Have you been clean or sober for several years, but can’t understand why your family still keeps you at arm’s length, won’t trust you, and keeps bringing up your past mistakes?
It could be because you still think their issue was the same as your issue.
You think, “I got over my addiction, shouldn’t they have gotten over it too?” Well you’ve got all wrong.
Their issue was never your drinking. It was the broken promises, manipulation, and lies that came along with your alcoholic package.
In my last blog I introduced you to Darren, sober for seven years but wondering why his life still felt so empty and lonely.
Darren was a decent guy. His wife would tell you that even during his drinking years, he always meant well. Unfortunately, good intentions without follow through don’t make for healthy families.
Impact on Your Family
If you were to ask Darren how he treated his family during his drinking years he might say things like,
- I wasn’t around as much as I should have been, but I at least I kept food on the table.
- My wife was a saint and kept our family together.
- At least I didn’t hit anyone or leave them entirely.
- I did my best.
If you asked Darren’s wife what her experience was like, she might say things like:
- I was so overwhelmed and angry all the time.
- It wasn’t fair that I was left with all the responsibility.
- I felt so alone, betrayed, and abandoned.
- I lost all respect and trust for him, there were just too many lies and broken promises.
If you asked Darren’s kids what they remember from his drinking, they might say things like:
- I was embarrassed to have friends over, so I never did.
- I got used to him not being there even if he promised he would. He was such a liar.
- I hated how he treated my mom. She deserved better.
- I was invisible to him. I don’t think he even noticed me unless I was in trouble.
A Healing Process for the Whole Family
Here’s a radical thought. You’re recovery is not just about you.
Real recovery is a family affair. Your addiction hurt you in multiple layers. Remember the onion layers I mentioned in my last blog? Well our family members are no different. They need healing and recovery too.
Have you ever taken the time to ask your wife, children, brothers, sisters, or parents how your drinking affected them? Before asking that question though, you need to be ready to hear their responses!
You may hear things you disagree with. You may hear things that hurt you deeply. You may hear stony silence that speaks volumes.
The key is to listen. Period. Just listen. No defending. No explaining. No smoothing over. No minimizing. No spiritualizing. No false humility or remorse. Just listen.
When you joined a recovery group and started sharing your story, it may have been raw, angry, explosive, and confused. Or maybe for you it took a few months to feel safe to open up and be honest. A few months to even know what honesty meant.
But your recovery group was patient. Patient in the rant. Patient in the silence. They knew that just the process of speaking your pain out loud was part of the process.
We need to give our families the same grace that members of our recovery groups gave us when we came in as a big, hot mess.
Facing the Pain
When Darren first joined a recovery group, he had a lot to share. Stories of his past, hurt from his father, insecurities that his drinking eased. He felt like his pain would never end.
Each time he shared, however, he felt lighter. Another onion layer had been peeled. After two years of sobriety, he truly felt that he had come to grips with the pain in his past.
But he wasn’t.
Darren still had to face the pain he had caused others. And his family was first in line.
After seeking the advice of his Celebrate Recovery sponsor, he decided to write letters to his wife and each of his children. Then he read the letters to each of them and ended by asking their forgiveness. He also offered them the chance to say anything they wanted to him. Either then or any time, ever.
Admitting to our families how we’ve done them wrong is essential to our recovery as individuals and as families. Sugar coating, choosing to “let bygones be bygones” is relationship killing.
It forces us to come out of another type of denial. We may be completely comfortable wearing a badge of honor labeled, “Clean & Sober.” But it doesn’t look so shiny when our family is still in shambles.
Go back to Step One. Come out of denial. You have a role to play in your family’s healing.
Help for Families
Just like you needed a support group to help you through the process, so does your family. Celebrate Recovery offers co-pendency groups for women in many of their meetings. These groups are safe places for the wives, sisters, and moms in our lives to begin their own recovery.
Al-Anon groups are also excellent groups for support. Most of them are co-ed for men and women. The Al-Anon website also includes groups for teens called Alateen.
At CrossRoads Freedom Center we know that restoring men to their families is a process that starts with the user admitting the impact of their actions on those they love. Recovery cannot co-exist with denial.
If your family is broken to the point that you cannot continue to live with them, it may be time to consider a residential program like CrossRoads. Here we keep God in the center of our recovery, believing that people and family need second chances, and that where there is hope, there can be forgiveness.
Part 3: When Just Being Sober Isn’t Enough to Heal a Marriage
In my next blog, we’ll explore why so many marriages fall apart after one spouse gets sober.