Loving an addict is never easy. Without even recognizing we are doing so, we tend to take on the role of the savior – believing, somewhere deep down, that we have the ability to help. The reality is, addiction is far more powerful than love. In order to truly help, we must learn to take care of ourselves and our own needs, and break the vicious cycle of enabling and rescuing.
10 Steps to Loving an Addict
- Figure out how to offer love while focusing your energy on your own well-being.
Learning how to set and maintain appropriate boundaries with your addicted loved one is an absolutely vital skill. Learning to identify effective and healthy ways of offering love will help you to avoid enabling and putting yourself in potentially dangerous situations. Keep yourself healthy by making sure you are always putting your own mental, emotional, and physical well-being first. Be sure you are allowing yourself ample time to participate in all of the activities that keep you happy and centered. When you begin continuously sacrificing parts of your own life in order to tend to the addict in your life, you are stepping into dangerous, codependent territory. Try your best to keep the focus on YOU!
- Accept the reality of the situation.
When it comes to loving an addicted individual, it is much easier to remain in a place of optimistic delusion. “He is going to accept help eventually,” you may tell yourself. “He loves me so much; I have the power to fix this.” Unfortunately, the situation is not going to magically remedy itself. The truth of the matter is, chemical addiction is much stronger than even the deepest love and purest intentions. Accepting the reality of the situation means acknowledging that you are absolutely powerless over the actions of anyone but yourself – especially when chemical substances are involved. Take an honest look at how the addiction is affecting your own life. The reality is, you have probably been compromising your own mental and emotional health for quite some time. Acceptance is one of the most important steps when it comes to loving an addicted person. If we do not accept powerless, we will be unable to make any significant change – and we will be stuck in a vicious cycle of self-destruction and manipulation for much longer than is necessary.
- Recognize that it is not in your human capacity to ‘fix’ another person.
Once you can fully grasp the reality of this concept, your life will become significantly easier. Remember The Serenity Prayer?
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The only thing we can truly fix or change is our OWN attitude and behavior. Trying to control the situation will only leave us emotionally exhausted and utterly frustrated. Try saying this prayer to yourself every time you begin to feel you have control over the decisions your loved one is making.
- Discover the difference between ‘helping’ and ‘enabling’.
You probably feel a strong urgency to help your loved one, unable to envision helplessly observing as he loses his battle to drug addiction. You are his mother, after all. His girlfriend, his wife, his best friend, his father. How can you merely stand by and watch him die? It seems inhuman. Keep in mind that there is a huge difference between helping and enabling. Allowing your addicted loved one to stay in your home, giving him money, buying him food, or offering him rides will truly only hurt him. He will figure, “I can continue using, I will always have someone to save me and take care of me.” By repeatedly ‘rescuing’ your loved one, you are essentially preventing him from hitting the bottom he needs to hit in order to come to a place of utter desperation. Being honest with yourself about your enabling behaviors is the first step to offering real help. What does ‘helping’ look like? In most cases, helping looks like setting firm and unwavering boundaries. Perhaps saying something along the lines of, “I can no longer be a part of your life, but when you truly decide to seek treatment, I will make sure that you get there.” Remember – a boundary such as this does little good if it is not held firm!
- Learn to recognize manipulation.
One of the most beneficial words in your vocabulary is simply, “no”. When addicts are not truly ready to make a major change, they will go to any lengths in order to continue using. They will lie to their loved ones, guilt-trip their family members, blame other people, and manipulate whatever they feel they need to in order to get high ‘one last time’. The more you allow yourself to be manipulated, the more manipulative your loved one will likely become. While it is surely one of the most difficult things in the world to do, holding your ground and repeatedly saying “no” is truly the best course of action.
- Stop blaming and start focusing on yourself.
It is very easy to blame your addicted loved one for all of your attendant suffering and heartache, but in reality – you are the one who keeps putting yourself in the same situation! Of course, the addict has undeniably contributed his share of distress, and overwhelming emotions will not suddenly become easier to cope with. But rather than sit in a heaping pile of blame and resentment, you can spend time focusing your energy on restoring your own mental and emotional health. There are numerous support groups for individuals who are going through the exact same thing – Al-Anon being one of the most popular and widespread. Reach out to others who have been where you are now to help carry you through this tough time.
- Take an honest look at your intentions.
Perhaps you have been playing the role of the savior for so long, you have grown accustomed to it. You are comfortable playing this role, and your identity partially revolves around it. And how could it not – for as long as you can remember, you have been dealing with the same persistent issues. Consider the fact that you may be focusing all of your attention on your addicted loved one because you are unwilling to look at personal issues within your own life. Have you been using the addiction as a method of distraction? There is no shame in this. Try to be honest with yourself about your deeper intentions. Of course you love the addict and want to save him from an untimely death – but what are you getting out of the situation? How is it serving you?
- Recognize the difference between self-care and being selfish.
Putting yourself first is not being selfish, though it is easy to get self-care and selfishness confused from time to time. When you are being selfish, you are essentially ready and willing to step over whoever you need to in order to get what you want. You think of no one but yourself; your needs and desires are the most important. When practicing self-care, you are simply acknowledging that you must first take care of yourself in order to ever be in a position to help someone else. You respect yourself enough to take care of yourself in healthy and holistic ways, paying attention to your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. When you are practicing self-care, you are ensuring that your own needs are being met.
- Rebuild your life.
The best way to break from your own addictive behavioral patterns, such as enabling and self-sacrificing, is to focus the attention back on yourself. How are you doing in the realms of happiness and self-fulfillment? If you find that you are lacking in certain areas, explore new options. If you are dissatisfied with your current career, look into alternative career paths. If you feel you have been isolating and neglecting your social life, look into taking a class where you could potentially meet new people, or even go back to school. The possibilities are endless once you truly begin focusing your energy on rebuilding your own life – rather than vainly attempting to help another individual rebuild his.
- Reach out for help.
The sooner you reach out for help, the better – for everyone involved! When you learn to cope with an addicted loved one in a healthy and effective way, you are not only making your own life easier – you are helping the addict, too (far more than you probably recognize). This is the kind of situation that we, as human beings, are not equipped to deal with on our own. We need healthy supports to surround us when the going really gets tough – people we trust and can lean on when we feel we can’t muster the strength ourselves. Reach out! Find some local Al-Anon meetings and ask others for guidance and support, and call up an interventionist and ask what the best course of action truly is. Get as much professional advice as you possibly can. This is not an easy situation to deal with. However, it can gradually become much easier when adequate help is sought.
Loving an addict is painful and overwhelming, but it is far more overwhelming when you convince yourself that you have the ability to fix the situation. Acknowledge that you are powerless over the actions of everyone but yourself, and do what you need to do to for your own emotional well-being. For more information, please contact Next Chapter at (561) 563-8407.