Relationships come in many forms and can be some of the most helpful aspects of a strong support system, but only if they’re healthy relationships. When a relationship between people is a strong, loving bond where each person values and supports the other, it can be a huge blessing when one person is going through something difficult.
Whether it’s a family relationship between parents and children, siblings, or cousins, a friendship, or a romantic relationship, all of these have the potential to be great sources of strength. While struggling with a substance use disorder and working through the journey that is recovery, it is important to have people around who will support and help you.
If someone you love isn’t helping—or worse yet, is detrimental—to your recovery and sobriety, then you need to make a decision on how to handle the relationship. The nature of the relationship will play a part in this decision, but ultimately you have every right to cut ties with anyone who is fighting against you having a clean life.
1. The Continued Substance User
This is the most common, and most dangerous, type of toxicity in a post-rehabilitation relationship. Generally, these relationships are friendships and romantic interests from the substance-abusing life before recovery. You may want to try to remain friends for a variety of reasons, but it may not be a wise decision.
Some people are inspired by what they’ve learned through recovery and want to help those they care about who are still caught up in the substance use they themselves have escaped from. While an admirable thought, it doesn’t always work out the way one hopes. There is a danger in returning to social circles that continue to use. The memories, the atmosphere, and the peer pressure are huge triggers that can lead to relapse.
Beyond relapse, after being through detox and having gone a significant time without substances, you could suffer an overdose due to lessened tolerance to the high volume your body formerly could handle. This could even be lethal, depending on the dose and the substance itself.
Being available for those you care about who haven’t yet begun their journey toward recovery is a bridge you should never completely burn. Let them know that should they ever need help in gaining their own sobriety, you will support them in any ways you can. However, to secure your own sober life, you must set boundaries that may not be popular with the people you had relationships with while you were abusing substances.
If they are not supporting you and helping you remain sober, the relationship is toxic.
2. The Skeptic in the Corner
We all know (at least) one person who is the pessimist of the group. The doubter. The “what if…” proclaimer. That person that no matter how positive everyone else is, and how well designed a plan is, they feel the need to find something that could go wrong to bring everyone down. This type of person, if you know already about their pessimism, is easy to avoid and it’s almost a no-brainer to exclude them from your inner circle of support and encouragement.
But what happens when the doubt and pessimism comes from an unlikely source?
These are the toxic relationships that can cause the most emotional pain. The disappointment and discouragement you feel when someone you thought you could trust shows apprehension about your ability to live in sober recovery is a horrendous knife to the back.
It doesn’t matter what role this person plays in your life. If you think of them as someone you could count on for positive reinforcement and discover that trust was misguided, it can be devastating. The betrayal can be enough to send you spiraling through an emotional roller-coaster you’re not ready to face.
This hurt and distrust could be coming from a place in their heart you don’t understand. It could be because of something they went through with someone else. It could be old scars of their own misdeeds. There is always a possibility to turn these latter relationships around, but it can take some time and patience to talk through the problems and work on forgiveness (for both sides).
A relationship of any kind that’s been through a significant loss of trust will rarely come out the other side in the same condition it started. However, that doesn’t mean that it has to dissolve entirely. If both sides are committed to the efforts for forgiveness and moving on, the relationship —though different in some ways—can still exist and even flourish.
3. The Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
Then there are the sneaky people. The backstabbers. They will make you believe to your face that they are fully in your corner and they’re going to support you through this recovery journey with everything they have. Then, when you’re out of earshot, they turn into the pessimists already discussed.
These people are toxic in any relationship, not just while trying to get sober. In this type of situation, however, it only takes one person to undermine an entire support network. Carefully-worded “concerns” to others can plant seeds of doubt and suspicion among even your strongest allies.
Soon enough, there will be rumors and whispering behind your back. It is important to put counter-intelligence in place when you feel this is starting to happen. Enlist the help of a trusted ally (or two) to let you know if someone is talking down about you when you’re not around. Make sure they know how important trust and positivity is in your recovery.
There’s Not Always Safety in Numbers
Always keep in mind that when building a support system, quality trumps quantity every time. Two or three trustworthy people who have your best intentions at heart are more valuable to recovery than a room full of people who aren’t 100 percent sure you can handle sobriety.
When you can fully trust someone to not give up on you and help you back up when you’re inches away from a relapse—or when you’ve already fallen off the proverbial wagon—that’s when you know you’ve found your keepers. When they know how difficult it will be and don’t back down from the challenge, you’re a priority.