As the loved ones of addicts, we know all too well the disappointment of seeing them relapse after promising us they would get clean, after making the commitment to us and to themselves to be sober. We feel they’ve let us down. We had expectations that they would be true to their word, and we’re disappointed and angry when they’re not. There are a few things we can try to remember when a loved one disappoints us by going back on their word and relapsing.
One, your loved one is probably just as disappointed as you are. Whatever frustration you’re feeling they are experiencing exponentially because it is their problem, it is their addiction, it was their actions that led to this disappointment we’re all feeling. They might be beating themselves up and judging themselves. They might try and justify their behavior, making excuses, normalizing the relapse, or making light of it. They might get defensive and turn the anger they feel towards themselves onto us or onto other people or situations. As much as our disappointment hurts us, we can try to remember that the addict we love is probably hurting just as much as we are, if not more.
Whatever caused your loved one to relapse is probably a very difficult issue they’re dealing with. Addicts often relapse because they haven’t fully dealt with some very serious personal issues, many of which you probably know nothing about. Try to be patient with them as they heal. The issues they’re living with will not be solved overnight, or in a week or month or even a year of sobriety. Our loved ones will handle their pain, heal their issues, and get sober when they’re ready and able to, on their own timeline, not when we would like them to, not even when they predict they’ll be able to.
When a loved one has given us their word that they’ll get sober, for our sake or for the sake of the relationship, or for a special occasion or meaningful period of time such as a religious or holiday observance, we feel they’ve let us down in particular because they made a commitment to us. We can try to tell ourselves that their relapse is not a personal affront to us, and we shouldn’t take it personally. They are still caught in their cycles of self-destructiveness, which very often include making promises and commitments, and then going back on them. That painful process is part of the cycle of addiction, and relapse is a very common part of recovery.
Our loved ones are addicts. They are coping with an illness we may never understand. They have very likely been living with their addictions, and the problems that caused them, since childhood. We ourselves might not be addicts. We might not struggle with issues of discipline. We might feel we have the willpower to say we’re going to stop doing something and then actually be able to stop. We might not question our resilience. We might have full faith in our ability to do what we say we’re going to. Or, we might be addicts ourselves and know the disappointment of relapse all too well. We understand what it feels like to feel defeated and disheartened. We can try to be as understanding, empathetic and non-judgmental as we can with our loved ones. We can try to understand their pain and where they’re coming from. Accepting where they’re at in their journey, and not having too many expectations for a timeline of when they’ll recover or when they’ll get where we want them to be, can make all the difference.
When we’re disappointed in our loved ones for breaking their commitment to us to get clean, it can be a good idea for us to give them space and time to figure things out for themselves. We might be inclined to talk to them at length about the relapse. We might find ourselves judging them, which can make them feel even worse about themselves than they already do. Our judgment doesn’t help them, and it can make them even more inclined to drown out their pain with their drug of choice, thereby perpetuating the addictive cycle. We might find that we need space and time for ourselves as well, for our own peace of mind. Healthy distance and detachment, especially when we’re all dealing with some very difficult issues, can be a good thing, and can ultimately bring us closer.
Sometimes when our loved ones disappoint us, we feel as though we won’t be able to trust them moving forward. And when it comes to their addiction, we might not be able to take them at their word yet, especially when they make a promise or commitment to quit. We have to remember that they have probably tried to quit countless times before, perhaps before we even knew them or knew about their struggles with addiction. This is probably not the first time they’ve tried to quit, and it might not be the last. We can try to be as patient with them as possible, knowing that relapse is possible, and that we can’t get our hopes so high that we feel personally betrayed when they break their promise to us. We can also remind ourselves that trust in any relationship takes time to build, and the process of trusting someone, and loving them, sometimes includes one or both of us making mistakes and doing things we regret. There might be times when we feel we can’t trust each other, and that’s part of the process. It doesn’t mean we’ll never get to a place where we can fully trust them and be able to take them at their word. If we love them, we won’t give up on them. Building trust and coming back from relapse are part of the recovery process for addicts and their loved ones, particularly their family members and people who are closest to them.
Riverside Recovery is committed to helping you get back the life you love. Our treatment programs include multiple forms of therapy, family workshops and mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.