Almost everyone who gets clean and sober goes through a period where they experience a ton of negative feelings toward the people they love the most. I’m not talking about people they love who they’ve recently met in recovery. These feelings are specifically ignited inside of us by people who have known us the longest. I’m talking about our family members and long-term romantic partners. The ones where our love-roots go deepest. Why are they the ones who make us feel the craziest after we get clean?

Often these are the people we still share the least about ourselves with. When we were getting high, we withheld information to protect them because we knew our self destructive actions would have caused them incredible pain or we simply hid our lives rather than risk them getting in the way our our drug use. Once we get clean, they usually have no idea what we are processing or the amount of work that goes into our healing. We start to resent them for not taking interest in our recovery and we feel unsupported. We compare the depth of our new recovery relationships and feel cheated at home. We can’t believe they expect that now we’re off drugs, we’re “back to normal”. It’s very possible they avoid asking questions that may yield answers because they feel safe in their denial and do not want anyone (us) to mess with it. There are many reasons why the people who love us the most keep up an impenetrable shield.They simply may not be ready.

In recovery we share intimate parts of ourselves with our support group only to return to our loved ones and have it feel like no one is interested in truly knowing us. This is never more painful than during the early months of recovery. Not getting what we believe we need from our family has the ability to make us feel unsafe, unloved, misunderstood, insecure, resentful, hurt, and it turns us into character assassins (as we start deciding what is wrong with them). This is when we must lean into our recovery support group and to remember to keep breathing and to keep our mouth shut. Damage control not only saves them from attack and injury but also saves us from the remorse shame and regret we will surely feel if we inflict pain on people we know we truly love – even if we aren’t particularly feeling it at the moment.

In early recovery we are finally becoming honest with ourselves, doing the hard work of looking at our wreckage, at our shortcomings, and we’re becoming acquainted with our emotional life. It takes a while to land into our feelings and start to heal old wounds.Demanding other people to meet us half way is unfair. Remember, it was our suffering that motivated us to seek recovery in the first place. Pain was the impetus. God only knows what pain our loved ones have endured in their own lives or in relation to us while we were wrapped up in ourselves. They’re going to change when they’re ready – and maybe never. True acceptance of this fact might not happen for years but punishing them because they do not meet our new expectations is – well – it’s selfish (and not very spiritual). Especially when we don’t know for sure if what we’re thinking or feeling is accurate. This is why we practice unconditional love and patience with the people we love. We need to trust that how we feel right now is not permanent. Things are going to change. We’ll keep changing and this will have a positive impact on our relationships over time – whether we believe it or not.

Keep breathing, bite your tongue, leave the house to take walks when you need personal space. When you are at your wits’ end and don’t know what else to do treat them with kindness, forgiveness and compassion. Take your cell outside and rant and rave to friends who will let you unload. Get through the early months of recovery without causing more harm to yourself and others. Love is complicated. No matter what happens with these relationships, whether they turn out according to your greatest hopes or not – you will be okay. Trust the process.

Our buttons get pushed because we crave connection and love. We also probably harbor some fear of what they might have on us that we aren’t prepared to hear. Sometimes this fear is what’s causing us to want to write these relationships off. The good news is that by working on yourself and finding peace you will inspire others to do the same. Families can heal together. Time is where the magic happens.


Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

Leave a Reply