Redefining Relationships in Recovery

By Alanna Hilbink

Recovery brings opportunities. It is a chance to grow as a person and grow in relation to others. When you begin recovery, you get to redefine who you are. You can repair and rebuild your relationships. You can reunite with family or learn how to distance yourself from them in a healthy way. You can find friends who truly support you and are always there for you. So, how do you start redefining your relationships?

Begin With Yourself

Group hand stack

The first relationship you get to redefine in recovery is your relationship with yourself. You may not trust yourself, understand yourself or even like yourself when you are using substances. Stigma and misunderstanding feed into these feelings. The Journal of Bioethical Inquiry explains, “The process of self-stigmatization is pronounced in addiction. It comes about via internalization of the negative stereotype, a resultant loss of self-esteem, and acting out of the negative public image.”1 In other words, you take what others say or think of you, and you begin to believe it’s true. You begin to be who others say you are.

But who are these “other people” who define you? Are they people you like, trust or even know personally? And yet these opinions start shaping how you see yourself. They feed your addiction rather than your recovery.  The journal goes on to explain that stigma causes drug users to, “exclude themselves from public life, or they will cease to see themselves as responsible citizens; or they will begin to see themselves as legitimate objects of the treatment meted out to them. Above all, they will be motivated to continue to consume in order to forget, set aside, or reduce the negative feelings arising from their shame…Public stigma of addiction has the unfortunate tendency to feed into, sustain, or exacerbate the very practices it sets out to reproach.”1 So why are you paying attention to public opinion? Redefine your relationship with “others” who are unimportant!

Of course it’s hard to set aside worries about what others think, but when you do, you can really begin to heal. And of course you don’t have to take this step alone! Professionals, peers in recovery and loved ones can all encourage you to redefine your relationship with yourself. You are not “an addict.” You are you. Discover who this truly is, to support your recovery rather than your addiction. And in the long run, it will help your relationships with others too.

Repairing Relationships in Recovery

You do more than repair your relationship with yourself in recovery. You can also rebuild them with others. Addiction takes it toll on friendships, romances and families. Recovery can go a long way toward healing rifts and creating deeper bonds. Everyday Health reassures us, “With hard work and trust on the part of both people, relationships can be repaired. It is possible to move from a world of chaos to one of mutual love and respect where there is balance and tolerance and the ability to work through differences.”2 In fact, you may find that through recovery you gain an even better understanding of the people you love.

Repairing relationships doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without a little help. It’s entirely possible to redefine your relationships, but you do have some ground to cover when it comes to reuniting with loved ones. Everyday Health continues, “It’s difficult to heal a relationship without professional help, especially if the damage to the relationship has progressed quite a bit.” Work with your treatment team, your therapist and a family or couples counselor. This will help you communicate, set healthy boundaries and see things from a different perspective. With a little effort, you and your loved ones can come to a greater understanding and healthier relationship than ever before.

Building New Connections in Recovery

Recovery isn’t just about healing old relationships. In fact redefining a relationship sometimes means ending a relationship. If a relationship has been negative, unhealthy or enables past behavior, let go! An end to a relationship isn’t a bad thing! It gives everyone a chance to move forward in life and in the direction that is right for each individual. A new direction means new opportunities!

Recovery comes with so many ways to make new friends and build new relationships. Of course, you will meet peers on the same journey in treatment and support groups. These people will be there for you any time you feel tempted to relapse or need an empathetic listener. However, recovery gives you options for friends outside of the recovery community, too! As you redefine yourself, you’ll learn more about the things you like to do. In recovery you’ll have time and energy to try new hobbies or become engaged with old ones. As you join teams, clubs or simply work on being a being you for you, you will also connect with other people doing the same.

Holly Glen Whitaker shares her first-hand experience finding community in recovery, saying “My love of photography, social justice, blogging, meditation, yoga, reading…and so on are the things that really make me come alive, and so friendships founded in a shared interest of these things tend to be highly rewarding. I look way more for the richness that the other has to offer and whether I am seen and valued than whether or not they abstain from booze.”3 You can find friends in so many new places, and if they share your passions, interests and commitment to being their healthiest selves, you may just find a new friend for life. When it comes to recovery, you will never be alone.

Redefine Your Life

Redefine who you are. Redefine your relationships and your life. You have the chance to live a healthier, happier and more meaningful life. You have the chance to find real friends, real romance and above all a real relationship with yourself. Reach out for help and support today.

1 Matthews, Steve, et al. “Stigma and Self-Stigma in Addiction.” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. 3 May 2017. Accessed 2 Jan. 2018.

2 Rothman, Jean. “Repairing Relationships After Addiction.” Everyday Health. 20 Apr. 2009. Accessed 2 Jan. 2018.

3 Whitaker, Holly Glen. “11 Ways to Make Friends in Recovery.” Hip Sobriety. 8 Dec. 2015. Accessed 2 Jan. 2018.