Addiction has a way of damaging everything in it’s path: Careers, families, marriages, opportunities, freedom, health. While it can rip a path of destruction, do you know one of the first things to go? Trust. Often times, long before loved ones lose their patience, respect or sometimes even their love – trust goes out the window. Sometimes, it’s a slow chipping before the final blow to lose trust: Small, repeated lies about whereabouts, a dead cell phone, a lost wallet, or sobriety. Other times, the offenses are much larger. Either way, the lies, the strange behavior, endless broken promises and constant senses of doubt and worry have left you in a trust-less relationship. And relationships without trust aren’t healthy for anyone.
The repeated use of trust.
There are few people more difficult to trust than those in active addiction. After all, the disease of addiction thrives on support – and support can only happen with the right pieces in place. A person in active addiction often needs to craft truth-bending stories or break promises in order to get the drugs they are physically, mentally and emotionally addicted to. A family member can go through an emotional rollercoaster as their trust is broken, patched back up, and shattered once again. Family members want to believe their loved one is telling the truth – that they’re sober and ready to do whatever it takes. Family members want to believe their loved one when they beg for forgiveness because they learned their lesson, really learned their lesson this time. Family members want to believe it will be different this time. The repeated lies and broken promises, however, change things. Our usual expectations are reversed. Lies are inevitable. Distrust is inherent. Let downs are an everyday occurrence. With that being said, you may wonder how you can ever trust a loved one with an addiction. The following tips can help:
- Understand exactly what you are dealing with. The lies told to support the addiction aren’t about you, the things you have (or haven’t) done – and they aren’t even about your loved one lacking values or morals. The lies are a result of the brain changes caused by alcohol or drugs. You are dealing with the disease of addiction. When you can step back and look at the lies as part of the disease – rather than a part of your loved one – it makes it a little easier to separate the two. Your loved one’s behavioral illness has influenced his or her thoughts and actions, poor decisions and behaviors that have harmed you. Distinguishing the person you know and love from the words and actions that have harmed you is an excellent first step in learning to trust again.
- Trust yourself. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of addiction can be the blame game. With addiction in play, everyone is hurting: the person who is using, his or her family or friends. Where there is pain, there is often blame. During your loved one’s active addiction, you may have been accused of things you’re shocked that he or she could imagine. You may have spent countless hours defending yourself against hurtful accusations. Your faith and trust in yourself may be lacking. When learning to trust another person, you must know how to trust yourself: Trust your instincts and trust your assessment of the situation – regardless of whether or not your addicted loved one agrees with you or not. Trust that you do not have to gain their acceptance of everything and trust that you are your own person – no matter how great your love for him or her. Trusting yourself opens the door to trusting others.
- Communicate openly and honestly. Communication is one of the most important tools in life – especially in relationships and recovery. Many times, the way in which we communicate with each other contributes to how our relationships are grown and strengthened. Because addiction can strain communication, recovering those open lines can be a process. Things to keep in mind in order to improve conversations and communication include:
- Thinking through what you want to communicate. When words can break or build, take your time to think before speaking. It won’t be easy – especially in the heat of the moment or when you feel hurt or attacked. In the long run, those few extra moments to gather your thoughts can go a long way.
- Using “I” statements. You know what it is like to feel attacked. Not good, right? One way to avoid this type of communication is by conveying how you are feeling – and beginning statements with the word “I”.
- Create a conducive environment. Emotions can escalate quickly in chaotic environments. In order to avoid confusion, misunderstandings and frustration – plan to have conversations in an environment that is private, quiet and calm. This way, you’ll both feel more comfortable and safe in opening up.
- Set healthy boundaries. Boundaries are key in creating healthy relationships – and in building trust; the establish guidelines for appropriate behaviors, responsibilities, words and actions. When your boundaries are malleable or don’t exist, you open yourself up to lose what makes you, you. A lack of healthy boundaries when a loved one is addiction can mean that you will be lied to, cheated on and stolen from. Check out our suggestions for seven of the most important boundaries to set when a loved one is addicted.
- Know that it takes time. Trust can take years to build and even longer to rebuild – but it can also be broken with one single action. It will take many honest answers and reliable actions before your trust can begin to grow. Allowing your loved one to begin to earn your trust will take time, observation of their commitment to recovery, changes in their lifestyle, improvement in their behaviors and a change in their words. Healing will over time as you witness a constant effort to maintain trustworthy actions and behaviors. Healing, forgiving and trusting are all processes. Let them unfold.