One of the most significant losses an active alcoholic can experience is the trust of loved ones. Follow these pointers to help someone suffering from alcoholism rebuild trust during the recovery process.
It’s not uncommon for individuals who suffer from alcoholism or who drink excessively to create a significant amount of wreckage in their lives, particularly surrounding those closest to them. Many alcoholics who are in active addiction will suffer relationship breakdowns, divorce, and job loss, among other things. One of the most significant losses an active alcoholic can experience, however, is the trust of loved ones. That being said, alcoholics can and do recover if they have the willingness and motivation, but this doesn’t make all of the bad stuff magically go away.
Allow the recovering alcoholic to focus on themselves first
When someone you share your life with is in recovery from alcoholism, rebuilding lost trust can be a long and heart-wrenching process. You’re likely only familiar with the version of that person whose brain has, in essence, been hijacked by addiction. While making the decision to get sober is a noble first step, they still need to prove that they’ve changed. This is going to be difficult until they’ve first proved to themselves that they’ve changed.
Getting clean is a move in the right direction for your alcoholic loved one, but remaining clean over the long term takes a lot of courage and a true willingness not to pick up a drink again. A solid recovery program can help, whether it be AA, SMART Recovery, or similar. With time and dedication to their program, the alcoholic can (and should) begin the process of getting to know themselves better while tapping into emotions they’d effectively drowned out while in active addiction. At this point, they can start to learn to trust their own instincts in recovery, day by day. Then, trust can slowly be rebuilt with you as well, but it’s inevitably going to take time.
Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated early on
Try not to let the alcoholic manipulate you in the early stages of recovery. While they may not have the intention of hurting you now that they’re sober, you must remember that their old patterns of bad behavior likely developed over the course of many years. These patterns aren’t typically reversed overnight.
Once you’ve noticed your loved one repeatedly engaging in more responsible behavior, then listen to your gut and determine whether or not you’re ready to start trusting them again. There’s no clear cut timeline here. Once again, you’ll need to rely on your gut, but do make sure you give it time and let them prove to you that they really have changed before you give in and begin trusting too soon. In the meantime, make sure you’re taking care of yourself and your own needs. Schedule in relaxation and recharge time, particularly if you’ve got a lot on your plate.
Learn about alcoholism – understand that it behaves like a disease
One thing that can be very challenging for people to recognize when they don’t struggle with addiction themselves is that alcoholism behaves like a disease. In fact, it’s defined as a chronic disease of the brain – one that’s often characterized by impulsive behavior and poor decision-making. While not everyone subscribes to the disease model, it’s still important to keep in mind that when an alcohol-dependent person is actively drinking, they’re powerless over alcohol. This doesn’t mean that they should be forgiven for any discretions or harm done to the family, but it can be helpful in understanding their behavior.
If and when a true-blue alcoholic makes the decision to get clean entirely of his or her own volition, this usually means they’ve acknowledged their powerlessness. Alcoholics tend to recognize that they’ve messed up when they first get sober. Even so, when they’re in the early stages of recovery, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. Rebuilding trust with loved ones can take anywhere from six months to many years depending on the level of damage done and the wreckage left over from the past.
Keep communication open, particularly when children are involved
When a recovering alcoholic is cleaning up their past and there are children involved, this can add yet another emotional layer to the alcoholic’s process of rebuilding trust. This is highlighted in situations where custody is concerned, but if the alcoholic is seeking treatment and working a solid recovery program, this can increase child custody options. Nevertheless, it’s important for family members and the alcoholic to keep communication open, particularly in the early stages of recovery. An app-based alcohol monitoring service like BACtrack View can be very beneficial because users can remotely share photo-verified records of their sobriety via an app on their smartphone adding an extra level of accountability.
Many courts believe in second chances during a custody case if the alcoholic is in recovery and doing the work necessary to stay clean. If they show steady progress over time, it can have a positive impact on the judge’s decision to increase custody and parenting time. That being said, child custody orders can also be reversed, so it’s important for the alcoholic to remain diligent in his or her recovery program. Once again, alcohol monitoring can help them to continue maintaining that trust.
Allow alcoholic parents in recovery to focus on their children first
Outside of custody matters, there are additional concerns regarding children who are living in households with an alcoholic parent. When a child grows up with an alcoholic who’s actively drinking, that child can develop serious trust issues later in life. This extends far beyond the trust they have for the parent––it can play out in their own personal relationships as well.
According to Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, adult children of alcoholics frequently have low self-esteem, problems with authority figures, trust and abandonment issues, to name a few. If you’re dealing with an alcoholic parent who’s in recovery––perhaps a spouse or an ex-spouse––allow the children to be their top priority as they work to rebuild trust with the rest of the family members. This not only creates a stronger bond between parent and child, but it can help children to avoid further development of any unhealthy behavioral patterns in the long run.
Finally, be patient and trust that alcoholics in recovery can (and do) change
If someone in your life is in recovery from alcoholism and currently working to regain your trust, it’s very important to be patient. Remember, they’re still developing their emotional intelligence and perhaps for the first time ever. This takes time. Know your boundaries and determine what behavior is acceptable ahead of time. People in recovery don’t change overnight, but they can and do change if they have the willingness.
BACtrack View is a great tool for the alcoholic to help re-establish trust with loved ones. It’s easy to use and can offer loved ones and family members the peace of mind they need when someone they care about has embarked on a recovery journey.