“If you light a lamp for someone else it will also brighten your path.” Buddha
I don’t know what’s more painful: being an addict or loving one.
To the mothers, fathers, spouses, partners, children, friends, siblings, colleagues, and loved ones of addicts: you are not alone.
To love an addict is to become consumed with trying to fix them, living in the delusion that we can somehow stop the insidious and all-consuming destruction caused by addiction.
To love an addict is to wonder each day whether your son/daughter/partner/sibling/friend is still breathing in and out. It is to grieve the loss of someone we once knew while watching their spirit diminish within the tumultuous shadow of addiction.
To love an addict is to grasp for the thinnest thread of hope when in the darkest of times. It is to deeply long for someone even when they are standing right next to us.
To love an addict is to hope and pray that he or she slept somewhere warm and safe last night as the temperatures dropped below freezing.
To love an addict is to show up to work every day with a forced smile plastered across your face unable to concentrate because you cannot stop asking yourself the question “What did I do wrong?”
To love an addict is to either embrace a life of growth and gratitude or succumb to a grim life without purpose. There is no middle path.
Drug addiction turns college funds into memorial funds. It causes parents to outlive their children. It leads to prison time, institutionalization, homelessness, fractured families, and a devastating absence in the lives of all who are impacted. It breaks our trust, our homes, and our hearts.
Imagine trying to cure a loved one’s cancer by begging them to simply STOP having cancer; to bribe, protect, control, nag, or rescue our loved one back to health. It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet that is what addiction does to family members and loved ones: our lives become highjacked by the fear of loss as we helplessly watch the addict’s interior light dim.
Our efforts to cope and survive are often fueled by desperation, denial, and fruitless attempts to rationalize, control, and change the addict’s behavior. While these methods of coping and “helping” the addict typically stem from a genuine desire to support him or her and relieve suffering, they often create more chaos and harm within relationships and the family system.Enabling behaviors end up hurting ourselves and our loved ones, preventing us from achieving the connection and healing that we all long for.
Enabling takes on many forms, but essentially it can be defined as: standing between a person and his or her consequences, doing for someone something he or she can do for him or herself, and engaging in actions that ultimately perpetuate someone’s problematic behavior.
Lost in our own anguish, grief, and terror, we are naturally compelled to do anything and everything we can to save this person, when in fact we must do one of the most difficult things possible when a loved one is suffering: nothing. Do nothing. Stop rescuing. Turn your phone on silent. Refuse to enable.Accept. Surrender.To heal while still loving our addict is to do the seemingly impossible: let go.
In order to stop the exhausting and ineffective cycle of enabling, it is important for not only the addict to receive help, but for families and loved ones to get their own support. Learning how to set boundaries with someone who is active in addiction is painful and frightening but essential for the entire family system to heal. This is easier said than done and becomes a lifelong practice of self-care, compassion, and “detaching with love.”
To heal from the destruction that addiction causes in our lives is to courageously face the truth of the terminal and progressive nature of this disease while surrendering to our ultimate powerlessness to stop it.
To heal is to accept the person as they are now and not as they once were or who you hoped they might someday become. It is to let go of false dreams and unrealistic expectations while creating space for the unknown possibilities that lie ahead.
To heal is to continuously remind ourselves of the “3 C’s” of Al Anon: “you didn’t cause it, you can control it, and you can’t cure it.” It is to embrace these simple truths.
To heal is to learn to hate the disease and not the one afflicted.
To heal is to set boundaries. It is to stop enabling and to start caring for yourself.
To heal is to communicate honestly, directly and compassionately.
To heal is to candidly admit problems and seek help from others.
To heal is to develop a sense of gratitude and humility while living “life on life’s terms.”
To heal is to love courageously despite the risk of loss, heartache, and suffering.
To heal is to be a source of light and hope for others who are still suffering.
Remember, it is impossible to love deeply without also experiencing heartbreak, grief, anger, and vulnerability. To heal is to accept this unalterable truth. It is to choose to love boldly in the face of fear and pain. It is to reach out to others, knowing within the deepest parts of ourselves that we are not alone.
Marie Tueller, MEd, LPC