Discouraged about Restoring Relationships in Recovery? One Man’s Hope

Alcohol and drugs consume us to the exclusion of all else.

Friendships become strained and broken because of our errant behavior. Professionalism at work disappears. Family ties are sacrificed for our own immediate needs. We come to the point where we have alienated the very people that we love the most.

Eventually we find ourselves drinking and using in isolation. What was once a social activity is now one of self-indulgence. When we finally hit bottom we are typically left with only ourselves.

Paradoxically, this is also where we start rebuilding our most important relationship.

Recovery Begins with Honesty and Relationships

For me, successful recovery started with healing a place within myself that was capable of sustaining meaningful relationships with others. (Though I was quite unaware that I was in the midst of this cathartic process at the time.)

The first brick of my new foundation was honesty. Admitting how powerless I was over alcohol and how unmanageable my life had become was the first step toward healing myself.

Why Relationships Are Important

  • “Man doth not live by bread alone.”
  • “Man is a social animal.”
  • “Show me your friends and I’ll show you yourself.”
  • “We are more than the sum of our parts.”

These adages suggest that our individual identities are much more than the simple physical space we occupy. Perhaps they speak to what/who influences us, and to whom and what we influence in turn. In any case, they each impress upon the importance of relationships.

Sharing my own truth with fellow alcoholics and addicts resulted in the unintentional consequence of fellowship and community. When I was honest with myself and I could share my experiences with others I was also sowing the seeds of new relationships.

Our relationships with other people start within, but it is in our reaching out that we open ourselves to knowing others. Through these interactions we find shared strength and hope.

My Father and I Hadn’t Talked for Years

My father and I had not been on speaking terms for a couple of years. My using and drinking gave me a reputation of irresponsibility, and my dad detested my reckless lifestyle.

After I finally hit bottom and was introduced to the recovery community, any words I shared with my father about my intentions and newfound sobriety were—just that, only words.

Other family members immediately and openly embraced my efforts, but Dad was interested in results. No ninth step amends meant anything without good deeds to show for them. In his mind, only “time would tell” if my words held any weight.

Eventually Dad saw me excel at my career and in my personal life, neither of which could have occurred had I still been drinking and using.

We started to meet for lunch in downtown San Francisco and began enjoying walks together along the Embarcadero. What I thought was dead had been rekindled and brought back to life.

Dad and I had developed a new relationship, one of mutual respect and trust. We had actually grown closer than we had ever been before.

Dad Developed Alzheimer’s

Ironically, some of my good deeds may not have even been fully realized by Dad. I stayed by his side as he developed Alzheimer’s in his later years.

Long after he had been able to carry on conversations, I would visit him in a care facility, sometimes just passing time with him in his presence. We were sitting together once, eating in a dining room, and he said the last words I remember him speaking to me, “you’re a good son.”

I hadn’t heard him speak in months, and I don’t recall him ever speaking since.

How to Restore Relationships

Relationships that we have neglected (like I had with my father) may take years to repair. We need to be reminded that we really cannot control our relationships any more than we can control our drinking or using. We can only change the things we can change, and usually that means only ourselves.

I think of relationships as both a privilege and a gift that require nourishment. We know from our own experience that nourishing each other necessitates respect, first and foremost. From there, truthfulness, empathy, and acceptance must follow.

Restoring Relationships Is Like Watering a Tree

In the midst of sowing the wreckage of our past, we have neglected our relationships like a drought denies water to an orchard.

We cannot expect a tree to immediately bear fruit after being abandoned for so long. And our renewed eagerness to make amends and become good farmers again doesn’t mean that Mother Nature will always cooperate.

What impacted me most in my restored relationship with Dad were the ideas of time and patience.

I learned that there is no greater gift than giving of one’s own time—even when the receiving person doesn’t appreciate or understand what you’re doing.

Author: Tom W. is a recovering alcoholic