When Your Family Has Turned Their Backs On You

When we speak of recovery for a drug addict or alcoholic, this means recovering all the joys and treasures of life that were lost in the fog of substance abuse. But for those going through the process of repairing their bodies and regenerating their spirits following a bout with addiction, what they treasure most of all can be the most difficult thing to recover – the love, acceptance, and respect of their families.

The early days and weeks of treatment and recovery are the time when addicts are most vulnerable to relapse, and it is during this period that the support of loved ones can make the biggest positive impact. But for substance abusers who have alienated their family members by their past behavior, this support may no longer be available. Sometimes, all of the lying and the broken promises and the manipulation are just too much to overcome, and this can leave a person in the early stages of recovery without the loving assistance they have relied upon for most of their lives to help them through their darkest hours.

But if this is the situation you are facing now, what you have to realize is that you were not the only victim of your substance addiction. Your family members were also its victims, and they may have felt the only way they could save themselves from the abyss was to separate from you completely. In these cases, healing the breach is going to require a lot more than just a few apologies and familiar promises that this time things will be different. If you are going to have any chance of fixing these broken relationships, you are going to have to give your loved ones more than you have ever given them before.

Making Amends – When the Time is Right

Even if your family has not expressed a willingness to listen to anything you have to say, it is important that you at least make the effort to let them know you understand the depth and the severity of the mistakes you made in the past. When it is time to take your ninth step, you need to do is to write a separate, unique letter to each and every one of your family members, discussing specific incidents that involved them individually and letting them know you realize how they were affected by those occurrences. Then, you need to tell them you are sorry for everything you did – but you need to leave it at that. Just a simple, sincere apology with no promises, no begging for forgiveness, and no guilt trips. Say you are sorry, and leave it entirely up to each individual family member to decide on their own whether or not they will accept your apology and open the door to let you back into their lives.

Writing a letter works much better than a phone call or a visit when your family members have cut off contact; no matter how mad or disillusioned they might be, they will almost certainly open your letter and read your words carefully, and if they sense true sincerity in your efforts, there is a good chance at least some of them will choose to initiate some kind of further contact with you.

If they do, it is critically important that you do everything you can think of to show them how things are going to be different this time. Let us repeat this for emphasis – you must show them, with your deeds, actions, and attitudes, that you are determined this time to break the cycle of dishonesty, selfishness, and self-destructiveness that defined and corrupted your relationships with everyone during the time you were under the spell of your drug of choice. As has so often been said, talk is cheap – so don't just talk about how things are going to be different this time, make them different and let your loved ones see for themselves that you are becoming a brand new person. Or, that you are returning to the person you used to be, before you took the down elevator to the basement of addiction.

Earning Forgiveness

Even if your family is still refusing to speak to you after you have gotten clean and sober, you must hold the love you feel for them close to your heart and use it to help motivate you in everything you do. The silence of your loved ones should be seen as an implicit challenge – they want you to beat your addiction, yes, but they also want you to become a better person, and that is the biggest reason why they have taken this drastic, seemingly final step of cutting off all contact.

If you are ever going to gain their forgiveness, you will need to do a lot to earn it. But if your love for them is strong enough, you should be more than willing to make that effort.

Posted on April 23rd, 2012

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