By Kip Flock
When my daughter first came out of a rehabilitation center, I had high hopes that we’d be close again. Yet I obsessed about her relapsing. In my own mind, I had failed because I had been blind to her addiction. I blamed myself for not seeing it coming. When, after a short period of abstinence, my daughter got a DUI, the only thing I felt was despair.
After her relapse, I told myself I had to maintain control. I was convinced that I was her only salvation, yet I dreaded getting up in the morning to face another day of dashed hopes. My efforts to help her only got me ingratitude and contempt. I exhausted myself and everyone around me. My heartbeat became irregular. Her phone messages made me jump out of my skin.
I used to wonder why I had to come up with positives when my daughter hadn’t yet apologized for all the negatives she’d put me through. I needed to take the lead in changing first.
After 30 years of helping others as a psychotherapist, life coach, and father, and as someone practicing life-long recovery myself, I now know there are better solutions for bringing serenity to your family. Here, I’ll describe the four pillars for rebuilding trust in families new to recovery, and bringing back the light of love and respect your family deserves.
Pillar 1: Avoid Attempts to Control Outcomes
You can kill yourself trying to prevent a loved one’s relapse.
Let your loved ones work their own program. Stop being a detective; turn them over to their higher power. Stop all interrogations immediately. The third degree only sets up resistance and it gives them an excuse to drink or use with righteous justification. Listen with empathy, but don’t bail them out with advice.
Accept that you have no power to keep them from using alcohol and other drugs. Rebuilding trust in the family begins by trusting that you are worth taking care of. Find support and say no to futility, it is the first pillar of family trust.
Pillar 2. Communicate in a Strength-Based, Non-Shaming Style
Notice what other family members are doing well. State your compliments in the positive. “You remembered,” versus, “you didn’t forget.” I used to wonder why I had to come up with positives when my daughter hadn’t yet apologized for all the negatives she’d put me through. I needed to take the lead in changing first.
This second pillar protects trust whether we are complementing others or confronting denial. If we unwittingly guilt family members, we become part of the problem. Coercing them to keep commitments only triggers their shame. Toxic shame confirms that they are defective and unable to change. Eliminating shame allows trust to increase naturally.
Everyone in the family needs to be celebrated for their ability to learn and change. Try not to let past resentments stand in the way of this pillar. When families can do this for each other, trust blossoms beyond measure.
Pillar 3. Don’t Interfere with Natural Consequences
I used to give my daughter money for rent, car payments, clothes, fines and other endless requests. My financial “support” was to prevent her from giving up on sobriety. I distorted reality to see progress that wasn’t really evident. The only way to help an addict is to allow them to feel the pain they have created. Unfortunately, unless all family members are in agreement, the one person setting healthy boundaries and saying no can get cast as the “bad guy.” You can raise trust considerably in your family by supporting those who stop enabling.
We need to let addicts learn from their mistakes. They are experts at splitting family members, even after sobriety. An addict can sense when you’ve made the soul-sacrificing deal with your inner terrorist: “I will only feel ok when she likes me again and I get her sober for life.” The inner terrorist is your disease—it’s the toxic shame urging you to accomplish what is not humanly possible: To save someone from her own choices.
When an addict, even in recovery, smells your desperation to save, they are no longer accountable for earning your trust. They’ll assume that you will be satisfied with something less than their best efforts. They can pit one family member against another until the whole family is torn apart—which serves as the prelude, taking them out of the center of the drama as they slide back into an active addiction.
The desire to save is strong. Get help from your sponsor in a Twelve Step program to help you stand your ground.
Pillar 4: Find a Safe Place to Share Your Feelings
Families of those in recovery have been hurt and disappointed countless times during an active addiction. Addicts are ruthlessly covert and deceptive, like I was when active in my disease. Before I got into recovery I justified all broken commitments; then I emotionally abused anyone who questioned my accounts of reality. I deflected human contact, afraid to let anyone know the depth of my shame. It’s very difficult not to expect more deception even after your loved one gets sober. Only as you’re cleared of unfinished resentments, sadness, fear and shame can you be an agent for family trust. Rebuilding trust in your family depends on your own authenticity. Over the last ten years I’ve needed the support of Twelve Step groups, several therapists and a life coach to prevail through my daughter’s relapses. I went through a tedious series of court appearances to get custody of my grandchildren. My anger, fear and shame could have destroyed my marriage if I hadn’t had extensive help with my feelings. I don’t want to numb out and lose the trust of my 10-year-old grandson and 12-year-old granddaughter. They are too precious. I don’t want to shut down or lose my temper from mounting rage. Trust depends on talking about emotions, neutralizing fears and eliminating assumptions. Communicate honestly and encourage other family members to do the same. Check in with each other often, and provide a safe environment for doing so. No feelings are bad feelings and often, unexpressed emotions fuel fear.
When family members of a newly recovering person let their imaginations run wild, they envision the misery of the past and fear an ominous future. Say no to being driven. Say yes to easing up on yourself. Trust in this moment that you deserve peace. Now take a deep breath.
[bio] Along with a private psychotherapy practice in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Kip offers coaching and training for individuals, professionals, and organizations to implement change and increase performance.