Who Do You Trust? Rebuilding Connection in Family Recovery

Our last articles focused on the dynamics impacting early recovery for the family. I thought this might be a good time to look at the role of trust and the impact of mistrust in the family recovery process. When a family loses trust, the sense of connection as a family is also lost. And for the family to achieve true recovery, early steps to rebuild trust and connection lost during active addiction are essential. Rebuilding trust equals reconnection as a family. The ways we deal with our mistrust is critical to how well our family will heal and how long this healing might take.


Trust and Mistrust in Early Recovery

Let’s face the cold hard truth here, there are enormous gaps in our ability to trust each other in early recovery. There is mistrust on the part of the person with an addiction. And there is mistrust among family members. The person in the family who has just completed treatment is thinking, “Can I really do this? Can I do this away from treatment, without all this support around? Did I learn everything I needed? What about my family and my job? Can I do this with all the demands in my life?”


If your loved one spent time receiving treatment from a licensed facility, they learned about the loss of trust from close people in their lives. They also learned skills to cope with life without substances and how to manage their individual recovery plans. Family members of newly recovering loved ones ask themselves, “What if I can’t ever trust them again? What if they return to using? Can I open up to them again? What are all these changes going to do to
our family? Can I engage with my loved one in a way that is respectful right now?”


If you attended a family education program, you know about seeking support for yourself and the family. What I find so interesting, is no matter if you are a former active user or a family member of a former user, you are very likely to experience the same feelings when you all come together following treatment!  Everyone is vulnerable, conflicted, and anxious.


Who do you Trust?

The only real answer for everyone involved is connection. Connection to the supports that will help you adjust to and heal from the major life changes you are making. Family members must continue connection to support that encourages understanding of addictive disease and ownership of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Those in early recovery from addiction must continue connection to the supports that encourage sobriety and accountability. Over time, these connections to individualized supports will lead to building trust and a return to connectedness in the family.



In the excellent article, The 4 Stages of Trust When Your Loved One in Recovery Comes Home, by Vertava Health, they address developing trust in the family. Likewise, they identify the stages of trust development to be:

  1. Paranoia
  2. Cautious Optimism
  3. Optimism
  4. And Confidence



In the Paranoia phase family members are primarily focused on the “what ifs” they might face with their recovering loved one. Frankly, the person in treatment has focused on developing skills to stay sober, and in some ways, they are ahead of their family members in understanding what they need to do to stay sober. This paranoia stage is hopefully brief, because trouble is coming to the family who stays there too long.


I would like to add, this is a time where family members are questioning every verbalization and action of their newly recovering loved ones. Family members are still preoccupied with their loved one’s thoughts and actions. They are hypervigilant towards their loved ones. Family members are focused on the past and not on what they see and hear. There is no trust and often, family members act as if they know what their early recovering loved one should be doing.


Cautious Optimism

During Cautious Optimism, family members are willing to let go a little bit and there is desire to trust in recovery. But it just feels awkward. There is still worry. I would add there is less preoccupation with what your recovering loved one is doing and less focus on “what ifs”.



Optimism builds as long as the recovering family member continues on a path that looks like sobriety.  And as long as they are following their relapse prevention plan. I would add, there are many measurable signs of recovery. For example, you see parts of the former responsible person you knew, before the disease developed.



Confidence emerges when the family is beginning to accept the new reality as possible. I would add, the family sees
they have all survived this change, and there is a level of comfortability. Trust is building and reconnection is starting to happen. Family activities and traditions are returning. There is real communication and problem solving as a family.


Moving Forward…

Throughout the stages of trust, we are reminded that if you stay in one of the earlier stages too long, you will interfere with family recovery. Family members must continue to seek advice, comfort and education from their support systems. This is done to manage the challenges that prevent them from moving forward. So, my questions to you, the readers are:

What are you doing when you feel vulnerable?

How are you dealing with feelings of distrust?

What stage of trust do you think you are in?

What are your trust challenges and are you taking those challenges to your support systems?

Are you communicating your challenges to your loved one in recovery?


Family recovery is like a team sport, your team is as strong as its weakest link. How are you contributing to the reconnection of your family? As I think about trust in the family and the recovery process, I think of an old AA saying. If nothing changes-NOTHING CHANGES! Family recovery is all about embracing change!



Caroline (Carli) Parmelee-Noffsinger has 20 years clinical experience including: primary therapist and case manager for residential, IOP and outpatient therapy. Carli’s primary role at Sanford House is facilitating the Family Program. She is currently updating and revising the program design and content and hopes to improve upon an already successful approach to family intervention. In her free time, Carli spends time with her horse. She has been a horse lover and owner for most of her life and has facilitated equine therapy sessions. She says, “The back of a horse is good for the inside of a person.” You can reach Carli with questions about The Sanford House Family Program at cnoffsinger@sanfordhouse.com