourself before you can truly love others.
Continued open communication is critical as someone in recovery will struggle from old, addictive patterns and may feel vulnerable to using. This requires a trusting partner and accepting that trust as together you share struggles and victories. During sobriety you are already showing the world that you have the courage to move forward into a new life.
Be in a state of mindfulness with the practice of compassion for self and partner. Compassion will be the glue for any broken pieces from bumps along the “relationship road” ahead.
A healthy relationship provides a built-in support system. The committed partner can be a coach and gentle guide which will be a source of motivation to continue abstinence. By sharing what was learned in rehab with your partner they can also help you practice new emotional coping strategies and provide encouragement and modeling.
A healthy relationship can help boost the self-esteem of the person n recovery. For a person in recovery to feel good about themselves, they must release the old nature which involved using drugs and alcohol to numb feelings. The new nature is being able to share life from a place of sobriety.
To help nurture this process the partner should offer praise and encouragement which will help the recovery.
Relationships always come with memories and regardless of whether the memories were good or bad they are very powerful when recalled. A relationship moves in and out of the present and at times bringing up mixed emotions. Sometimes the relationship becomes a type of “substitute addiction” which is intensified if the relationship began before sobriety. In some cases, the partner served as an enabler of the substance abuse.
The recovering addict may not be emotionally healthy enough to carry on the demands of a relationship. The relationship could also become codependent as both parties rely on the other for emotional, psychological and physical support.
A relationship can interfere with recovery goals. When the goals for recovery involve introspection and an intense focus on one’s self, personal goals are often put low on the priority list. The relationship feels right and early in recovery may feel like a “high.”
However, in recovery, you cannot afford to change your focus on someone else and shared goals outside the treatment goals. If a romantic or sexual relationship becomes more important than their recovery, coping skills are challenged and fail, which leads to extreme emotional highs and lows in the relationship. With increased anxiety comes dangerous behaviors which could arise, and then relapse.
If you have reached the point of sobriety and completed a good rehab program you are to be congratulated. It will be important that you stay involved in ongoing individual counseling, regular group meetings, i.e., AA or NA.
Also, meeting regularly with a sponsor who understands what you are going through. Relationships in early recovery can take your focus away from the actions required to help you stay strong and avoid relapse. Once you have time to settle in to your “new life” taking steps with commitment to reach your goal of abstaining from alcohol and drugs, you will see through a veil, once heavy and dark, now crystal clear into a future of hope. Hope of a life of happiness and faith when life challenges you.
Finding a place of “heartfulness” which is where your inner heart meets mindfulness. You become happy and healthy and now you are prepared to engage in a healthy relationship. This new relationship will become the “wind beneath your wings” and you will soar in the truth that set you free.
New Roads Behavioral Health believes in relationships for recovery and promise to help all of our clients bridge the gaps to “rocky relationship” as well as emphasize the importance of relationships.