I was recently talking with a friend who is a long-time, sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. She asked, "How many people come to you because of addiction?"
I said, "A good number. But I have more clients who want help because they have a loved one who suffers from an addiction." She was surprised and asked me why.
The impact of addiction -- albeit an addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, Internet, affairs -- are equally as damaging to the loved one as they are to the addicted one.
FINANCIAL WORRIES: Those with an addiction spend a fair amount of money on their habit. That leaves spouses and family with less money and in constant fear. Friends and other loved ones of the addict are constantly "lending" money or become victims of theft as the addict desperately looks for ways to support their habit.
EMOTIONAL STRESS: It is like riding a roller coaster. Those with addictions typically exhibit unpredictable behavior which causes turmoil in the family and in other relationships.
CODEPENDENCY: When a person takes on the responsibility of 'helper' -- they enable the addict. This is an incredibly stressful role that includes worrying and constant maneuvering.
I said to my friend, "Those that love an addict are walking on eggshells and always trying to prevent disaster."
This all creates so much stress and emotional pain, but there are survival guidelines that can help to endure.
It may seem easier to live with the belief that things are going to magically get better - but you are deceiving yourself. Facing the facts entails grasping a new realization that your loved one is in the grips of a physical and emotional addiction. Their addiction has shifted their thought patterns and behaviors. The reality is that you have no control over what they do.
You may feel a constant, gnawing worry. Feeling powerless. Make attempts to run after them with a safety net. Tell lies for them and minimize their behavior. You may feel relentlessly angry at them.
Facing reality means accepting that parts of your life may be out of control as a result of loving someone who is an addict.
This is a very common theme in Al-Anon and other support groups yet one that is not easy to implement. Learning how to set limits is a very important skill. Limits are healthy boundaries. They are not ultimatums which come from desperation. Detachment with Love is letting your loved one fall and hit their bottom. It means caring enough to allow them to learn from their own mistakes. You might cringe as you read this, but it's true. If you were to attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, you would hear addicts say, "I needed to hit my bottom before I stopped digging."
The reality is that addicts cannot "quit" simply because someone tells them to quit. You cannot force them to quit and it has nothing to do with how much they may love you.
As you clearly face their addiction, look closely at your own actions that involve fixing, protecting, minimizing, enabling, controlling, shielding, manipulating, blasting or lying in an attempt to protect or expose the addict. If you realize you're trying to change them then accept that as your problem, which you can change.
The "Serenity Prayer" (in its entirety below) can provide a fresh perspective as you contemplate your own behaviors and what you can change.
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.
Living one day at a time.
Enjoying one moment at a time.
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Cultivate your wisdom, so that you know the difference between what you can and can't change, and stop trying to control or "fix" anyone other than yourself.
Stop shaming and blaming. It's not working and it's keeping you stuck in your own pattern. All addicts (no matter what the addiction is) fall into a pattern of thinking and behavior that focuses on their addiction. The pleasure center of the brain is impacted and their ability to grasp long-term consequences of their actions is difficult.
It's exceptionally painful as you watch your loved one go through this - especially if you don't have any support. The most important thing you can do is to care for yourself. Get yourself help. Join a support group. Learn about addiction, as well as co-dependence and enabling behaviors that you need to change.
Ask yourself one question: "Whose responsibility is it to take care of the addicted person's problem?" The correct answer is -- the addict.
People who have addictions don't consider risks or consequences. If you keep taking on a responsibility that doesn't belong to you then the addict will never take it on themselves.
Enabling behaviors might look like this:
Give ultimatums -- and later retract them
Run after the addict with a safety net so they don't hurt themselves
Lie for them and hold secrets "for the sake of the family"
Change your own plans to "help them out"
Sweep things under the rug and pretend that "it's ok"
Retract healthy boundaries - over and over again
Suffer in silence
The addict has plenty of options/choices for help, a Catholic therapist, priest, spiritual advisor and/or a 12-Step Program for any addiction, including:
The programs for addicts also have support groups for family and loved ones so contact those programs for more information or consider counseling for yourself and your family members for support, guidance, and peace of mind.
Elizabeth Galanti, LMHC is a Licensed Counselor in the Buffalo area of upstate New York. She provides therapy for individuals and couples who are experiencing emotional, mental and/or spiritual distress. She specializes in relationship difficulties, anger management, stress management, addictions, grief, depression, anxiety, life transitions, self-esteem, post-divorce issues and career counseling. View her Profile for more information about her counseling services.