Taking Inventory of the Relationships in Your Life

You may be familiar with a Boy Scout rule that encourages cleaning up after yourself: “Leave the campground better than you found it.” This isn’t always easy in practice, especially for those whose behaviors in the throes of addiction left chaos and damage in their wake. To begin anew, taking inventory can be an enlightening and empowering way to tidy up the messes these behaviors might have created in your relationships. Better to dismantle the piles before they become unmanageable.

Taking Stock of Your Relationships

Consider the relationships you have with those closest to you — parents, children, partners, friends, and co-workers. What do you enjoy most about encounters with them? How would you like them to change for the better? If you’re in a romantic relationship, what are its dynamics? If an addiction is present, the relationship gets convoluted because a third party (the substance or behavior) enters the picture. If both people have untreated addictions, it is like a four-person relationship. That gets really complicated. There are also situations in which the dynamics of the relationship contribute to the addiction, and ending it could be in everyone’s best interest.

Reason, Season, and Lifetime Relationships

It’s been said that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Perhaps someone crosses your path briefly, you make eye contact, and you move on. Author HeatherAsh Amara shares a story of such a meeting, which took place in India when she was 7 years old and made a permanent impact on her life. Sometimes you’re meant to encounter another person in order to heal something within one of you or to work on a project together, taking your leave of each other once it’s complete. And then there are lifelong friendships or partnerships. All the people you know and love were once strangers, and they’ll all one day die or leave you, or you will die or leave them. Accepting those realities makes for healthier relationships. Perhaps relationships never truly end but merely change form. Here are helpful questions to consider when that happens:

  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • Can you leave others with open communication rather than abrasive or abusive interactions?
  • What would you like to say to others, and what would you like to hear?
  • Can you process your emotions with family members, friends, therapists, or sponsors so you can heal, rather than carry resentment?
  • Are you willing to step back from another person so each of you can move on freely?
  • Are you able to be grateful for what you learned by being together, even if it was painful?

“Cleaning Up” or “Clearing Out” Relationships

A woman in recovery for long-term alcoholism and a recent suicide attempt has begun changing the nature of relationships that had contributed to her mental health challenges. She has discovered that some are salvageable. She was “cleaning up” relationships that were reparable and “clearing out” relationships that were toxic. Growing assertiveness, noticing where she’d allowed people to cross boundaries, and improving communication have helped in the first case. Finding she had the courage to close the door on people whose expectations drained her helped in the second. She was able to accept that saying “no” and “yes” with greater ease were steps toward improving every relationship, allowing her to “leave the campground better than she found it.” By Edie Weinstein, LSW Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1

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