When it comes to building bridges in addiction recovery, expect a variety of responses.
In the early days of recovery, it’s common for a newly sober person to be anxious about restoring the relationships they damaged with friends and family when they were using. It’s difficult to imagine anyone getting sober without having hurt at least a few people close to them.
We don’t use in a vacuum. People almost certainly got hurt.
One of the most valuable things I was told in early sobriety was one of the hardest things to hear: not everyone is going to forgive you. Some people will never want a relationship with you again, no matter how much you change and no matter how sincere your amends.
That message took the pressure off. I didn’t have to live in constant hope of all my bridges being rebuilt. I could focus on rebuilding connections with people who were still open, and trust that my Higher Power would take care of the rest.
In 12-step programs, the restoring of relationships comes relatively late: Step Eight and Step Nine are for rebuilding connections with others. They come late because you need a firm foundation in recovery first, and—more importantly—you need the previous steps to give you the clarity to understand just how it was you harmed the people in your life.
No one wants to hear you apologize for what you think you did. Telling someone you feel guilty isn’t building a bridge. To do amends right, with or without the 12 Steps, you need to be able to name what you did to burn the bridge in the first place. That’s why the 12 Steps place the amends process after the exhausting process of personal inventory; self-awareness is a must for reconnecting with someone you hurt.
Rebuilding also takes time and patience. While some people will welcome you back into their lives right away, and others never will, a large number will want to wait and see. They’ll need evidence that your transformation is authentic, and only one thing will give them what they’re looking for: time.
When I was a child, I went on a field trip to visit the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. They told us that the repair and maintenance work had begun even before the span was finished.
“A bridge needs constant attention,” they said. “We can’t ever stop working.”
As you can guess, it is the very same thing with restored relationships.