How to Rebuild Trust After Addiction

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How to Rebuild Trust

By:  Rick Fannin

For those that are in recovery from addiction, we are painfully aware of all the things that we have lost to addiction.  One of the most valuable things that we lost to addiction was trust.   It’s agonizing to know that your family or loved ones hide their valuables when they know you are coming over.  The humiliating and pain felt by hearing the tone in your mother’s voice when you tell her you will do something for her, and she just doesn’t believe you.  The hopelessness that you feel when you are 10 minutes late coming home from an AA meeting, and your significant other immediately doesn’t believe you and accuses you of getting high.  So, how do you rebuild trust after addiction?  Is it even possible to rebuild the trust that was damaged by addiction?

After a DUI, the Judge advised me that driving is a privilege, and it is not a right.  Trust is very similar.  We are not entitled to trust. Instead, trust is something that must be earned.  This is a universal law as it relates to trust.  We can never earn trust by demanding it, throwing a fit when we don’t have it, manipulating our way back into trust, and we will certainly never earn trust if we continue to invest in lies and untrustworthiness.  There are no shortcuts when rebuilding trust.

If you want to earn someone’s trust back, and you are open-minded to follow a plan, willing to be honest, even when it works, then rebuilding trust MAY be possible with others, and ABSOLUTELY possible in terms of learning to trust in yourself.

The Value of Trust and How It Becomes Damaged

Trust is an essential component of a strong relationship but building trust doesn’t happen quickly.

Trust is the cog that allows the healthy relationship to function efficiently and effectively.  People are perpetually evaluating our trustworthiness.  When we have trust, we can move through things, make decisions, and act quickly.  However, once trust it’s broken, it’s hard to rebuild, slow to repair, and during repair, trust is very fragile and easily re-destroyed.

In addition to the list of things that can be done in the relationship that can damage trust, other factors may block the development of trust even forming.  Some of these trust blocking factors include:

  • Past history of physical abuse
  • Past history of emotional abuse
  • Past history of sexual abuse
  • Growing up in a home with a parent with addiction or mental health struggles
  • Insecure-attachment style
  • Personal struggles with mental health disorders, such as anxiety

Once trust is damaged, the weight of mistrust slows down the possibility of making progress in the relationship.  Common responses to the loss of trust include:

  1. Value is removed from words like “I am sorry,” “Trust me,” and “I mean it this time”
  2. The effort to double-check if things are true
  3. Looking and finding real or imagined evidence of untrustworthiness
  4. Confusion sets in
  5. A progressive pattern of arguments
  6. Resentment sets in
  7. Coldness and distance develop
  8. Stop putting in any effort at all
  9. Boundaries reinforced
  10. Relationship terminated

Trust is a choice.  We cannot demand that someone else trust us.  Trust is not a right or an entitlement.  It is the choice of others if they choose to trust us.

Damaging trust is also a choice.  And, when we choose to damage trust, we are training others not to trust us.  If others do not trust you, it is likely due to you teaching them to behave exactly as they do.  Breaking trust goes far beyond the basics of lying, cheating, and stealing.  The list below includes a comprehensive list of ways that trust can be damaged.

  • Direct lying
  • Half-truths
  • Lies of omission
  • Stealing
  • Cheating
  • Infidelity
  • Manipulation
  • Making excuses
  • Hidden motives
  • A pattern of not sharing feelings openly
  • Selfishness
  • Possessiveness
  • Being ungrateful
  • A pattern of going back on your word or breaking promises
  • Not being there for your partner in a time of need
  • Withholding or keeping something back
  • Blaming others
  • Avoidance / Unavailable
  • Self-centered
  • Passive-aggressiveness
  • Incongruence (Actions don’t match the words)
  • Inconsistent
  • Abuse (Emotional, Physical, Sexual)

Trust Damaged by Addiction

During a battle with substance abuse or addiction, broken trust is inevitable. Addiction changes the brain, impairing judgment and impulse control. Usually, the people we care about most have the deepest wounds.

As anyone who has struggled with addiction or struggled to continue to love or live with an addict knows, trust begins to fray when the addict starts sneaking around, telling white lies, or trying to minimize their substance abuse. However, there are 15 main reasons why an addict lies.  As the issue gets worse, the addict must tell more lies to keep the façade intact and to be able to keep the cycle of addiction spinning.

These actions create a world where the addict becomes further isolated from the ones who can help them.  The addict feels completely alone, trapped, and hopeless.  The addict begins to trust that no one will come to the rescue anymore.

How to Repair Trust While in Recovery

Own Your Mistakes

Step one in repairing trust is to start by owning your mistakes.  You cannot correct it if you continue to minimize, rationalize, justify, blame, or deflect.  Step ten states, “When we are wrong, promptly admit it.”  Note that it didn’t say, “When we are wrong, promptly deny it and look for someone else to blame it on.”  Avoid the pitfall phrases “I am sorry, but…”.  Such a phrase erases any words that you say.

Accept that Your Words are Meaningless at This Point

After years of broken promised, lies, blame, and manipulation, at this point, your words are meaningless.  Avoid getting mad or angry at others for not taking you at your word.  It is not their fault.  You trained them not to trust you. Throwing a temper tantrum because they don’t trust you causes you to erode any trust you have rebuilt.

Focus on Yourself First

Our natural inclination is to beg for forgiveness. Empty promises like “I’ll do anything” or “I swear it will never happen again” just don’t mean anything.   Why?  Because we have trained others in this way.  People lose trust because of behavior. You lose trust because of something you did. To fix your behavior, it comes from the things you do, not from something you say.  There is no other way to do it.

The first step is to turn your focus inward. Don’t worry about apologizing, or buying flowers, or writing someone a heartfelt letter. Forget all that for now.   Instead, look inward. The lies and the deceit that came from our addiction are always rooted within, so that is where you must begin.  Identify the things you are doing that are out of alignment with the things you say to others to regain their trust.  Then correct the behaviors to be in alignment with the words you say.

It Will Happen on Their Terms, Not Your Terms

We, addicts, tend to want what we want when we want it.  We love instant gratification, and that is what we found from drugs.  We would put the effort in to obtain the drugs, and as soon as we did, we got an immediate reward for our efforts.

Trust does not work like this.  The return on investment is out of your control.  The other choice of trusting you determines the reward of trust and when they are willing to make that choice.  While you cannot make this choice for them, you can influence things to help it be an easier choice for them.  This comes in the actions that you choose to make, which demonstrate trustworthiness.

Don’t Be a Victim

There is a genuine possibility that you may have had some terrible things happen to you.  Many with addiction are also survivors of trauma.  However, as it relates to trust, do not be a victim.  Living with a victim mentality will keep people away from you. People are drawn to strong people who don’t give excuses. As long as you are blaming a circumstance as the reason for why you behaved the way you did, people will never trust you.

The intention is not to come off as callous or cruel. The intent is for you to lose the “woe is me” mentality and take control of your life.  Regarding the broken trust, you are not a victim, so don’t act like one.  Your behaviors were not trustworthy.  Trustworthy people are not victims. They are survivors who learn to live and demonstrate trustworthy and responsible actions.

Do Not Be Defensive

Recall your active addiction days when you would get busted in a lie.  How would you respond?  Was it humble and remorseful, or did you react defensively?  If you want to repair this trust, then do not react defensively.  Others have EVERY RIGHT to feel EXACTLY like they feel.  We trained them to be suspicious of them, and we trained them not to trust us.  The AA Big Book states that “ten to twenty years would make a skeptic out of anyone.”  Why wouldn’t they doubt us?  Why wouldn’t they question us?  And, they will, but when they do, then do the next right thing by not acting defensive and being transparent to demonstrate that you have nothing to hide.  This behavior will be radically different from what others have seen in the past.  They are used to us blindsiding them.  This time, blindside them with something radically different, good, and trustworthy.   They will never see it coming!

Validate the Victim of Your Lies

Having established that others are the real victim of our behaviors damaged the trust, and having established that we should not be defensive, how should we act?  Validate others.  Validation of what the other has gone through and is going through will demonstrate the growth you are making and will communicate an empathic understanding of the pain they have felt.

An example of how you might validate others might include saying, “I cannot even imagine what this has been like for you, but I certainly understand that my behaviors have hurt you deeply.  I can see that it is not easy for you to trust me again.  I can understand why you don’t as well.  Why would you trust me, given all the things that I have done to break your trust?  However, if I eventually earn your trust or not, I will do everything in my power to demonstrate trustworthiness in my actions.  I know that my words are probably meaningless, but hopefully, honorable actions will be of more value, given the things I have done.”

Such an approach can go a very long way in helping to rebuild trust.  This demonstrates growth, maturity, empathy, accountability, and an understanding that things are not all about you.  When this approach is coupled with consistency and makes direct amends for the damage you have caused, you may be surprised at the trust that can be restored.

Build a Routine and Stick to It

There was no predictability in active addiction, and life was utter chaos for us and our loved ones.  Life was not only unmanageable, but it was also unpredictable.  In part, trust was broken by unpredictability and blindsiding our loved ones.

Building a daily recovery routine is vital in early recovery.  It helps you to develop a rhythm and cadence in your recovery.  This daily routine will also help to repair trust with others.  Having a routine and sticking to your routine produces a level of consistency and predictability in your recovery.

It isn’t the words that you will say that will rebuild the trust.  Trust is repaired from the silent sermon of how you live your life and interact with the world.  As others observe you having a routine, being consistent, your behaviors begin to appear to be more predictable than during active addiction.  This will go a long way in repairing the broken trust.

Do the Right Thing, Especially When It Is Easier Not Too and Even When No One Is Looking?

It is much easier to do the right thing when you know that someone is watching.  For example, it is very easy not to shoplift when you know the security guard is staring right at you.  However, what we did was wrong and violated social rules regarding trust, and these things were typically done when no one was watching.

To rebuild trust, start living your life as if someone is ALWAYS watching.  This is part of the reason for the Spiritual basis of 12-step programs, which includes a belief that God is always watching.  This helps you get to the point where you also realize that the authentic and moral version of yourself is also always watching.  Living your life by this code will help to repair trust so that others will start to believe that you are still doing the next right thing even when they are not checking up on you.

Don’t Search for Praises.

It always feels wonderful when someone tells us how great we are doing and that they are proud of us.  However, check your motives regarding doing the next right thing and being trustworthy.  You are doing this to repair your moral character. You are not doing it for self-seeking and selfish reasons like getting an “atta boy.”  Even when your behaviors are right, but your motives are wrong, we appear untrustworthy to others.  Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.  Don’t do it so that you expect praise for doing trustworthy things.  Acknowledgment, recognition, and praise will come, but this should not be the selfish reason that you are doing what is right.  You are doing what is right because it is the right thing to do—nothing more, nothing less.

Make Amends

If you want that trust to be established again, then do the very best that you can to right any wrongs that you may have done.  Before you start looking for someone to trust you again, do everything that you can to reduce the pain that they may still feel by fixing, repairing, replacing, and restoring the things that were damaged by your actions.  For example, if you stole money from someone, make amends by repaying the money to the person BEFORE you ever start working on regaining their trust.  If you promised to take your son to a baseball game but broke this promise repeatedly during addiction, then take them to some baseball games BEFORE you ever start working on regaining their trust.

Regarding our addiction, the chapter How It Works from the AA Big Book states, “If you are willing to go to any length necessary, then you are ready to take certain steps.”  While this certainly applies to our recovery from drugs and alcohol, this is a wise approach that you can apply to repair broken trust too.  The willingness to do, and following through with steps of action, create the ability to do.  Become willing to make things right, then follow through with actions to make things right, and you are well on your way by creating a foundation sturdy enough for trust to be rebuilt upon.

Be Consistent

It was our consistency of demonstrating distrust that trained others not to trust us.  Likewise, from consistency to repeatedly demonstrating our trustworthiness, others can decide to trust us again.  Consistency, consistency, consistency is vital to repairing trust.  When someone doesn’t trust us, they are always waiting for the next shoe to fall.  The consistency of our trustworthiness helps to dispel this fear and helps others to feel safe that we are not going to rip the rug out from under them again.

Give It Time

How many years have you been drinking or using drugs?  How many years have you been lying, breaking promises, having hidden motives, cheating, stealing, and training others not to trust you?  Repairing trust will take time.  Acceptance is the answer to all your problems today, and acceptance that trust will take time is the answer to the problem where we quit just before the finish line of rebuilding this trust.  Never give up on the hope that somehow, someway, others may trust you again.  The hope is lost when you give up, quit, and return to being untrustworthy.

Do Not Quit Before the Miracle Happens

It may seem like it would take a miracle for others to trust you again.  In those moments when they do not trust you and are maybe even questioning if you have relapsed, it is easy to slip back into old, dysfunctional, and addictive thinking patterns.  We may think, “They are never going to believe me, so what is the use.  I have worked so hard, and it doesn’t even matter.  I am dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t, so screw it, I might as well get drunk and high.”

The root of the issue is fear.  We fear they will never trust us again.  We fear that no matter what we do, it will never be enough.  This way of thinking, our Stinkin’ Thinkin’, leads to a relapse.  However, fear is a liar.  When we buy into the distorted thinking fueling the fear, our behaviors become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I mean by this that our actions of relapsing and getting high create a world where our fear becomes a reality.  So, do not quit before the miracle happens.  Watch for and get rid of thinking errors.  Look at your actions and examine if this action you are about to take would move you nearer or farther from your goal.  If your goal is for others to trust you, how would you ever achieve this by relapsing?

Radical Acceptance That the Trust May Never Be Repaired

There is no question that our end goal is to rebuild trust.  However, sadly, some of the relationships may have been destroyed beyond repair.  As best as you can, radically accept that this may be a possible outcome.  You may question, then why even put in all of this effort.  The answer is simple.  Even if others do not trust you, you will begin to trust yourself again.  As you become a trustworthy person, then others will be drawn to you like a magnet.  Yes, maybe some relationships did not get restored.  However, this new and wonderful version of yourself will become grateful for all of the new relationships that have come into your life of recovery.  Being a trustworthy person is ALWAYS worth the hard work and time; it always pays off in the end.

You Can Trust PUSH for Recovery

If addiction has damaged the ability of your loved ones to trust you, and even made it difficult for you to trust in yourself, then call PUSH for Recovery.  We are here to help you in your recovery from addiction, and help you build a trustworthy life again.  We are located in Columbus, Ohio, and offer same-day assessments.  Call today!

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