Recovery is never a linear path, but that does not have to be a bad thing. Once you have stable footing in your sobriety and begin to work on the things that led to your substance use disorder, you can also address the circumstances in your life that reduce your overall health and happiness. Altering or ending personal relationships that deplete your happiness and add stress to your life can greatly improve your psychological health.
Among the many challenges you will face in recovery are toxic friends. They may be those who enable your substance use. They may reinforce the substance use behaviors of the past, especially if you used to use with them. To be fair, they may not even be aware that they are hindering your recovery—but the most important thing is making your safety and sobriety your #1 priority.
According to the National Institutes of Health, people with substance use disorders often lack a strong support system of friends and family to help them through recovery. The same NIH study reveals that when your support network is strong, healthy, and invested in your recovery, the chances for long-term sobriety are greatly increased.
Defining and Creating Healthy Relationships
According to Massachusetts’ RESPECTfully mental health program, a healthy relationship has several characteristics and benefits. These are:
- Mutual respect: Each person values who the other person is and what their boundaries are.
- Trust: Each person feels the other will be upfront with them and support their decisions.
- Honesty: Each person is dedicated to telling the truth to the other in a way that is nurturing and respectful.
- Compromise: Instead of everyone getting their way all the time, each person is able to sacrifice, meet in the middle, or agree to disagree.
- Individuality: Each person values the other for their unique qualities and does not try to change the other into someone they don’t want to be. Each person is free to express themselves, have other friends, and pursue activities that interest them.
- Good communication: This is about more than just honesty. Each person in the relationship must listen and give the other space to express or deal with their feelings.
- Speaking honestly and openly: Each person agrees to say what is on their mind or sort out their feelings beforehand. This is honesty in action.
- Anger control: Speaking or acting in anger rarely leads to solutions. Each person in the relationship agrees to cool off before confronting a contentious subject.
- Fighting fair: Each person agrees to stick to the problem to be solved and not insult the other. This may include taking breaks from each other and working things out later.
- Problem solving: Taking a problem apart and solving it in stages is a strong sign of a healthy relationship. Of course, this requires excellent communication.
- Understanding: Each person should seek to discover, recognize, and respect what the other is feeling.
- Self-confidence: Being comfortable with yourself, your emotions, and your decisions are vital to your mental health. A healthy relationship should foster your self-confidence.
- Being a role model: A role model is someone whom you can consistently admire. You become a role model when you behave in the ways you want to be treated.
What Is a Toxic Relationship?
Toxic relationships can occur in any aspect of your life, from home and work, to social activities, dating, and spousal relationships. They create stress, reduce your quality of life, eat away at your time, and can ultimately lead to relapse. As you recover, you have a real chance at a better life. Keeping that life often depends on getting rid of negative things, like these relationships.
While you can look at the list of healthy relationship traits, think of the opposite, and you’ll come up with a relatively clear definition of a toxic relationship. There are also other red flags to consider. The following questions are adapted from the sites VeryWellMind and WebMD.
- Do you feel you contribute more to the relationship than the other person? Does that make you feel exhausted and less valuable?
- Do you feel the person does not respect you and fails to fulfill your needs?
Does the person attempt to make most or all your decisions for you? Does the person try to change you or make you believe you are not good enough as you are?
- Does the other person try to isolate you from friends or family? Do they seem jealous of your time with others? Does the person follow you excessively, track you on social media, and insist that you return calls or texts immediately?
- Do you feel as if you are undervalued, less deserving, degraded, or attacked in the other person’s presence?
- Does speaking with the person make you feel highly negative, angry, afraid, or depressed?
- Do you simply not enjoy time with the person, or do you feel you are not at your best when around them
- Do you seem to “bring out the worst” in each other?
- Do you feel you spend too much time cheering the person up at the expense of your own emotions? Do you find this continually exhausting?
- Does the person try to manipulate you through negative emotions, dishonesty, or sudden, violent changes of mood?
- Do you feel you are always to blame for the person’s moods, situations, and mistakes?
- Has the person ever been physically aggressive, hit you, threatened to hit you, or kept you from leaving a location? If so, you should alert authorities immediately and end the relationship as soon as possible.
- Does the person also use substances, sell them, or encourage you to use them?
- Does the person make you want to use substances or make you fear a relapse?
A Toxic Relationship’s Effects on Substance Use
A 2014 NIH study shows that substance use becomes more likely when you are close friends with someone who is a substance user. It also reveals that when the quality of a close relationship is low, it does not help you cope with life’s stresses, and can even lead to substance use or relapse. The stress of a toxic relationship is never something you deserve; instead, you deserve close friends who will be there for you and support you on your path to sobriety.
Healthy relationships can help establish sobriety as your new, ongoing norm, allowing you the freedom to make healthy changes and positively “re-invent yourself.” As you discover who you are without substances, you will be continually validated in that identity through the positive reinforcement of close, intimate friendships. Good friends will invest time in you, your feelings, your needs, and your path to healing.
When Is It Time to Go?
No relationship is more important than your sobriety. If you are living with a person with whom you have a toxic relationship, you run the risk of relapsing without major changes to that dynamic. While exiting a relationship can be unpleasant and even painful, staying firm and decisive is vital to the process.
If you feel you are in imminent danger of relapse or you are at risk of being physically harmed by the other person, you should leave immediately. Contact a resource like the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Hotline at 1-800-662-4357. SAMHSA will connect you to other services that will allow you to find fast help in emergency situations. Most importantly, if you have been attacked or feel endangered, you should contact 9-1-1 immediately.
How Do You Exit a Toxic Relationship?
Leaving a relationship is difficult, no matter how negative that relationship is. But when your mental health and sobriety are at risk, don’t you owe it to yourself? Just like with quitting substances, quitting a relationship requires a firm decision that you can stick with. It takes courage, and it takes help. You may find the following strategies helpful. They have been gathered from several sources, including Psychology Today, the NIH, and PsychCentral.com.
- Write things down. Write down when your boundaries are violated and how you react. This will help you find the boundaries you need to strengthen and prevent you from being exploited by others. Also, NIH studies have shown that journaling can aid you in the recovery process.
- Seek the help of others. Friends and family who fill your life with positivity can help you see the difference between healthy and toxic relationships. Rely on these friends for advice, emotional support, and company during and after you “break up” with a toxic person.
- Have a neutral person present during the breakup. A therapist who has worked with you and the other person can be a useful individual who can help things from devolving into blame, negativity, or violence. Any neutral party can help you see the larger picture, but a therapeutic setting is often the best and safest one for exiting a toxic relationship.
- Find a place where both of you are comfortable. The “breakup” conversation with a toxic person can be difficult, stressful, and even dangerous if the person has a history of abuse. Find a location to talk where you not only are safe, but also feel comfortable. Having such a space helps to reduce negative associations and emotions, as well as the sense of being “put on the spot.”
- Use “I” statements. Instead of assigning blame, state how specific behaviors and situations make you feel. For example, Psychology Today suggests that, instead of saying things like, “you make me feel this way,” say, “I feel this way when you do this.” This style of communication keeps things in the context of factual cause and effect while emphasizing your needs.
- Be firm and consistent about your decision. If the other person wants to continue the relationship, it is only natural that they will try to change your mind. Be clear and hold fast to your decision once it is made.
- Follow through on your decision. You should not have to end a relationship twice. Once you have made decisions and either redrawn boundaries or cut ties completely, stick to your convictions.
What Do You Do After?
PsychCentral also recommends that after you have broken off from the toxic relationship, you take time to explore and establish healthy boundaries in all your connections. You should fill your life with positivity, take up new hobbies, and find new friends. Changing substance use behaviors is often about sweeping life changes. In finding better relationships and more positive things to do, you are only aiding in your recovery.
In addition to trying new things, consistent, healthy routines are also important in breaking the cycles of both toxic relationships and substance use. Again, journaling can help you plan and organize how to best spend your time. If you are not currently in therapy, this may be a good time to find a mental health professional to speak with. A therapist can be one more person who empathizes, supports you, and helps you from a place of expertise.
Can You Ever Reconnect With a Toxic Person?
There is no clear answer to this, but it is important to remember what you need right now in order to maintain your recovery. It is entirely possible that a person will change or become better at relationships. At the same time, being cautious can only help you. It may not happen for a long time, if ever. Focus on what is right in front of you, which is your sobriety, and happier, healthier associations.
When you are exiting a toxic relationship, remember that you are never alone. There are friends, family, and outside resources that can aid you. Facilities like Granite Recovery Centers can help you find the strategies to make changes in your life and relationships that will enhance your chances for long-term sobriety. Breaking the cycle of toxic relationships can move you one step closer to recovery. Our Admissions specialists are available 24/7 and are happy to discuss your individual situation and options. Please give us a call today.