Has Your Addiction Hurt The People You Love?

When you're in early recovery, how do you care for yourself and your family simultaneously?

A lot of people will tell you not to do this. They'll say things like recovery is selfish, focus on you, focus on staying sober. But to do that, you have to avoid your family who's on your butt, who's watching you like a hawk, who's maybe putting down a lot of boundaries and controlling, and so you're trying to ignore them, and this triggers your family and makes them do it more, which is triggering for you.

If you stop ignoring them, they will stop spying, controlling, snooping, questioning, and making passive-aggressive comments. Can you imagine how much easier getting sober will be when you don't have your family breathing down your neck every second?

The first thing you have to do is stop the addicted behavior.
If the addiction continues, you can't heal the family, so you must be solidly committed.

 Once you have the addictive behavior somewhat stable, you want to move on to the second step: Acknowledge how your addictive behavior has hurt your loved ones.

I recommend when you do this step, get out a piece of paper and put the names of your loved ones on each sheet of paper, so you can think about how your behavior has affected that loved one specifically because you want to avoid general blanket apologies like, "I'm sorry, and I know my behaviors affected you negatively."

You can say that, but it may backfire on you because my guess is you probably said it before, and sometimes when you repeat it, families can respond negatively and say things like, "Yeah, we heard all that before, and what's going to be different this time?" Or other passive-aggressive comments.

You may have difficulty thinking about how your behavior hurt your loved one, but hang in there; I will give you many examples. Ensure you have those pens and pencils ready, which will significantly help you.

But before I tell you what they are, write this at the top of each piece of paper: acknowledge how you hurt them precisely without any of these things--without justifying, rationalizing, or defending yourself, minimizing your behavior, and that's where it will be challenging. It's our instinct to do that. Those are ways we defend against our shame and guilt about the situation. But if we say things like I'm sorry, but, It wasn't that bad, or It never was as bad as you thought, the other person will think you're not very sincere.

Your family only wants two things:

  1. They want to know that you get that it is a problem. Like, really and truly and deeply get that your addictive behavior is an addiction and a problem.
  2. They want to know that you get that it's hurt them and caused damage.

Suppose you can effectively communicate that to them. In that case, it will bring their anxiety down significantly, which will bring your anxiety down too.

*I know the thought of doing this may sound scary, but here's what I want you to think about. It's like if you have a splinter in the bottom of your foot, and you keep walking on it, and eventually, it gets infected, and you can't even walk. But if you've ever had a splinter, you know as soon as you've taken it out, you feel better. And the healing happens quickly after that. That's what happens when we don't deal with things. All of the avoidants are just keeping you stuck and uncomfortable longer.

You got your papers out; you got your family members' names up there; you've written on there, "I'm not going to justify or rationalize."

So here's what you'll write next: convey that you understand exactly how you've hurt them. 

You might already know exactly how your behavior has impacted them. They've told you many times if you stop to think about it for just a few minutes. They probably screamed it at you several times. So that's an excellent place to start. On the other hand, if they've said something to you repeatedly, that's probably the big daddy. So go ahead and put that at the top of the paper.

If you're having trouble articulating how your behavior has hurt them, here are some things to consider:

  • Have you been gaslighting your family member? (gaslighting means making someone think they're crazy, specifically on purpose.)
  • Maybe you've just not been very present for your family.
  • Maybe some things you've done have embarrassed or even humiliated your loved one.
  • Have you blamed your loved one for your addiction? That's a big one to own.
  • You might have put your loved one in awkward situations, and acknowledging that will help them feel very seen and heard.
  • If you're honest with yourself, you've probably been unpredictable and unreliable.
  • Have you broken promises?
  • Have we not taken care of our responsibilities?
  • Are you not pulling your fair share of weight in the family?
  • Have you told lies or been deceitful in some way?
  • Split family members against each other, just trying to keep everyone from finding out what's going on.
  • Have you been manipulative to your loved ones?
  • Did you try to control their emotions and get specific responses out of them—either good responses or negative responses?
  • Have you not taken their concerns seriously?
  • Maybe you've been irritable with them.
  • Maybe there's been a lot of financial deception.

That's just a list of some prevalent ways that when we're in active addiction, our addiction impacts our family. The more specific you can be, the better, but whatever you do, stay on your side of the street. Most of you already know when I say stay on your side of the street, we're not focusing on what they did or didn't do that contributed or their bad behavior. Now isn't the time to deal with theirs; this is about getting it off your shoulders so you don't have to avoid it and feel shameful, guilty, and resentful anymore. And it's also about helping them so their anxiety can go down, which will help your anxiety go down.

As we go through this process, you may think there are some people I need more time to be ready to do this with. And if you know they're not in your life every day right now, then it's OK to wait on this. But if this is your spouse and you're living with them, if this is your parent, if this is your child and you're still in an everyday type relationship with them, the faster you can get this done, the better they're going to feel.

If you're ready to do this and want some step-by-step guidance, you can look at my Rapid Relationship Repair online course. It is for people in recovery, either early or even later, who's damaged a relationship, and you want to heal that.

Amber Hollingsworth

Next, I want you to watch this video, which is more about building trust with your family.

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