Mending Fences and Tearing Down Walls After Alcohol Rehab

Completing rehab is a major step in overcoming alcohol abuse and addiction. Completing the 28 days or longer of learning to live a life without the crutch of alcohol is a big accomplishment. At the conclusion of rehab, however, you may be wondering what’s next. What is on your horizon? How best should you proceed, now that you are newly sober?

For many newcomers to sobriety, there are a great many things to attend to, not the least of which includes figuring out how to repair the damage that’s been done due to addiction. Whether it’s to alcohol or drugs or some combination thereof, maybe a process addiction and a mental health disorder added to the mix, learning how to live in recovery will take some doing.

It will also take time, determination, patience and a willingness to tackle some difficult and painful areas of your life that need attention.

Two of these are mending fences and tearing down walls. Let’s look at each of them in a little more detail.

Mending Fences

Greeting the new day in recovery, what do you see? What are the first thoughts that come to mind? Is it worry that you won’t make the right decisions? Is it fear that you don’t know what you’re going to do or a sinking feeling that you’ll lack the willpower and determination to see a task through?

Do you find yourself wishing that all your troubles will just go away, erased as if by magic? Such wishful thinking may be one way of casting aside what weighs heavily on your mind, but it won’t do anything substantial to make your problems from the past and present disappear.

No, to tackle this problem requires a careful and considerate plan of action. It won’t do just to think about what you should do and never do it. Of course, in order to come up with a plan you first have to think about what it is that you want to accomplish.

Undoubtedly, what’s resulted due to your addiction is a lot of relationships that are in need of repair. You’ve likely committed many a grievous error and hurt any number of people while you were obsessively involved with alcohol. How could it be otherwise when your entire existence was dominated and controlled by your insatiable need for alcohol?

Where do you begin to mend these fences? One way to approach this goal is to begin by listing the relationships that you have and jotting down what you have done to cause this relationship to fall into such a sorry state. Without even trying too hard, you should be able to rattle off a half dozen. These are likely to be the most important relationships in your life, the ones that really matter – or should matter. Maybe you’ve turned your back on them or vice-versa. Maybe these are friends who can no longer stomach the endless negative consequences that your addiction has brought about.

But you know who they are, so put them on your list.

As for continuing any further, that is up to you. For the purpose of capturing on paper or the computer the names of those you’ve harmed or brought pain to as a result of your addiction, if you want to keep going, by all means do so. Just know that this can start to feel a little overwhelming. That’s not the result you want. You want to be motivated to examine the list of relationships and come up with a way to start the necessary process of repairing them.

Suppose, as you look over your list, you are overcome by sadness, shame or guilt as you realize just how devastating your addiction has been to your life and to the relationships so dear to you? No, it isn’t a good feeling to have to experience, but it may be necessary in order for you to make the decision that you want to salvage these relationships and will work to ensure that, if at all possible, you are able to do so.

Still, just the prospect of trying to figure out the appropriate way to mend these fences can seem too great a hurdle. Keep in mind that there will be many obstacles and challenges that you will face in your life in recovery. This is but one of them. Granted, it’s a big one, but it isn’t insurmountable. Try to keep things in perspective and recognize that all the actions you want to take and the goals you wish to achieve take time and effort. None of them will happen overnight. This may alleviate some of the pressure and discomfort that looking at all those damaged and possibly destroyed relationships brings up.

In the rooms of recovery, this process is called making amends. It is one of the Twelve Steps that you will be working on with your sponsor. That is, you will be attending to this if you elect to participate in 12-step self-help groups as was strongly recommended to you during alcohol rehab.

The truth is that everyone who is in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, process addiction, combination of addictions, mental health disorder or any and all of these has a similar list of relationships and necessary amends to tackle. This isn’t anything new in the recovery community. That being said, you should be able to take comfort in the knowledge that there is a great deal of support and encouragement available to you in the rooms of recovery.

While you probably won’t blurt out in a meeting that you’ve hurt dozens of people and need help trying to repair those relationships, you can talk over your plan with your sponsor. After all, your sponsor is the one who will serve as your guide as you begin to work through the Twelve Steps and begin building your foundation in recovery.

Keep in mind that there will be little successes and some missteps along the way to your goal of fence-mending. Some individuals whom you have harmed may reject your efforts to mend the relationship. This does not mean that your time and intentions are worthless. You do need to make the effort to make amends to those whom you have harmed, wherever and whenever possible and only to the point where to do so will not bring further pain or harm to those individuals.

Again, this is where your sponsor can be of invaluable assistance in encouraging you and supporting your goal of mending fences and repairing and rebuilding relationships that mean something to you.

Tearing Down Walls

Another important area that you will want to tackle – sooner rather than later – is to begin tearing down the walls you have constructed that keep you isolated and walled off from others.

And one thing you know a great deal about is how to hold people at bay. You, like millions of others in recovery from alcohol abuse and addiction, know full well the tricks and self-denial and outright lies that are often told in an effort to avoid scrutiny, to keep people off your back, to permit you to continue doing the things you want to do when you want to do them.

In other words, you’ve built up some pretty solid walls around you. Pretty difficult for most people to break through, wouldn’t you agree? But while the prospect of tearing down those self-imposed walls may seem a tough challenge, it certainly isn’t out of the question. What is, however, is your willingness to tackle the challenge.

How successful do you want your recovery to be? Do you always want to be struggling uphill as if you’re carrying a massive burden on your shoulders? If you always try to go it alone, you’re likely to continue to experience frustration and disappointment, not to mention resentment and jealousy of others in recovery whom you see achieving their goals and dreams.

Maybe the answer is to let a little light into your life. Start by telling yourself that you only need to consider what your life would be like if you didn’t have this barrier between you and another person. Suppose you’ve made it abundantly clear that you didn’t want anyone else’s help, whether it’s getting back to work and picking up where you left off or trying to sort through the financial mess your addiction has created for your family. Why not ask for help? If you can admit to yourself that you don’t have all the answers, this is a very good start. From here you can begin to craft a workable plan of action, one that you can take step-by-step until you achieve your goals.

The next step to tearing down walls is to forgive yourself. And this one is huge. It doesn’t matter what you have done in your past when it comes to actually forgiving yourself. The tendency is to say that’s fine for someone else to be able to do, but not for you. In your case, you may feel that what you have done is pretty heinous and entirely unforgiveable.

Ask yourself this. If God can forgive you, why can’t you? If you don’t believe in God or a Higher Power, consider how others who have committed terrible crimes have asked for and received forgiveness and gone on to make something meaningful out of their lives. Maybe they didn’t believe in God or maybe they did. All things are possible, if you really believe that you can make a difference, starting from this day forward.

Just because your past was littered with one negative consequence after another and one failed or destroyed relationship after another doesn’t mean that you have to live that way for the rest of your life. You’ve already taken the most important step when you decided to go into alcohol rehab and stuck with it through completion of the treatment program. Now that you are in recovery, you have an incredible opportunity to make things right in your life – not only for others whom you may have harmed but also for you.

How does it work to tear down self-imposed walls? For one thing, when someone casually greets you, instead of looking the other way or responding with a gruff comment, offer up a smile. That isn’t too difficult to do and it doesn’t cost you anything. Notice that you don’t have to say anything at this point if it doesn’t feel natural. It may not to begin with. But you can work on that. In subsequent meetings, as you happen upon the same person or come into contact with strangers on the street, it may become easier to say a brief “Hello,” and then go on your way. Simple, isn’t it? But it is a building-block process for you to begin to tear down those walls you have erected all around you.

Another way to get out from behind those walls is to expand your horizons – literally and figuratively. What you want to do is to broaden your field of interests, to look for areas where you might be able to learn something new, to meet new people, to discover a hobby or activity or pastime that you enjoy – and then to pursue it with enthusiasm.

OK, the first time you get involved in something you think you might like it might seem a little strange.  You may not be all that certain that this is something you want to continue with. That’s fine. The point is that you took the initiative to check it out. If not this activity, pastime or interest, maybe the next one will be more to your liking.

The other reason tearing down walls is important in your new life in recovery is that it opens up a pathway to achieving your dreams. In the initial phase of the recovery journey, it may be a little difficult to figure out what you really want out of life. But this is part of the overall healing process, that faint stirring of a desire to make a difference, to do something positive in your life, to try something new, to become the person you really want to be. This is the beginning of hope, something that every person in recovery needs to be able to achieve peace and happiness and fulfillment in sobriety.

Let the Journey Begin

If you are at the beginning of your recovery journey or have been at it for some time, it may be helpful to remember that this is an ongoing process that you are experiencing. It is not a race. There isn’t a destination that you absolutely have to reach in order to feel happy and safe and secure. This is your life. It will be what you make it.

Since there is no actual timetable for your recovery in place, this should free you up to think about your life in a slightly different light. Instead of negatives, start thinking in positive terms.

Maybe you haven’t had much success in the past. Maybe your life has been a long string of failures and disappointments. Maybe you never allowed yourself to dream. Now, all of that can change.

The longest journey begins with you taking the first step. And you’ve already done that by getting clean and sober. What once seemed impossible has become reality. You are here now, alert and alive and ready to embrace the day. Seize this opportunity and realize that each day in recovery is yet another opportunity for you to make some profound changes and become stronger, more secure and happy in your sobriety.


Posted on June 18th, 2013

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