How to Improve Communication in Recovery

When you were in the midst of active addiction, your family and friends probably weren’t able to keep up. It’s very common for an addicted person to disappear for days at a time with no explanation, ignoring phone calls and forgetting about their commitments along the way. You became so caught up in the cycle of finding, using and recovering from drugs that communication fell by the wayside.

Now that you are sober, it’s time to become a better steward of your relationships. A large portion of this is learning how to build trust and improve communication in recovery.


Communication and Trust

In order for any relationship to exist, we must focus on building trust. Clear, honest communication is the surest path to bonding with someone. We learn that we can rely on them when we need help, that they tell us what is going on in their lives and that they are someone on whom we can rely.

The more confidence that you have in another person’s honesty, the more likely you are to become close to them. When you remember that substance abuse often results in lying, stealing and uncertainty, it’s easy to see why an addicted person needs to do a complete 180 in how they communicate after treatment.

The deception that characterizes addiction can create lasting damage to your relationships. By regularly checking in with your loved ones and focusing on having meaningful conversations, you can gradually work to rebuild the trust that may have been lost along the way.

Here are some of our top tips for better communication in recovery.


Learning to Listen

Active listening is a valuable skill for anyone, but it is especially crucial for those who are in early recovery. Often, we may find ourselves feeling defensive in the midst of a heated discussion; in those instances, we may stop listening or begin to form a counterargument while the other person is speaking. Learning to pivot from these negative behaviors to more constructive styles of communication is key.

You can become a better listener by paying close attention to what the other person says. Show them that you’re engaged in what they’re saying by nodding along and smiling. Avoid interrupting – instead, wait until they fully complete their thought before responding. If you follow these tips, you should improve your listening skills significantly.


Understanding How You Come Across

Discovering how others perceive you is a challenging task. Many people who have gone through addiction and recovery believe that they are wholly independent, and that others’ opinions do not matter. While you shouldn’t base all of your choices on what everyone else thinks, it is important to consider how you come across in any social interaction.

Nonverbal cues, for example, are incredibly important when we’re talking about communication. Your voice, tone and body language can change the meaning of your words. If you are working on your one-on-one conversation skills, consider the following:

  • Facial expressions – Are you smiling or rolling your eyes? An ill-timed eyebrow raise can indicate skepticism, when you really were trying to convey interest. Pay attention to the faces you make!
  • Eye contact – Are you looking at the other person when you speak with them? While repeatedly glancing away can make someone feel that you are nervous, staring without breaking eye contact can also be disconcerting. Experts say you should try maintaining an interested gaze, then breaking it from time to time.
  • Tone – The way you say something can be more important than what you’re saying. If others frequently misunderstand your meaning, think about whether you sound earnest, sincere and open-minded in the moment.
  • Appearance and grooming – Yes, your aesthetics can also play a role in how you are perceived. We are not here to recommend that you seek out a personal stylist; rather, simply be sure that you are taking care of yourself and your clothing.


Not Taking Anything Personally

Addiction makes people more sensitive to criticism. This is partly because fear is at the root of most substance abuse. Many group sessions focus on learning to hear critique, pause for reflection, decide what to change and avoid thinking of those statements as personal attacks.

When you take things too personally, you are focusing on the wrong parts of the conversation – “They’re mad at me,” or “They think I always mess things up.” In reality, your loved ones are probably not trying to tear you down. They may just be concerned. When you learn to separate yourself from a statement, you give others the benefit of the doubt and improve your communication.


Staying Calm

It’s very easy to fly off the handle, especially under the influence of drugs and alcohol. When you are in early recovery, you may be surprised by the intensity of your emotions. Learning to feel those feelings without lashing out can be an ongoing journey for those leaving treatment.

Prioritizing your relationships means making amends. It can also mean learning to stay calm when tempers flare. Many professionals recommend taking deep breaths, regularly meditating and reminding yourself of what you want in the long term. If you’re worried that you may fly off the handle, it’s always okay to step away and collect yourself before responding.


Learning Life Skills for Lasting Recovery

At Cumberland Heights, we understand that recovery is about more than just sobriety – it’s learning to care for ourselves, meet new goals and interact with others in a positive way. That’s why our group programming equips residents with the life skills necessary for improved communication. For more information about our inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, contact our admissions office.