In 1985, psychologist Harriet Lerner wrote the popular book, Dance of Anger. One of her main points in the book is that a relationship is a dance. And that when one person changes so does the relationship. If two people are dancing and one person begins to take long strides instead of short baby steps, then the dance will obviously change. And the same is true for relationships. If two people are in a relationship (doesn’t matter the type of relationship – friendship, marriage, etc.) when one person changes, the relationship is destined to change.
The point is that if you’re in recovery, then you are likely on the road to changing your life. You are perhaps learning better coping tools, no longer in a state of denial, no longer blaming others, and taking more responsibility for your life. These alone can turn make old, unhealthy relationships into those that are healthy and fulfilling.
The good news is that just by virtue of being in recovery and changing yourself, you will see that your relationships in turn will naturally change. At the same time, healthy relationships require some attention. Sometimes, they require strengthening and healing from the past.
In fact, if you’re in a 12-step program, then you might be invited to explore the past. Each of the 12 steps are meant to facilitate healing and long-term sobriety in a person. Many men and women find that doing so not only helps with feeling better about themselves, but it also helps with restoring relationships with family and friends, relationships that may be supportive during recovery. And if you are working the 12-steps, then you might already know that steps 8 and 9 ask that a person make amends with those who are important to them:
- Step Eight: Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Step Nine: Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Whether you are in a 12-step program or not, you may eventually want to make amends with friends and family members – especially if these loved ones were hurt because of the addiction. In order to help strengthen, build bonds, and repair your relationships, here are a few suggestions to consider:
Spend time with one another. You can begin to heal your relationships by planning to spend time with one another. You might plan every other weekend to do something together. You might make sure that you have fun together, eat dinner together, or exercise together on a regular basis. It’s easy to let shyness or a difficult past to keep you from those you love. But, making time to spend with one another can improve the quality of your relationship and bring you closer to your friends and family.
Communicate even when it’s difficult. Although sometimes conversations are difficult to have, the challenging talks are the ones that frequently bring two people together. This may not be true if the issue isn’t resolved. However, issues won’t ever get resolved if no one is talking about them. If concerns and feelings continue to get ignored, they only fester. If someone feels hurt and they don’t bring it up, it’s easy to carry a grudge or become resentful. Meanwhile, if no one is talking, it’s easy to continue to focus on anything but communicating what needs to be said. Make an effort to communicate, even if it feels uncomfortable.
Have empathy for yourself and others. Empathy is the ability to place yourself in the shoes of someone else, figuratively speaking. In other words, you can imagine what another person might be feeling or thinking based upon what you know they are going through. Empathy accounts for someone else’s entire inner world – thoughts, ideas, attitudes. When you have empathy for someone you can get a sense of where they’re coming from. At the same time, it’s important to have empathy for yourself as well. This is the ability to connect with yourself, to know what your inner thoughts, ideas, and feelings are. It requires knowing yourself and your inner experiences. When you’re familiar with the way you’re feeling, you have a greater ability to communicate your needs in relationships.
Talk about the past. This might be difficult at first. However, when two people have the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions as well as apologize, there can be much healing that takes place. There may be a need for forgiveness of oneself and others. Although talking about the past may stir up old feelings and perhaps might even jeopardize the stability of the relationship, under the right circumstances a conversation about what happened can create healing and repair in relationships.
The other advantage to healing relationships is that you have the opportunity to see that it can be different. Often, those who struggle with addiction experience unhealthy relationships growing up. For instance, you might have had to face one or more of the following situations in your immediate family:
- Feeling disconnected or misunderstood by your family and closest friends
- Feeling emotionally distant or numb
- Wanting to avoid people who used to be important to you
- Seeing others drink alcohol more often or take drugs
- Being constantly on edge or jumpy
- Feeling angry or irritable
- Having problems eating or sleeping
- Feeling hopeless
- Forgetting things often
- Losing interest or pleasure in things you normally enjoy
- Having difficulty living your usual life or just getting through the day
- Acting violently or being physically aggressive
By mending relationships in recovery, you no longer have to face the circumstances above. Instead, you can create a new way of relating, where you and your loved ones enjoy being with each other, where there’s love and understanding between you. One of the most beautiful parts of recovery is the opportunity to mend your past relationships and transform them into those that are healthy, loving, and supportive.