Substance use and toxic relationships often exist side by side. Perhaps these relationships involve an enabling family member, an abusive spouse, or a substance-using acquaintance. Each of these types of toxic relationships represents a direct threat to sobriety.
Identifying which relationships in your life happen to be toxic should be among the first steps taken in early recovery. Seeing these unhealthy relationships in a clear light is the first step to making fundamental changes, if not culling these people from your life altogether. Toxic relationships cannot remain on the same plane as your recovery.
What is a Toxic Relationship?
Our primary relationships are those we have with close family members. As is so often stated, addiction is a family disease. Substance use seeps into the very fabric of family relationships, infecting the whole family system as a result.
Toxic relationships, however, do not only pertain to family. In recovery, taking an honest look at close relationships may lead to an awareness that changes must be made with regard to a family member, a close friend, a business partner, or a spouse.
A toxic relationship often has the elements of codependency and/or enabling present. The person may have had sincere intentions to help you out of various problems, but instead became entangled in the disease right along with you. When this occurred, the person ended up micromanaging every detail of your life, only having the effect of preventing you from breaking free of the substance use. Because codependency can be toxic to both people involved, once in recovery it is important to set new boundaries with this person.
Codependency isn’t the only sign of a toxic relationship. Any relationship that features manipulation, shaming, physical or sexual abuse, or anything that could harm your recovery is a toxic one. All toxic relationships must be corrected or eliminated.
How to Release Toxicity in Your Life
Just like lancing an abscess will begin to heal an infection, setting fresh boundaries will help to release toxicity in your life. To preserve your recovery, it is critical to remove the influence of certain people or relationships. Here are some tips for accomplishing that:
- Do Not Be Afraid to Judge. When it comes to protecting your recovery, do not hesitate to make an honest assessment of the people who inhabit your life. Recognize the toxic traits in certain relationships and begin to eliminate those people from your life.
- Communicate Openly. For those relationships that might be unhealthy, but which you wish to retain, clearly articulate with them the need for making changes. Be concise and unwavering in relaying these parameters so the person will know what it will take to remain in your life.
- Learn To Say No. When it comes to a close family member it is often difficult to cut the cord. Even if you are still working on this relationship with them, and have set new boundaries, you might find yourself weak in enforcing the new rules. It is crucial to the relationship’s survival that you know when to say no, to deny them their power to influence you, and to insist they respect your boundaries.
- Respect yourself. When recovering from a substance use disorder you may be at a low point in life. Possibly you have experienced career setbacks, legal problems, or financial hardship, all of which take a toll on your sense of self-worth. Work on yourself and slowly you will regain your self-confidence. As you learn to respect yourself again it is easier to enforce boundaries.
- Form New Healthy Relationships. As you prepare to eliminate the toxic people from your life, it is helpful to make new friendships in sobriety. Having healthy new relationships, based on mutual respect, helps to soften the difficulty of cutting others out of your life.
The importance of relationships in recovery cannot be understated. We humans are social beings. In recovery, who we surround ourselves with plays a significant role in how smooth the road will be. If someone in your life that you truly care about is codependent or enabling, see if you can work out a new healthy way of relating. If not, then the best decision you can make, for the sake of your sustained recovery, is to let them go.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.