Going through four months of intensive therapy can be as overwhelming as it is healing. Reintegrating back into family, workplace and social circles is also overwhelming but, if managed well, it too can bring additional healing.
According to New York’s Life Transitions Center, Inc., an organization that provides professional bereavement services, healing often comes through pain. When a recovering addict reintegrates, all hell can break loose. Family, friends and co-workers may not be used to the new person and, depending on when they met, they may not even recognize the man or woman who returns from treatment.
Tragic consequences can result from expectations that are poorly managed or fail to be managed altogether. To help ease the process and minimize the shock, here are five truths that I’ve learned about others in my recovery:
1. They may not know how to handle the “new person.”
In recovery, the addict goes through a period of transformation. Weeks, months or even years may pass where the addict has tried on “the new self” and worked with professionals in getting helpful direction and feedback. This is not always the case for those whom he or she left behind.
Outside people also need to adjust and often times it is unknown territory for them. They need to change their expectations and judgments, which isn’t an easy thing to do on their own. When a recovering addict feels like a complete stranger, it can cause fear for family, friends and co-workers because they don’t know how to deal with it.
2. They can still be hurtful.
The active addict did not live, work or socialize in a vacuum. In fact, more often than not, their actions were damaging to those around them. Due to this circumstance, people will respond to the recovering addict on a sliding scale based on their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the degree in which they were hurt by the addict. The scale can include everything from passive aggressiveness to downright revenge-seeking.
A recovering addict may be completely ignored or publicly and harshly criticized. He or she does well to follow the 12 Steps closely in their recovery and work diligently with a sponsor, a professional and attend meetings.
3. They may never understand.
Nothing can rub someone the wrong way like hearing the phrase “I know what you’ve been through” when the person really has no idea. This is especially true of recovering addicts who have spiraled to “the bottom” and slowly, painfully and courageously worked their way up from the dark and desolate place.
Only your Higher Power and you yourself know everything that you have experienced. Others might try to be compassionate, empathetic or understanding. Some may not give a damn and write you off. It is wise not to put too much stock into what others think about your story.
Serenity begins by acknowledging you are powerless over others and your addiction and that your life is unmanageable. Trying to explain it all to others may only take away your serenity because in the end they did not walk in your shoes.
4. They may come and go.
Some of my best friends turned their backs on me when I returned from therapy and chose a different life vocation than the one I had before. Though it was extremely painful, my story is not unique.
While there may be people who disappear from your life in recovery, there will also be folks who you never expected to support, comfort and encourage you in your new chapter. They may have shown very little prospect of friendship before your recovery but they may become the ones who care for you now.
5. They may never forgive.
This year I was disinvited to my family Thanksgiving. It came out of left field and after two years since being in therapy, I was hoping that my time in the family penalty box had ended. I was mistaken.
Family members can be the most conflicted over the return of a recovering addict into their lives. For many years they build up defense mechanisms, lived in fear, resentment, anger, sadness and maybe even despair. In itself, this can be abusive, as bestselling author Tian Dayton M.A. PhD TEP points out in her article, The Set Up: Living with Addiction.
“When family members become emotionally overwhelmed with too much intense emotion and they have no way of staying safe, they may shut down or dissociate (freeze/flight) in an unconscious attempt to preserve themselves.” It goes without saying that they may have been the ones most deeply hurt by the active addict.
For the same reason, the same family members may be the least likely to trust. Now that the communication lines have opened, they may start to express their feelings of betrayal. Family members often feel most closely associated with the recovering addict and so they may be afraid of being judged for that association.
Whatever the reasons, many family members will take years to “get back to normal.” You can’t rush their process of acceptance for you. You can only accept them at where they are.