A Guide to Managing Relationships During Treatment and Recovery

August 22, 2019

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Taking control of your life in treatment and recovery means having more time and energy to focus on rebuilding relationships and starting new ones. With other parts of your life falling into place like possibly starting a new job, going back to school, or getting involved with new hobbies, there will be many opportunities to meet new people and reconnect with loved ones and family members. With the stigma and shame that is often felt early in recovery, some people fall into the trap of isolation which can be harmful and full of relapse triggers. That’s why you must remember that you deserve to have a fulfilling family and social life without having to exclude yourself from having some fun and making connections with others. Recovery doesn’t have to be a lonely place, and a healthy balance can be achieved when keeping important things in mind while venturing out into your new sober world.

Making New Friends

Meeting new people when in treatment or recovery can be a bit nerve-wracking at first because through counseling or while in the recovery process you have probably learned things about yourself and how social interactions or negative relationships may have contributed to your substance use. Keeping those lessons in mind, it can become a bit daunting learning to socialize naturally when there are unknown factors involved and you don’t know what a person is like beyond small talk. This is why many people in treatment and recovery tend to befriend others who are also on the same path. Not only will you already share an intense bond through experiences in addiction, but you can also be sure that social settings are likely to be free of substance use or other triggers. There are many recovery networks that are in-person and online! Some internet forums include www.intherooms.com, www.addictiontribe.com, www.beatingaddiction.com, and www.soberrecovery.com. There are also local online groups via Facebook and other apps that are sobriety-based like Sober Grid. These forums and apps help people connect with others that share similar experiences, as well connect people who are regionally close to each other.

Not everyone is comfortable only keeping a recovery-based circle of friends, however. Some people prefer to separate their recovery journey from other aspects of their lives, and are better able to achieve balance that way. If you would rather make friendships where your commonality isn’t your recovery process, it’s a good idea to make new friends while doing things you enjoy like volunteering, exercising, or new hobbies you are interested in. Now that you’re in recovery, you know the places that should be avoided, particularly hangouts where people are using substances that can trigger you. While some in recovery are able to be around others who are casually drinking without the presence of drug use, this is something you will have to decide for yourself, when the time is right. Meeting new friends in healthy settings like yoga studios, coffee shops, school or other anywhere substances are not being used may be a much wiser choice. Remember to check in with a therapist or counselor if you are not involved in recovery community groups as it’s crucial to have a sounding board while navigating new social waters.

Managing the Digital World

The internet is practically essential in our daily lives, even when it comes to maintaining relationships with friends, family, and significant others. Social media has added an extra element into everyone’s lives that can be a burden and a blessing at the same time. When you enter treatment and recovery, rethinking your approach towards social media can be an important step in ensuring your sobriety. Social media can be full of potential triggers, especially seeing reminders of your life during the height of your addiction. This doesn’t mean that being in recovery should restrict you from having an online presence like everyone else, but it should require some intentional editing. Revamping or deleting old profiles where you may have previously connected with other drug users or people who would not be helpful for your recovery process is a smart move. Consider social media as a tool to help you stay on track with your recovery journey, as there are many helpful community groups and others on there that would be useful to connect with.

When engaging with others on social media, be sure to keep some of these things in mind:

PROS:

  • Connecting with people who share your experiences and interests
  • Drug-free virtual environment where you can discover and develop new interests
  • Good way to reduce social anxiety when looking to meet new people
  • Follow recovery-related influencers and publications to stay motivated and learn new things
  • Ability to screen people you meet and observe their online behavior to ensure safety

CONS:

  • People from your past addiction may be looking to reconnect with you
  • Cyber-bullying or stumbling upon triggering and negative spaces on the net
  • Engaging in unhealthy, validation-seeking behavior through sharing things online
  • Becoming isolated and feeling comfortable only connecting with others virtually
  • Falling victim to catfishing or other scams that may prey on those in recovery

Using social media to help encourage your sobriety is the best way to ensure that it won’t become a source of problematic behaviors later on. Your substance use counselor will also help you determine how to recognize toxic behavior from peers and how to navigate social scenarios, both online and in real life. Using these tools, what you learn through your journey will help you cope with the difficulties you possibly will come across in your newly sober life.

Dating and Intimacy

While you’re doing a lot of hard work in treatment or recovery, it can be instinctual to shut yourself off from prospective romantic partners based on fear, shame or a number of other emotions. However, it’s absolutely possible to have meaningful and healthy relationships while you are still working hard on yourself. In an effort to combat isolation, you should entertain the possibility of opening yourself up to the dating world if you’re single and feel ready. Many people see recovery as the opposite of addiction, solely focused on sobriety; however, it’s much more than that. Recovery also means connecting and opening yourself up to new and healthy experiences that are instrumental for self-improvement, including worthwhile relationships.

Many people who have battled addiction have also experienced the lows of unhealthy relationships. This makes dating while in treatment or recovery scary, but not impossible. Through counseling, you are able to touch on past toxic relationships that may have pushed you to develop certain patterns of behavior that shape the way you view others. Through the process of healing, you’ll work on developing coping skills and tools to recognize signs and symptoms of relationships that could be bad for you. This will make it much easier to open your mind and heart to the idea of connecting with someone romantically.

Distinguishing healthy relationships from unhealthy ones may seem obvious to many, but behaviors are not always recognizable immediately when getting to know someone. Healthy relationships that can help support or even enhance your experience in recovery will be trusting, honest, reliable, loyal, and respectful. It’s important to stay away from those who are unsupportive, condescending, intolerant, or manipulative. It’s impossible to know exactly how someone will be in the long run, but by taking things slowly, it will become easier to see whether someone is worth your while.

For some people in treatment and recovery, the prospect of dating someone else who is also on the same journey can evoke two very different reactions. Some people prefer to not engage romantically with others who have dealt with addiction in their past due to fears of relapse triggers and falling back into codependent behaviors. Meanwhile, others feel that being in a relationship with someone who has also shared a similar path in the past with substance use disorder can be encouraging and comforting, especially when they share the same plans for their recovery. This is a personal choice everyone will have to make when pursuing romantic relationships. There is no right answer for your own path when it comes to dating; it’s something you will have to take on thoughtfully.

Online dating apps and tools can help connect single people who are also in treatment and recovery. These apps are helpful with screening aspects to help you narrow down your preferences and may be less intimidating then trying to meet someone in person for the first time. Match.com offers filters that signify “sober lifestyles,” but there are also apps specifically made for people in recovery like Single and Sober. There are other similar services that are easy to find using a quick google search, so take your time and do your research before signing up. There are also community gatherings within sober circles that hold singles mixers if you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way.

You deserve to have fulfilling relationships while you are treating substance use disorder and finding the right person can take some time and patience. With the right tools and mindset, you can soon be making a meaningful connection with someone that can accompany you in the next chapter of your life.

Reconnecting with Family

Addiction can take a toll on family members, and those with substance use disorder may find themselves at odds with the people who love them most. It can deteriorate even the strongest of bonds because of the way the disease works. The brain begins prioritizing drugs over everything else, the disruption this causes affects the individual using as well as the people around them. You may have cut ties with some family members, or have distanced yourself from them because you didn’t want them to suffer due to your illness or they may have cut you out of their lives, but even though these circumstances aren’t always easy to handle, treatment and recovery can set you on a path to rebuilding your relationships with family..

When someone has substance use disorder, the whole family unit is affected. From casual drug misuse to prolonged addiction, each family member is no longer able to play the role of a passive audience member; they each play an active part, all going through their own struggles and changes. This is why family counseling is also essential in treatment and recovery, and why it’s important to think about how to maintain your familial relationships moving forward in treatment and recovery. If your family is like most, much of the attention has been surrounding your struggles with addiction and helping you get treatment, putting you at the center of the family unit. Once you feel ready to build your family relationships back up, you will have to reorganize the structure of your parents, siblings, cousins, and those who were most closely affected by your addiction. Helping everyone return into their roles now that you are striving to become an active member of the family once again can help ease tensions and improve relations. Others may feel that their needs have been sacrificed so that the attention could be paid to your illness. In your recovery, you may need to focus attention on what is important to your family and loved ones, stepping out of your role as the center of attention and letting your recovery help you become an active supporter of others. Resentments can continue to grow if you go from being the center of attention in addiction to the center of attention in recovery. With work, you can create bonds that are stronger than they ever were in the past.

Studies have shown that family members who enrolled in family programming for addiction recovery have increased engagement rates for those entering treatment and have even shown to decrease dropout rates, as well. The family counseling approach is multi-faceted and focuses on psychotherapy, education, marriage and couples programs, peer support, and individualized care. Those attending programs that use a whole-patient method have also shown more long-term success with their sobriety due to their robust support system.

Now that you’ve entered treatment or recovery, it’s time for your family to follow suit. Their healing may take longer than you imagined, and unpacking their feelings about what has transpired in the family surrounding your substance use disorder may open your eyes and ears to thoughts you may not want to hear or realize. It’s necessary to work together when overcoming these hurdles and it’s also helpful to enlist a professional who can help. Working with a family counselor can make this journey constructive and beneficial to your recovery and your family’s too.

Separation and Divorce

For many people, marital problems and addiction tend to occur along the same timeline. Sometimes addiction pushes a relationship towards separation and divorce, and sometimes divorce or separation can push people towards substance misuse and addiction. If you’ve found yourself in this kind of situation, it can be extremely challenging to deal with, especially when in treatment and recovery. There is hope for some couples to salvage their relationships, but it requires a lot of hard work from both parties. When one of them is dealing with substance use disorder, they may be urged to first treat their addiction so they can adequately focus on fixing their marriage. The approach is never simple in these cases, but there are tools and programs to look to for help.

Many relationships become strained when one spouse is battling addiction while the other is holding on and trying to help. Studies show that spouses of those with untreated substance use disorder are unhappier than most, even in comparison to those who are seeking professional help from marriage counselors. Addiction is known to affect the entire family unit, often dividing people on emotional levels when deciding on how to handle the circumstances. There are also elements that are beyond your control when addiction has led you to prioritize substance use over your loved ones that can cause irreparable damage, even when therapy and counseling have been attempted. There are also instances where both people in a relationship are dealing with substance misuse or addiction, causing the situation to be volatile and difficult to resolve. Even the strongest people are not always able to overcome the chaos that addiction can inflict on a relationship, especially in cases of violence, infidelity, and financial ruin.

If you or your spouse have filed and requested a separation or divorce while you’re in treatment or recovery, this is also a time for self-preservation, as your sobriety is at stake. Separations and divorces are common relapse triggers that can send those in recovery into a spiral, so it’s important to prepare reinforcements. Connect with a therapist or a counselor you’ve seen throughout this process to discuss the situation. They may have important resources to offer that can help get you through this difficult time.

It’s also important to reach out to your support network of family and friends if you have them. Your loved ones have gone through your addiction troubles with you and have seen your efforts in treatment and recovery. This is a good time to connect with people who care and can offer compassion and love as you want to avoid the feelings of emptiness and loneliness that come about when a relationship ends. They can additionally help you move forward with the changes that come with separation and divorce like moving, getting your affairs in order, and with childcare if needed.

If you have no one trusted to turn to during this challenging time, there are immensely helpful support groups that are offered within and outside of the recovery community. Speaking to people who are going through the same hardships can be immensely comforting and help you get through the hard days ahead. The end of a relationship involves a level of grieving and having a group of people to confide in can help you focus on healthy methods of distraction like exercise, travel, meditation, or other new hobbies. These external activities can fill your time and also take your mind off of impending proceedings.

Once things have been finalized with your separation or divorce, it may take some time to move on, which is natural. An event like this can also spur change in you for the better. While previous thought patterns created by substance use disorder may have pushed you to self-medicate to deal with the pain, the tools you’ve learned in counseling and support groups can intercept those urges that could set you back. Just because you weren’t able to fix your relationship while in treatment and recovery, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to improve yourself and strive towards your goals. Within time, you will notice that it gets easier, and you will gain new strengths from having endured this life change.

Parenting, Co-Parenting, and Single Parenthood

Even under ideal circumstances, parenting is challenging; with the addition of being in treatment or recovery, it can increase the difficulty tenfold. Because addiction is a family disease, it affects your kids just as much as you and the guilt can be tremendous. Now that you’re in treatment and recovery, it’s your chance to make sure that your children’s needs are met and you’re able to work on reestablishing your parental role in a positive and productive way.

According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), about 25% of children under 18 are exposed to some form of substance misuse within their family making them susceptible to depression, anxiety, and future issues with addiction. Knowing that addiction can also play a genetic role in children, it’s vital for parents who have had success in recovery to make efforts to address these issues once they are able to. Sadly, about 61% of cases where children are displaced from their homes by Child Protective Services are when drug use is involved. These experiences can impact children for the rest of their lives and destroy familial bonds.

Children who have grown up in homes with a parent with untreated substance use disorder are more likely to perform poorly in school, have behavioral and self-esteem issues, and suffer from anxiety due to not having the emotional faculties to deal with their parent’s struggles. It also contributes to children experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an early age. Helping your children heal from the effects of your addiction along with you can significantly improve their futures and your relationship, whether you currently have full custody or are working to retain custody.

Children thrive when they’re given boundaries. It can be tempting to spoil them now that you have found a new path in life, wanting to make up for lost time, but the situation needs to be productive and sustainable. Children want to feel safe and have defined rules in the home, so they know how to act appropriately. Kids who grow up around parents with substance use disorder tend to lack the discipline, which can lead to behavioral disorders down the line.  Working on establishing right from wrong and what’s acceptable will help set a healthy tone in the household.

Telling your children about your treatment and recovery can be a vital step in helping reunite your family. For young kids under the age of 10, it can be difficult for them to grasp the concept, but you can attempt to speak with them about it in a way they can understand, mainly referring to times when you were absent or unable to be there for them in the past. For tweens and teens, it’s often best to forthright about substance use disorder and that it’s a treatable disease. This can also help segue into your treatment and recovery efforts and the future you are looking forward to. Some children may exhibit anger, especially teenagers, but it’s nothing you should take personally, despite how difficult it may be emotionally. They also have to heal during this time and could benefit from family counseling programs.

When speaking with your child:

  • Claim ownership of your addiction to convey to your children that your substance use disorder is not their fault. Kids may perceive their behaviors are “reasons” that pushed you toward addiction, but it’s important that they understand that it’s a disease that can be treated.
  • Be patient with your child’s ability to become close with you again now that you are in treatment and recovery. It’s impossible to make up for lost time overnight, and it will take time and effort to regain their trust in your efforts to become a better parent.
  • Keep your word, and don’t make any false promises. Children can take things rather literally so don’t fill their hopes up unless you plan to follow through!
  • Apologize sincerely about things that may have happened during your struggles with addiction and recognize your mistakes. This will help to validate your kid’s feelings and help them move forward.
  • Make new memories since you cannot erase any bad ones they may have of your addiction before you reached out for help. Children are incredibly resilient, and their ability to move on will be reliant on your efforts for a healthy and productive recovery journey.

It’s beneficial to have a spouse or another family member that your children trust present and participating during this time.

Single parenting in recovery is both stressful and rewarding since children and sobriety are both life-long commitments that require unrelenting dedication. Despite the trials and tribulations of addiction, single parents can do anything they set out to, whether they are co-parenting or fully on their own.

It’s also crucial to speak with a counselor or case manager if you a single parent. They can provide help with the following local and governmental resources:

  • Legal assistance
  • Vocational training
  • Educational assistance
  • Food assistance
  • Help to find safe and affordable housing
  • Various parenting resources like childcare

Those who are co-parenting may also face unique issues from single parents. Separation or divorce can be a stressful experience when children are involved, but the main focus should always be the wellbeing of any children involved.

Some things to be aware of for people in these situations are:

  • Overcompensation: The guilt you feel for what your child experienced during the days of your addiction may lead you to overindulge them as a result. Set limits and enforce responsible behavior for yourself. Your child looks to you for guidance and allowing a free-for-all when in your care can strain the relationship and teach them bad habits in the future.
  • Inter-fighting: You may not get along with your ex, but co-parenting requires balance and maturity. If contact with your ex is triggering or a danger to your recovery, work with a mediator to serve as a checkpoint between each other to maintain joint custody. Fighting in front of your children about parenting issues can strain the relationship with your child and also complicate their relationship with the other parent.
  • Discipline: Divorced or separated parents tend to fall into the “good cop, bad cop” roles when it comes to boundary-setting and rules. Don’t fall into one role; instead, find a balance where your child sees you as someone to trust with guiding their behavior. Due to guilt for previous parental absence, you may feel compelled to be the “good cop,” but setting positive and age-appropriate discipline is necessary for raising stable children in the long run.

Parents in recovery in any situation can benefit from the following:

  • Define the future: Redefine your life, roles, and responsibilities in and outside of the home in a way that is visible to your children. Foster a dynamic of team effort within the family unit at all times to help everyone move forward together.
  • Move towards success: You can’t live in fear of doing something wrong as a parent, empower yourself and your children to succeed by getting involved in the community and make connections with other families to build a sense of togetherness and belonging.
  • Build emotional strength: Addiction may have taken a toll on family bonds, but feelings and emotions can be rebuilt and healed. Taking on this new path together can create a great parent and child relationship that will continue to be refined over time.
  • Make yourself available: Trust yourself with the care of your child. Encourage them to come to you with their thoughts without worrying; it will stress you out or anger you. Using the coping tools you learned in counseling, you can take on the role of a leader that they need from you.

 

Resources for both parents and children:

Learn to Cope is a peer-led support network for families dealing with addiction and recovery.

Project Know is also a helpful resource center for spouses, siblings, children, and other family members who have been affected by a loved one’s addiction.

State initiatives that help parents and children affected by addiction.

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