“My family continues to treat me like a disappointment to the family even though I have been in recovery for 1 year now. How do I make them understand that I am better now?”
Dear Frustrated in Recovery,
I am frustrated for you. You’ve worked hard to get here; I know from experience the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to stitch together hours or days, let alone a year.
Before I launch into sharing my own experience, I need you to know two things. First: you are an inspiration. You are strong, you are fierce, and you are the farthest thing from a disappointment. You’ve got this.
AND, second but just as true, it might take a while for your family to catch on.
I want to share a story about my own experience that might help.
Almost two decades ago, I was living in a sober house in Southern California. It was a bright time, and I was loving my recovery out LOUD, in technicolor. I had fallen into a happy, “pink cloud” routine: I’d start with a morning meeting at our local Alano club, cheerfully pour coffee at my barista job, then attend a meeting & eat dinner with sober friends at night. We’d talk about everything, and frequent subjects were the hell we’d been through, the struggles of recovery, and how tough it was to deal with friends and family who just didn’t “get it.” I was under the impression that everyone (family included) should suddenly be on board with the happy, sparkly, improved version of ME.
Alas, the best-laid plans.
Nine months in, my sister Jackie and I reunited in San Francisco. She was and is one of my favorite people, and I’ve always valued her opinion. On the first night of our trip, I was hungry after a long bus ride North, so I was eager to get out the door and grab a bite. But in a stern voice, she asked if she could read me something. She and I sat on my flea-bitten motel bed while she brought out her laptop and explained, “I wrote about you for my writing class.”
The story, in gorgeous and excruciating detail, described my return from South America when she was a teenager and I was in college. I’ll save you the gory details, but dear Frustrated, it was NOT the glowing personality review I had been expecting. She described a person who was selfish, arrogant, careless, and unhinged. Someone I would not befriend in a million years, a terrible human being. It ended with something like, “and I might never be able to trust her again.” By the end, my cheeks were burning with shame.
I wish I could say I handled her honest and brave gesture with grace. With understanding and love. But, dear Frustrated, I did not. I was angry. Didn’t she see how she could trust me now? Didn’t she KNOW what I had gone through, how bad it got? How hard this was, how hard I had to work to stay alive?
Needless to say, we didn’t make it out that night, and instead ended up talking for hours. Bit by bit, we unpacked all the pain, disappointment, and anger she had been left with when I entered this shiny new life of recovery. By forcing myself to stay open to her experience, I learned that the disease of addiction doesn’t just happen to us as individuals. It happens to everyone around us. I lived in the throes of active addiction for years, and the people I love most, Jackie included, endured incredible pain and disappointment, the depths of which I might never understand. It was only when I made room for my family’s own process of healing, that things started to change. Today, Jackie and I are closer than ever.
Trust is easy to lose and hard to gain (and even harder to regain). In my experience, it takes more than a year to heal from years of active addiction and resultant pain. My advice is to take it easy on yourself and keep expectations at bay. Put one foot in front of the other, work your recovery day in and day out, and I promise you everything will fall in line over time.
In the meantime, we at Workit Health are here with you, every step of the way.
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