Substance abuse often leaves a path of destruction in its wake. Relationships can be one of the most challenging and painful aspects of collateral damage for addicts and their families to heal. How do you move forward when a marriage ends due to an addiction?

Damage and healing. Addiction can lead to a number of unhealthy, relationship-related concerns. Addicts often face issues of isolation. They must remove themselves from those who enabled their bad habits in an effort to reframe their lifestyles in a healthier manner. At the same time, some experts point out relationships with family members and friends are damaged from trust issues, guilt and embarrassment. In order to move forward and heal, it’s important to be realistic in your expectations of yourself and others, including your ex-spouse.

Self-care and fresh perspectives. In the aftermath of an addiction, you might feel you are barely surviving. It’s important to make an effort to treat relationships as if they are new to you, instead of viewing them through the eye of damage, worry, regrets or mistrust. Engage in a self-care regimen, making it a point to tend your well-being through daily activities and hobbies. Participate in an exercise program and meditate for the sake of your physical and mental health.

Why did it come to this? Sometimes, out of curiosity, people might ask you why you and your ex are no longer married. Recognize this is a function of their own curiosity, and you don’t need to indulge them. You can answer if you find it is helpful to your personal path, sharing your story in a manner that isn’t picking at the wound or that feels too revealing. However, recognize you can simply say, “Things are complicated.” In fact, you might be asking yourself the same question.

Psychology Today points out people on both sides of the addiction suffer, and divorce is an unfortunate but common consequence when people no longer can find healthy ways to function within the marriage. Sometimes, divorce is the last straw for an addict, without the other person there to pick up the pieces when things are falling apart financially or otherwise. Unfortunately, the threat of divorce is not usually sufficient to make an addict stop, since he or she is still held hostage to the illness. For the addict, finding the way out sometimes really does require “hitting rock bottom,” and for the addict’s spouse, leaving becomes the only way to preserve or reconstruct a normal, healthy life. Truly, both the addict and spouse sometimes need to separate to put the pieces of their lives back together.

Finding more, feeling more. Remember, you married in the first place because you loved each other. Those feelings don’t automatically disappear just because you divorced. Huffington Post explains you may be surprised that even though the relationship was toxic, you struggle with many emotions long after the marriage ends. Along those same lines, relationships with other family members and friends can be strained or broken, additional collateral damage from addiction. Maybe money was borrowed, someone covered some tracks, or they simply don’t “approve” of something that happened.

“Fixing” a broken relationship is challenging under any circumstances, but finding some amicable territory is possible if both parties want it. When there is a barrier of ill feelings, try talking things through. Let down your body language into a non-judgmental, open manner, make eye contact and really listen. Try to set aside emotions and focus on compromise and common ground. Reach out to a professional counselor for help whenever you hit a wall. Things might never be what they were before, but with effort on both sides, things can be more comfortable and agreeable.

Substance abuse can create suffering on many levels. When marriages fail as a result, it can seem there is no moving forward. Take steps to care for yourself and heal your relationships. You can move forward and live a healthy life.

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Addiction treatment can be supplemented by all kinds of external efforts: a solid exercise routine, a supportive community or even a good night’s sleep. One unexpected way you can enhance your well-being in addiction treatment is caring for a pet. Here are seven ways a pet can contribute to your recovery process, and what to do if you plan on getting one.

1. A pet can make treatment more manageable and more successful

Research has shown that for some people, animal-assisted therapy could be a useful tool to decrease the time required for addiction treatment. If you decide to get a pet, make sure you find one that fits your personality and your living requirements. This includes the type of home you live in, if you have access to a yard and how much time you have. Check for potential allergies as well.

2. A pet gives you a chance to practice and build relationships

A pet is a perfect way to practice building healthy relationships. When you get a pet, you should spend time with it every day. You could even take it out hiking with you or camping. Getting to experience nature together is a great way to bond with your pet. When you’re able to build a happy relationship with your pet, you can transfer those skills to people and recognize the importance of patience and forgiveness.

3. A pet can help build a supportive social network

To take relationship-building a step further, utilizing your pet to meet new people is a great way to bond with your pet and make new human friends. An article published from Harvard Health notes that dog owners have been able to make friends with fellow owners. You can meet people at a dog park, or if you have other kinds of pets, you can attend meetups. A good social network can help prevent relapse and establish positive bonds.

4. Decrease stress

Researchers have found that when people are conducting a stressful task, they feel less stressed when a pet is nearby. This is great for addiction recovery, as stress can lead to relapse. Just as your pet helps lower your stress, you should do the same for your pet.

When you adopt a pet, you should help make it feel at home as much as possible right away. Prepare your home to be pet-friendly, and get a few toys and a nice bed. If you’ve adopted a pet from a shelter, definitely take extra precautions to reassure it that it’ll be safe.

5. Pets alter behavior and promote responsibility

An article in Psych Central mentioned the ability of pets to feel empathy for their owners and their pain. This empathy can help you make a transition from a melancholy to a happier state, as well as help you recognize the need to take care of your little one. You’ll feel reinforced as you see that you are capable of taking care of another living thing, which can help you recover more effectively.

6. Physical affection is therapeutic

The physical affection you receive from your pet can release oxytocin, a hormone that reduces anxiety. As you bond with your pet, don’t be afraid to give it affection. If your pet is a rescue, a gentle touch is especially important to reassure it of its safety.

7. Help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety

Studies have shown that people who have pets while in drug rehabilitation experience decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety. This can be encouraging, as the addiction recovery process can be arduous.

Pets are a meaningful addition to anyone’s life. If you’re looking to get your first pet, take your time in researching the best kind for you. A pet is a commitment and can help you weather life’s ups and downs.

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