Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

On The Topic Of Trust

Pussy Willow

When trust has been shattered, we often find ourselves wondering how to pick up the pieces and trust again. When we feel hurt by these violations, how is it possible to repair the bonds that have been broken? Annie Highwater shares her insights on the internal processes that have allowed her to move on when trust was violated.

I’ve had my fair share of trust broken. Having had family members afflicted with addiction, I’m frequently asked how I have personally managed to put trust in them again, after being deceived or betrayed.

I certainly have standards for healthy, trustworthy relationships (even those that might be in fragile healing phases)… Yet I’m also mindful of boundaries regarding loyalty, respect, honesty and ownership. When it comes to broken trust, my response is to bring the work back to me.

I have stopped requiring trust to be rebuilt to the same degree it was broken. I don’t know that that’s possible. When I'm holding a measuring stick of expectations or time-frames, a heavy weight is placed upon everyone involved.

There is no set process, or deadline for when things begin to feel safe again.

When it comes to having trust shattered more than a few times, I have learned to tend to the areas violated. If a violation of trust is a wound inflicted on a boundary (whether that boundary is unspoken or explicitly clear), then regaining that trust is a matter of healing the wound.

Whatever the area that was violated, I know I must first reinforce and secure it. This is the work of repairing boundaries. For instance, I'm probably going to decrease access to things like my finances, valuables, time, or information that was once confided. If necessary, I will restrict access to my presence, when I need to guard my heart.

I then take some time to tend to myself.

I have learned that when trust has been broken, emotional damage occurs. I need to take time to rebuild myself. Allow myself to think, breathe, calm down, heal. I analyze what I missed, what I ignored, what I made excuses for, and where I may have left myself open to disappointment.

I focus on my sense of worth, and sharpen trust in my intuition. For a time, that takes the priority for me.

I then set intentions to forgive and decide what the relationship looks like going forward.

Does it need time and distance? Do we need to have some hard conversations? Does the connection need be cut off?  For a time, or even permanently?

The answers depend on what I have envisioned is healthiest going forward.

(I try not to make these decisions when I am throbbing with emotion.)

I’ve learned that more important than being able to trust my son, my family, my friends, my relationships, those I work with… and so on, is my need to to be able to trust myself. When I am internally healthy and aware, I am less likely to deny intuition, or bypass warning signs. Trusting those instincts helps repair my relationships with others.

Not that they are off the hook. I just know that the majority of my work is usually within. This is the realm in which we really have the power to change.

Everyone will hurt and disappoint us at some point. What I need to consider is how deep did they cut? What were their intentions? How honest and forthcoming were their amends?

It’s not my job to completely trust anyone or anything else — it’s my job to forgive them, to love them, and to secure the areas violated. I then must decide what areas of the relationship need to be addressed, changed, or ended.

My main work is in trusting myself.

It is a powerful process of healing to raise my self-respect and perception of value… this brings me to a place where I can sense signs of unhealthy dynamics. Working on that, I find, works out the rest.

In my Higher Power (and in myself) I am learning to trust,


Annie Highwater is a Writer, Speaker, Podcast Host and Family Advocate. She has a particular interest in family pathology and concepts of dysfunction, addiction, alcoholism and conflict. Annie published her memoir, Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction, in 2016. Her story sheds light on the personal challenges facing the affected parents and family members, and illustrates how family dynamics both help and hinder the recovery process. Annie’s second book, Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache was published in August of 2018. She resides in Columbus, Ohio and enjoys writing, long distance running, hiking, the great outdoors and visiting her son in California as often as possible.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. I absolutely love this post. I have been going through at least 15 years of struggling with my husband and my two sons. Dominique has known me for years and knows the struggles I have gone through. I would feel like I could trust and things would go well for a short while and then my hopes would be shattered. Over the years good things have happened, my oldest son has been in recovery for about 7 years now and my husband for a couple of years. My younger son has recently been doing much better. He was incarcerated until last November and when he got out, didn’t go back to the drugs, but was drinking nonstop. He recently went to after incarceration services and went through their program. He now has a job and really seems to like it. The alcohol hasn’t stopped completely but I keep encouraging him on this. In the past he would never hardly talk to me but now we have conversations, he tells me things about the past and admits to things. I feel like he is trying to clean things up and get things off his mind. I enjoy being with him now. Like my brother said to me, I never gave up on my sons. I practiced the CRAFT method for many years and believe me at times I felt like there was no hope at all and I wanted to just give up. But I kept picking up the pieces and when I would slip and start yelling and not do the right thing, I would forgive myself and start all over. I kept telling my younger son if he did well he would be rewarded, but if not he would get nothing from me. Believe me, it is new and I am cautiously optimistic, but things seem so different this time. He seems to like his job and when filling out his paperwork, he said to me, look at this, after 30 days I get health insurance and dental, and paid time off. Like I said I am cautiously optimistic and I’m sure there could be shaky times, but I am hopeful. I will take any time that things are calm and good, and will continue to work the program. I just hope that this gives encouragement to others that are struggling and that they never give up hope. Thank you so much for this program.

    1. ML: 2 sons and a husband. It is hard to imagine your life over the years. Your son did go to the after incarceration support service and did get help. He now has a job with benefits. Unbelievable. Thank you for you, for your family, and for us … you are a true compassionate loving warrior.

      1. I don’t believe that I would have ever made it through without this program. I will always continue to work this program everyday. It will still take a while to feel comfortable and trusting, but I do believe that things are looking up. My oldest is going for his bachelor degree, my toughest is working and seems very proud of himself and my husband and I are getting along better than ever. I do have to mention my daughter also, she has always been my rock and is now on her way to a PhD. She is really a survivor through all of this and I am so proud of her. I hope that others reading this get some encouragement. It has been a long road and I cherish every good day. I’m sure there will still be challenges ahead, but I feel following and working this program will help me get through. Thank you so much.

        1. Dear mlb2t,
          It is so moving and inspiring to read your recent comments, to know that your youngest, your “toughest” as you called him, has made this progress and that your family’s dynamic has begun to shift yet again towards even more recovery. We have so appreciated that you have continued to check in with us over the years, and it is really fabulous to hear that CRAFT and the Allies program has anchored you and helped you keep your eyes on the prize. We are rooting for you all. Thanks again, so much, for sharing these bits of cheering news.