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Trust in Drug Rehab?

Graeme Daniels explains how to trust after a drug rehab program.

Graeme Daniels

Ever been a part of a therapy session, especially one that is couple, family, or even group oriented? Listening to contrite drug users, you might hear them reference goals with sentences like, “I want to gain back trust,” which often means a problem that is externalized: distrusting people (family members, their agent professionals) not believing that the using person is done with their negative behaviors. If only such people would learn to be more understanding, or “forgiving”, then a previous standard of leniency would be restored; a reset-button would be pressed regarding the using person’s reputation, and life would return to some happy, pre-substance using baseline. 

It doesn’t work like this. For years now I’ve been telling teens, parents, warring couples that the trust wounds of addiction are mutual, not unilateral, as is often presumed. The using person, fraught with guilt and shame, figures the task is that of regaining the trust of loved ones, not trusting them in return. They are typically willing to endure a probationary period of suspended privileges but often become impatient when loved ones remain fixed in cautious positions, unsure of what is real, still feeling gas-lighted even though improvement in the user may be evident. The using person castigates others as harsh or unforgiving, again because the problem is externalized: they actually think the onus is upon the loved ones to take the risks, to do the trusting. What they struggle to understand is that the trust problem cuts both ways. Because they have withheld and lied they have also not trusted: simply put, they have not trusted others with the truth. Therefore, it is the task of the using person, beginning in recovery, to exercise rigorous truth-telling.  

And it doesn’t work like this. If you think about it, how do you gain trust? What do you say to “I don’t trust you”? If you know and love a drug user, what do you know of that person’s psychology? What moves them? What are their vulnerabilities, their capacities? What triggers them, not only towards drug use, but beyond that, towards a range of defensive behaviors and attitudes, from a retreat into silence, or agitated blaming, to more subtle defenses, such as obfuscating replies, hapless expressions of “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember”: manipulative self-deprecating remarks that cause others to retreat from loving yet limit-setting positions. Working Through Rehab depicts many of these strategies, and the failure of some in the business to address the full scope of problems. But new efforts are happening everyday at a rehab near you, at places like Muir Wood Family Services in Petaluma, wherein caseloads and groups are kept small and gender-segregated; where administrators like Scott Sowle and his staff believe that treatment is time-limited but focused intently upon behavioral defenses, and beneath them, upon chronic trauma and attachment difficulties. If you’ve had problems with drugs and relationships, know that comprehensive and safe drug treatment exists, and that you deserve more than an average rehab experience, but rather a life-changing experience. Trust me.

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