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Trusting Again is Tough. I’m Learning to Accept That.

Allies member blueskies22 has spent thirty years living with her partner’s struggle with alcohol. She’s reaching a new kind of acceptance of her own feelings, and that’s real progress. Her partner, however, is asking to be trusted more fully. Allies’ Laurie MacDougall offers ideas, affirmation, and some guiding questions around the thorny issue of trust.

I’ve been working on noticing, accepting, and validating my own feelings. This is different than before, when I would tell myself that I have distorted or unhelpful thoughts most of the time. My loved one often tells me that it is hard for him to not feel accepted, that I should trust him, and what is a relationship without trust? He also told me recently how difficult it is to be a “normal” drinker now but still have people around questioning him. So, I take all of this to heart, I listen and try to understand him, and I think about how I can be more trusting. I feel guilty those times when I ask him if he has had a beer (he gets very hurt and accusatory if he has not had one). Yesterday I told myself that my fear is OK, it’s really normal after thirty years of uncertainty, and it’s OK to feel anger and fear. It’s probably healthy to not trust him; it’s self-protection. I don’t need to wait for someone else to validate my feelings. I can accept myself, and this might (I hope) be a turning point for me. 


Hi blueskies22,

WOW, you are really starting to tackle some of the most difficult parts of the journey when dealing with substance use. I think I am hearing a shift in you, and I understand how addressing and nurturing yourself and your feelings is beneficial to both your partner and you! I know this is a daunting process, but the positive returns are worth it.

Noticing, accepting, and validating your feelings is right out of Module 7. This is TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF. It reminds me of a quote I once heard that helped give me a moment of awakening. Self-care, I realized, has to happen right in the moment of stress—not just when things are calm:

The most important spiritual growth doesn’t happen when you’re meditating or on a yoga mat. It happens in the midst of conflict—when you’re frustrated, angry or scared and you’re doing the same old thing, and then you suddenly realize that you have a choice to do it differently.

When we say “trust”…

I can hear your struggle with how to balance trust. This is a toughie: all of us family members and allies are very insecure about the hows, whats, and whys of trust. I find it helps to ask myself questions. I need to kind of parcel out what is what.

Here are a few things to ask yourself when there are whirlwinds of questions spinning in your mind:

  • When he is asking me to trust him, is he saying he isn’t going to drink, and that is what I should trust?
  • Is it unreasonable to think he might not be able to fulfill this promise?
  • Does he believe it when he tells me that he isn’t going to drink? Or is he trying to pull the wool over my eyes?
  • If he does drink, why?
  • Is it that he is not trustworthy, or is it that he is still struggling to find his path?
  • Is it that I don’t trust him, or that I don’t trust the situation or the struggles he is dealing with?

It makes sense to me that you have fear and anger when worried that he might drink beyond what he commits to. Pinning down just what it is you can’t trust might help.

Your feelings are yours. It’s a good sign that you know it.

When it comes to feelings of fear and anger, something that helps me is recognizing that they are just feelings. They are not facts. What’s admirable about what you wrote in your latest post is that you recognize that your feelings are your responsibility to take care of.

John Fitzgerald, the creator of the 5-Actions Program (a New Mexico-based Allies in Recovery sister program for individuals with addictions), saw your latest message and wrote:

Sounds like real progress in developing new ways to be with your partner. Trust is critical in relationships, particularly emotional trust that comes from being emotionally attuned to your partner. One helpful way of thinking about trust in relationships is through a parts model of the mind. If you are unfamiliar with this model, check out the presentation titled Embracing Your Internal Family listed under the webinar library, and check out the book No Bad Parts. The benefit of a parts model is that it helps you differentiate the parts of your mind that can sometimes become anxious and untrusting of your partner from the parts that do trust and love him. Also, the model offers a spiritual way of thinking about the Self that helps lead your internal family of parts.

It is wonderful to hear that you are in a better spot than previously. You are digging in and doing some really difficult but ultimately rewarding work. I hope what I wrote here is helpful. Stay connected, and let us know more about your progress. What you have shared is inspirational to all of us!

Laurie MacDougall




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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"...)