Addiction is a family disease. It affects the individual and everyone in the individual’s life, often for years. When the recovery journey begins, the road in the rearview mirror is littered with wreckage. Spouses want nothing to do with us. Parents are tapped out. And children have lost hope and respect for us. We are no longer the heroes we once were in their young eyes. The disease has had its way with us, and with our families.
As we begin our recovery journeys, we feel riddled with guilt and shame over the things we have done. Sometimes we even feel angry because we believe that our family is really to blame for our drinking. We think, “If he or she would only stop nagging, I wouldn’t drink so much.” In early sobriety, we are just trying to hang on and heal. So how do we begin to heal ourselves and get right, while sorting through so many conflicting emotions? How do we rebuild important relationships with our families, spouses and children that seem beyond repair? And how do we break the cycle of addiction within our families?
Well, the answer is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is, we get sober and do whatever it takes to stay sober. Period. The more complicated answer is that it takes time and a complete shift in our attitude to fully repair our relationships. We also must be willing to honestly accept that some of our relationships may never fully heal.
When I offer these thoughts, please know that this isn’t something I read in a textbook. I speak from a deep place of personal experience. When I got sober, my 17-year marriage was failing badly, and my seven children had lost all respect for me as a father (and rightfully so). Over 13 years of sobriety, and a lot of hard work later, my relationships with my family and children have never been stronger or more meaningful.
I’d like to think this journey has blessed me with perspective and experience that I can now share with others as they struggle to rebuild trust within their family relationships. Reflecting on my path, there were several actions that helped me, which I’ve detailed below. I haven’t performed these actions perfectly, but I’ve done my best to incorporate them into my life, and it’s benefitted me and my relationships immensely. As always, take what works for you and leave the rest behind.
Ten Right Actions to Take Over Time
- Stay sober…no matter what. Work a program of recovery daily. Go to any and every length to protect your sobriety. Do whatever it takes.
- Be open, honest and vulnerable — and respect others’ right to do the same. Make recovery a topic of conversation, not taboo, and let your children know that it’s okay to talk about it. Share openly about your journey, the ways in which you have let them down, and what it means to you to be sober. Of course, it’s probably best to do this in a general way, avoiding some of the more vivid details that are not appropriate for children.
- Focus on cleaning up your side of the street. Your focus should not be on what “they” have done to you, rather, on how you may have harmed others. Genuinely ask your loved ones what you can do to right your wrongs, and then follow through by acting in accordance with their wishes.
- Less words, more action. I love the quote, “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear your words.” Actions say everything that needs to be said. Don’t tell your family what you plan to do. Show them one day at a time.
- Be patient. It took time to burn things to the ground, so guess what? It will take time to rebuild. A simple “sorry” and 30 days of sobriety won’t be enough to repair everything that was destroyed during years of active addiction. But the right actions performed consistently over long periods of time will work miracles.
- Be open to believing in a higher power and trusting that all things have a purpose. Focus on doing your part, not on controlling the outcome. Be willing to accept that some relationships aren’t meant to continue, and some are. We do our part and leave the rest up to God.
- Stand tall and hold your head high. You don’t have to be a victim or a martyr for the rest of your life. Recovery is not a life sentence without parole. Embrace your recovery journey as an integral part of your story.
- Stay humble. Check your pride and ego at the door. After years of active addiction, we have a lot to make up for. Let others come back into your life at their own pace. Some relationships heal quickly, and others take time.
- Ask for help. Take every opportunity to get help and other perspectives. Get a sponsor. See a therapist. Attend a family program. All of these resources can help you stay connected to your recovery and the community.
- Firstly, lastly and again — stay sober! None of the actions above can make up for falling back into active addiction.
It has been my experience that recovery changes who we are fundamentally, to the very core of our being. I initially got sober because I needed to stop drinking. What I didn’t realize is that this journey would change, shape and mold me in ways I never could have imagined. Everything I know about being a good father, I learned from my dad, but recovery turned me into the best dad I’ve ever been. Everything I know about being of service to my fellow man, I learned in recovery. And everything I know about being a good husband, I learned in recovery.
In closing, you have an opportunity, the same opportunity I was given 13 years ago. An opportunity to live a life of recovery. An opportunity to break the cycle of addiction in your family. An opportunity to live the best life imaginable.
Remember, time and right action can work miracles.
Wasatch Warriors on three…