For years, I bounced in and out of drug treatment centers so many times I had the entire process memorized. I’ve heard “tell me about your childhood” and “how does that make you feel” so often the two phrases are permanently seared into my brain! Each time I finished a rehab program I was outraged that my family didn’t trust me on any level. At one point, I was making a high six figure income and was given $20.00 daily to survive on… when my new Mercedes needed gas a family member followed me to the gas station and pay for it. Damn… I hated it! In truth, they had no reason to trust me because I had done everything on earth except Michael Jackson! Drug addicts and alcoholics are like stray dogs… you can’t help but love them on some level. You know you don’t need the hassle they bring into your life, but you love them.
If you have lived with an addict, or with anyone who has betrayed you, and that person tries to regain your trust by consistently being trustworthy, then you may have to learn to trust him again. The fact that he has become trustworthy doesn’t make this any less difficult. Because by now you wonder whether you’ve lost all perspective; if you couldn’t trust the person you thought you knew best, how can you trust anything? How can you trust your own judgment? You grapple with that one for a while. You take a kind of inventory of the people you have trusted: who among them has been always reliable, whose dependability comes and goes, who you would leave your children with.
You realize that most of the people you do trust actually are worthy; and that though you don’t trust the addict, you can trust your friends and yourself. Your trust is like a home. You can sit on the porch and watch the way someone outside behaves, and if you don’t like the behavior, you don’t have to let him in. You can watch him, you can sit there on the porch and tell him that you’re rooting for him and that you hope he gets better, and then you can go inside and close the door. If you’re having a good day, you can blow him kisses before you go in. But you don’t have to invite him in with you. Your home is secure because you have built clear boundaries around it. Some things are allowed, and others are not. It isn’t easy, but it’s simple.
If someone you love is addicted, chances are one of the first things that was damaged in your relationship with them is the trust you had. Long before you lose respect, patience and in some cases love, trust is usually the first to go. You’ve probably lived with the lies, the odd behaviors, the loss of property, theft and endless broken promises and been left with a constant sense of doubt about everything that the addict in your life says and does.
We expect to be able to trust the people we love and it goes without saying that in most relationships, when trust is absent it is difficult to keep moving the relationship forward. Those who have never shared their life with an addict would believe that loving someone without trusting them is the beginning of the end. Granted, it certainly changes the shape of the love you have for the person but if you have loved an addict and understand anything about the addiction they have, you will know that not only is losing trust, inevitable, it also becomes necessary for your protection and emotional stability, as part of surviving the journey of loving an addict.
By no means am I saying it feels at all good or right!
Unfortunately, when you love an addict, many of life’s usual expectations are reversed. Lies are expected, distrust becomes inherent, being let down is common and until a fundamental change is made and recovery is in hand, your expectations don’t usually change. But when a commitment to recovery is made, there is the opportunity for trust to be restored.
The time it takes to trust your loved one again will vary depending on each unique situation. You don’t HAVE to trust again within any set timeline. You don’t HAVE to trust when your addict tells you that you should. Unfortunately in the early days of recovery it may not even be possible to begin to trust as old behaviors can linger even when the addiction is being managed. Often when lies and deceit have been a constant way of life, the habits can be easily fallen back into for reasons we might not understand. When I got sober, I would lie about small, seemingly inconsequential things, because for me the truth had been blurred for so long, and the untruths were so thickly woven into my life, the lies came a lot easier than reality. It took a number of months for me to learn to fully speak the truth, about everything, so that I could begin to rebuild trust piece by piece with my family and friends.
Communication is a critically important tool and this means being able to ask questions and have them answered with honesty, respect and kindness. This is a condition that must be put in place from day one. A willingness to agree to it signals a strong commitment to recovery.
In recovery, allow your loved one to begin to earn your trust but be aware that this is a skill they need to re-develop. You should continue to protect yourself but also observe their commitment to their recovery, look for changes to their lifestyle, friends and choices of entertainment, watch how they behave, listen to what they say, and decide if all of these are aligned with an honest recovery.
You might experience your loved one becoming frustrated that you don’t immediately trust them the minute they set their intentions on recovery. This is common and can seem defensive, causing you to wonder if they protest too much? It is important to have an open conversation about your wish to also have the trust restored but make it clear that for this to happen, you must be allowed the time you need to witness a constant effort to maintain trustworthy actions and behavior and as long as this is evident, you believe that you can begin to trust again.
While the trust is being rebuilt it can be easy to fall into over vigilance. Don’t waste energy trying to make sure your loved one doesn’t relapse or looking for evidence of betrayals. I know this can be difficult but they must learn how to conduct themselves appropriately on their own and your constant intervention will only create a dynamic of control and resentment, which doesn’t create a particularly good start for a relationship in recovery.