Healing Addiction’s Wounds in Relationships
Relationships are often the first victims of substance abuse or active addiction. Through the addiction recovery process and family counseling at Family Recovery Resource Experts, families learn to repair those relationships and form stronger bonds with those closest to them. But in order to create those healthy relationships, we must first address the wounds that have formed and work to heal them through honest and productive conversation.
Experienced counseling for relationships
Learning to develop strong, healthy relationships was a major hurdle in my own recovery. Due to my upbringing, I didn’t know how to have relationships, I had no idea. I used to do a lot of self-shaming because I didn’t know how to start relationships or how to maintain them. Consequently, I went around bouncing off relationships and causing a lot of harm, self-harm and harm to others. I never intentionally wanted to hurt people, but that’s the way it worked out, including with my own children.
Part of my recovery process has been learning how to build those relationships by discovering what I had developed as a survival mechanism and how that was keeping me from having relationships. A lot of personal work went into that, and I’m still working on initiating relationships and becoming more comfortable with being uncomfortable. But as far as my intimate relationships, things have improved dramatically.
This is something that guides my work today. I can see that even in a place where I felt hopeless once, we can actually overcome more than we might think.
Types of relationship wounds
The kinds of wounds amongst couples can vary widely depending on the illness the couple is experiencing. In the case of substance abuse, you typically encounter a sense of betrayal from one partner to another, a loss of shared experiences, and feelings of regret and guilt. All of that leads to the most important wound, in my view, which is the loss of a sense of connection as a couple. Most couples start with a dream, they never plan to end up in this position, and they have lost that sense of common purpose.
Many couples enter counseling hoping to regain that sense of togetherness by “going back to the way things were.” They believe that if they can resume the patterns of behavior that existed before their issues, everything will be better. I see this idea as something of a fantasy because through substance abuse and other mental health issues, many couples have expanded too much, pushed limits too far, and going back to the way things were could be a disaster.
I remember one couple asking me if I thought their relationship was over, and I looked straight back at them and said, “I hope so.” They were shocked, but I explained to them that I hoped their old relationship was over, and I wanted to help them build a new and healthier relationship going forward.
Successful recovery, stronger relationships
When looking back on all of the success stories I’ve had the privilege to be a part of, I often think of a particular couple who came to family counseling because of a substance abuse issue. The wife felt her husband was drinking too much and had been unfaithful. And the husband felt he was being smothered by a wife who had changed from the independent woman he married to someone clingy and overbearing.
We decided to work with them individually, one therapist working with the husband while I worked with the wife. What we uncovered was a lot of trauma in her life that kept her from building an accurate view of her own capabilities. She had a narrative of low self-worth and really attached to things that made her feel good in the short-term.
After substantial work, she blossomed into a beautiful human being who stood up and started to live her own life. She claimed her own territory in the relationship and that changed the whole system. Both her husband and her children became more responsive. And she felt good about the example she was setting for her children as a strong woman and working mother. Though they came in for help with addiction, it was through personal examination that each family member began to understand themselves and each other better, leading to stronger relationships for the whole family.