Rebuilding the Trust Factor

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Lies. Theft. Manipulation.  How do you trust someone who has embodied not just one of those elements, but all of them? 

It’s a question faced by every person asked to trust a loved one struggling with addiction. 

When dealing with active addiction, the answer is simple: you don’t.  Addicts have one thing on their minds—their next fix. It is the overriding force in their lives, something over which they have little or no control. They will do things that in a sober state of mind would be unthinkable, including lying, stealing and manipulating those they love.   

But what if your loved one has undergone treatment? What if they’ve come home and you’re faced with living with someone who has betrayed you? 

One of the scourges of addiction is its ability to destroy relationships. Even the bond between mother and child, said to be the most powerful in the world, can be broken or severely strained by addiction and the behavior of an addicted child. 

As a parent, it’s almost impossible to imagine the level of betrayal suffered by an addict’s loved ones. In fact, the only way I coped with it was to remind myself regularly that my son was not himself. He was in the grip of a demon that twisted his every thought, every value and every loving, kind, truthful instinct. 

It’s a terrible way to look at one’s child. Yet, it can be the best way to answer the question of how much to trust an addict returning home after rehab.  

It’s essential to remember, and to remind the addict, if necessary, that you did not ask to feel this way. You did not ask to be put in the position of questioning every word from their mouth, of not believing, at least at first, anything they say. Because of past behavior, which the addict may and should deeply regret, you’ve been conditioned to be skeptical of their words and behavior—at best. 

Trusting an addict after rehab is a process, one that’s not to be rushed. While the addict may in fact be committed to living a clean and sober life, their past behavior has undoubtedly left loved ones with not only a lack of trust, but a case of PTSD.  

It may sound dramatic, but it’s no joke. Living in a state of tension and fear for weeks, months, or even years takes a toll, emotionally and possibly physiologically. Taking the time necessary to heal from those wounds must be respected. The addict must understand that immediate acceptance and restoration of trust is not an immediate given. Relationships must be rebuilt. Trust must be earned. 

I recall early in David’s sobriety when he questioned my lack of trust. My response was simply, “Hey, I didn’t ask for this. You have to give me time.” That honest, simple truth helped lay the groundwork for restoring the trust we had and lost.  

Rebuilding a trusting relationship with an addict takes time; there are steps one can take to hold the addict accountable. We’ll talk about those next time, but for now, everyone in the equation must treat trust as the powerful, sacred gift that it is, and give it the time it deserves. 

Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist. Visit her at Her latest book, “The 15 Minute Master—How to Make Everything Better 15 Minutes at a Time,” can be found on Amazon.