One huge hurdle almost every single addict faces is the conundrum of a reasonable timeline for being forgiven and being trusted with your sobriety, the issue being that once we get some sobriety under our belts we are still being treated as an alcoholic by our loved ones. This can be hugely overwhelming, depressing and discouraging for someone who is newly sober. It can really take the wind out of your sails.The disconnect comes from a difference in perspective.
From the perspective of the addict, you have decided “enough is enough, I am done with alcohol and done with this addiction”. You have that inner fire burning inside of you and you have the motivation and power of a hundred Greek gods. Then you get some time under your belt- let’s say a month. You’re feeling great. You’re starting to make some significant life changes and you are noticing your physical & mental health improving. You are probably even noticing things around you get better. And then you have an interaction with a friend or family member and it completely deflates your sense of accomplishment, usually in the form of them treating you like you are an untrustworthy alcoholic. You think to yourself “But I’m different- I’m becoming sober- I’m a different person.” It’s incredibly deflating and a tad heartbreaking for you. You want to be treated differently and you want to be encouraged. Sadly, for many this thought is usually followed up with “Screw it, if i’m going to be treated as an alcoholic I might as well be an alcoholic.” This usually leads to a significant and troubling relapse.
From the perspective of the friends and loved ones of the alcoholic, they have heard “I am different- I am sober” many, many times. I know personally I told my girlfriend that I was getting sober probably forty times over a two year period. Who knows how many times I told the previous girlfriend the same thing- and the one before that. I was always “going to be different; going to be sober”. Each and every time the person I told this to authentically wanted this to be true for me- and for them. But each time I met them with heartbreak and disappointment. I imagine the last time I told my girlfriend I was going to get sober she probably thought “yeah right”. It was not until I started to make significant changes in my behavior, attitude and actions that her perspective on my sobriety started to change. When presented with consistent, concrete evidence that things truly were different this time, she began to be able to see things from my perspective. And with that gradual change in perspective came forgiveness and reconciliation- slowly.
There were times I became incredibly frustrated- I WANTED so desperately badly for her to treat me like a new person. Being treated like the old person sucked. Not being trusted sucked. Not being immediately forgiven sucked but it wasn’t my timeline to give. For us alcoholics, we are always keeping milestones on our sobriety. In my mind I hit 30 days and mentally said “See, the first month is the hardest- I beat the hardest time period. I am now super-sober and a god among alcoholics- treat me like I didn’t just spend nearly every day of the past year and a half breaking your heart and causing you mental anguish”. But that’s not how it works and it wasn’t my timeline to dictate.
Unfortunately, you’re the one that fucked up. You can’t demand that someone treat you differently and you cannot reasonably expect them to forgive you after you get a brief period of sobriety under your belt. One mistaken expectation that is often held by both recovering alcoholics and their loved ones is that sobriety alone is enough to fix broken relationships. Sadly, sobriety alone does not magically heal old wounds or instantly erase any underlying character flaws. It does, however, improve your ability to control your actions and cultivate healthier behaviors- and with that (in time) will come forgiveness and rectification. Hopefully. Sometimes relationships are far too damaged to be mended. My previous girlfriend and I will never fully mend our relationship. She supports me and my sobriety greatly- but enough was enough for her. She can not take one more heartbreak from me. And I have to live with that. I cannot expect things to miraculously improve for our friendship now- but with every passing day of sobriety I get one more inch of forgiveness.
Addiction, as they say, is a family illness. While sitting in jail for a DUI, I thought I was the only one suffering from this. In fact, my family went through mental anguish, my work suffered, my girlfriend was unsure of where I was and worse- thought I stood her up. No one asked for our problems to become their problems and that’s what we as alcoholics need to remember- that we caused these issues to be thrust upon them. They didn’t ask for these issues and we can’t expect to be forgiven when we feel ready for it, forgiveness can only come when those around us are ready to grant it.
That said, to the friends and family of the addict- as best you can, have empathy for your addict. It’s easier said than done. You’ve obviously had your share of heartbreak and turmoil but take heed of the fact that every addict who expresses a desire to become sober genuinely wants to do so on some deep level. Unfortunately, it is a long, hard and painful road to get to your rock bottom. So please, leave some room in yourself for some empathy and some forgiveness because it’s easy to screw up- but it’s hard to screw back down.