Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

The Addicts Dilemma, Pt. 1: Rebuilding the Trust of Others

When will you trust me again?

One of the more difficult challenges facing those confronted with addiction has to do with the social consequences that they create for themselves by virtue of that addiction. Parents, spouses, employers and significant others are faced with a relationship that engenders a constant potential for relapse and, in the face of that, they tend to behave fairly consistently - with distrust; this, much to the consternation of the addict himself.

Verizon has a free service called Chaperone. It is intended for parents to keep covert tabs on their kids by allowing one to access the GPS device built into a cell phone from either the Internet or another phone, indicating the location of the phone on a map to within a few feet. Predictably, the service has come to be used to keep tabs on all sorts of other people - errant spouses, off-sight employees, delivery personnel and just about anyone whose whereabouts might come into question. Not surprisingly, this surveilled population has come to include addicts; a perfect example of the fallout and challenge of rebuilding the trust of others.

Addicts lie. They are sneaky. They are passive-aggressive, tell half truths and revel in the sin of omission. When an addict disengages from the object of their addiction, whether it be alcohol, drugs or some social addiction like gambling or sex, they are not sober; they are "dry". What that means is that they have ceased the addictive behavior, but have not yet ceased the habit patterns (lying, sneaking, etc.) around that addictive behavior. It is not until this starts to happen that the addict begins to approach true sobriety.

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This circumstance leaves those in relationship to the addict in something of a quandary. Yes, the "baddest behavior" has ceased, but the bad behavior has not. Having been primed with a set of expectations about the addict's bad behavior, those expectations are not only met, they are perpetuated.

This state of affairs prompts the parents, spouses, significant others, etc. of the addict to become hypervigilant, waiting for the moment when the potential for relapse is fulfilled and s/he, again, picks up. This lack of trust is virtually insurmountable for the addict and presents an obstacle sometimes every bit as daunting as recovery itself.

Partners in addictive relationship need to ask themselves some questions. For the addict, the first question is, "Am I capable of recognizing the habits that accompany my addictive behavior?". The second question is, "Am I capable of changing those patterns?".

For the non-addict, the question is, "Am I willing to accept being in a relationship that harbors the potential for relapse into addiction"?. The second question is, "Am I capable of shifting my expectations to hold space for the possibility that change is possible"?.

If these questions can be answered positively, then the partners need to come to some agreements. The first is, if the non-addict is willing to remain in the relationship, that they hold some degree of faith in the addict. Faith is the starting point for trust - trust, with verification. Now, what is that verification going to look like? That's the next agreement.

How transparent does the relationship need to be for the non-addict to begin to feel like they have a starting point for re-engendering trust and how acceptable is that level of transparency to the addict based on the standard of social propriety and personal privacy? Can a balance point be reached that satisfies all parties?

When these elements are in place, then the relationship can move forward. Until that happens, the relationship is going to stagnate or regress and, for the addict, a sensibility of learned helplessness is likely to arise. To whit, "If no one believes I'm trying, why should I try?"

The addict sheds their addiction for themselves. Until they make that choice, they are likely to maintain the addictive cycle. But that choice needs support, and a fair part of that support is simply an acknowledgement of faith in the addict's efforts that portend the re-genesis of trust within the relationship.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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