What to do when a loved one has an addiction

Addiction is like a nuclear bomb.

Yes the person who sets it off suffers from an addiction, but the radiation, the fallout is devastating for all those around them. Fallout comes in the form of manipulation, guilt, the rubble of relationships left over and the cracks which are created in the souls of those around the addict. The sad reality of it all is that love acts like an accelerant, fuelling the addict who knows that they are loved, and therefore can capitalise on it.

What to do when a loved one has an addiction A loved one who feels the need to keep the addict safe and steer them through the firestorm of addiction will sacrifice money, time, relationships and even ethics to help, often at the expense of their own wellness. They will lie, they will cover up and will sometimes be left frozen in fear at the ring of a call in the dead of night, thinking it may be the awful news that their loved one is in deep trouble. It’s a dread and love relationship and it’s horrific to experience.  Here are a few things a person should think about (and do) if they have a loved one who has an addiction.

Being a victim of fall-out

For the sake of this article, let us put you in the shoes of the loved one who is bending to the will of the addict. You might stop liking them however you will never stop loving them. If you sit there waiting for the ride to stop, waiting for the lying, the manipulation and guilt trips to come to a grinding halt, there is bad news; it won’t. If you say yes to the guilt trips and other things and you are of sober mind, know for sure that they won’t say no to anything either and they’re the addicted ones! It’s not because they don’t want to, it is because they cannot.

It’s not going to get easier. The road to recovery is a long one and if you love an addict, it is going to hurt all the way up until you realise that there is nothing you can do. After you are trampled, heartbroken and exhausted and cannot take anymore, you will see the light. Like a broken foundation, the walls around you will crack as relationships and the world around you crumble. Then you will click. Enough is enough.

What you will notice is that when your addict riddled loved one is ready to change direction, it will be as if a great wave has overcome everything and cleansing has begun. You will be there, waiting, ready to jump on board, filled with love, compassion and the commitment to stand beside them in their recovery. No one wants to see someone become an addict, and if you are a loved one of an addict you will feel the guilt, the shame and the helplessness, regardless if it’s a sister, brother, aunt or parent. It hurts.

The grip of addiction

Think of that nuclear bomb from earlier. Addiction is the fiery maelstrom which overcomes your loved one, and in its flames, the person you love disappears, for a while. Unlike a real firestorm, the addict‘s love is not destroyed but rather, hidden in the rubble. It is important to remember that you are not speaking with that person until the addiction loosens its grip.  The person you remember may have wonderful traits but if a loved one has an addiction it changes people. Once you adjust to this new (temporary) reality it becomes easier to avoid the lies and betrayal. The trick is to support the person beyond the addiction, never forgetting the surface level addict has layers, avoiding the tricks and embedding your own sense of love and truth to it will allow the addict to slowly find their way back to you.

The golden rule of addiction

You must remember that addiction can happen to anyone. It is not an infection of character; it is not a disease of personality or circumstance. It’s a human condition. It comes with human consequences and it opens up the reality that we are all vulnerable. An addict can come from the velvet echelons of upper-crust society or the dregs of the underworld; it holds no warrant to a certain status. The reality of it all; we all know, or ourselves are involved, in some way, with someone who is an addict. And it’s okay. The golden rule is to separate the person that has an addiction from the person they were before. They are not the same.

Everyone’s not on the same page

Reality is distorted by a person who has an addiction.  You need to realise that you cannot reason with or talk an addict into seeing things the way you do. Lies, betrayal and self-destruction don’t sit on the same page as your interpretation. You see it as a construct of addiction, they see it as survival. Change and reason will only occur when there is no other option, not by your endless reasoning or explanation attempts. People only change when the actions they pursue lead to more pain than they can bear. Oh, and that is applicable not just to addicts, but to all of us. We avoid change in jobs, habits, relationships until we cannot take it anymore. Sounds familiar, right?

Loving an person who has an addiction

It isn’t easy to love an addict. Sometimes the things that help them are the things that seem hurtful if they are cast in the same way on those who do not has an addiction.  Loving an addict can set you off on a lonely journey, one where the judgement of others comes all too easy by those who witness you withdrawing support for the addict. It does, however, become the only option left and unless someone has been on that same journey alongside you, it is of no use to entertain their judgement as it holds no water. The strength comes in your ability to talk about the addiction, lifting the lid on the secrecy also lifts the shame, guilt, grief and self-doubt.

Finding a way to love an addict

It’s a tricky one. Loving someone the same way you did before the addiction can often enable the addict and their behaviour. Create boundaries. It’s okay to say no. To give restriction to action. It creates a safe zone. If you find this difficult (as you well should) create an anchor. It can be an image, or a future idea or a realisation in your head which reminds you why saying ‘no’ is so important. There are warning signs, however. If the ‘no’ creates danger for you, then the addict’s actions have reached far deeper than is safely manageable and you may need professional support to keep you safe. This may even result in the stopping of contact between you and them. In the end it’s for the best. Boundaries are important for you and your loved one.

These boundaries will need to be higher than those you have with other people.  Forget the shame and guilt you may feel, they are there for a reason, and they will work, for both of you. Sitting atop those high boundary walls will let you see things more clearly, and from all angles and you won’t get caught out as easily. Create and embed those boundaries in your mind and in the addicts and that will ensure they don’t crumble, a situation which would undoubtedly lead to more pain.

Accept denial as part of the process

Overwhelming fear will often create denial. It’s easier to act like all is calm and well on the Western front, but this is far from the truth. Denial must be accepted and acted on before it manifests itself too deeply which in turn will allow the addiction to grow. Denial means you won’t notice the requests for money, the digging for emotional resources, the wasted time and effort. Noticing these things, rather than turning away from them is important. Accept denial, don’t encourage it. IF something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Don’t feed the addiction

Boundaries and conventions tend to get muddied when a person loves an addict. There is a difference between enabling and helping. When you help an addict, you take into account the long-term effects, benefits and consequences of your actions towards or for the addict. When you are enabling an addict, you provide short term relief and look away from (deny) the detrimental long-term damage which is sure to arrive after that short-term relief you just provided is used up. Things like giving money, dropping boundaries and providing accommodation are usually acceptable things to offer to loved ones but can come back to bite you and your loved one, if they are directed at an addict. We want to help, it’s a natural and good thing to do, but there’s a difference between helping and enabling, always remember that.  Also, be honest. To yourself, to the addict.  This is applicable to the choices you make, the reason and the brutal nature of what is happening. It is tough, but it is important. It will most likely make you feel guilty and can be used against you, don’t fret, this will soon change as your honesty reminds them that what you are doing is for their betterment. It will eventually hit home.

What an addict sees is not your view

Addicts are completely married to their substance. They cannot think about anything else and do not believe in a life without it. They most certainly cannot see a world without the substance in it. You may feel lured into, convinced even, but don’t let that win you over. Don’t support their views, do not endorse their beliefs and always believe in the real, sober truth; that recovery and post addiction life is possible without the substance in it. Keep fighting.

Self-love is crucial

Just like an addict must find the strength to identify and meet their needs in order to satisfy them safely in order to pursue a healthy life, it is equally important that you meet your own needs too.  Failure to do this can result in burnout and devastating emotional, physical and spiritual damage which may not always be fixable.  You also need to make some changes in your life to ensure that you don’t fall victim to the half-life that addiction’s fallout brings with it.

When you focus on an addict, you lose focus on yourself, it’s natural. That focus can turn your own life upside down. Learn to embrace yourself, and be kind when you analyse the shortfalls this ordeal has caused. Learn to rebuild, find your strength and regain that all-important sense of self. You can’t help an addict if you are broken yourself.

Blaming the addict is not on!

The knee jerk reaction a loved one feels about an addict is almost always one of blame. You blame them for their behaviour, for the things that have happened because of the addiction and the fallout you are now experiencing. While there may be things they have caused (and deserve to be blamed for) blame fuels anger, deepens hurt and leaves you powerless. One of the core truths about addiction is that it is deeply saturated in shame. It will continue to feed the addiction unless it is removed from the equation, by you and by the addict. In order to achieve this, and all those other magical fixes, you need to be patient. Ask any professional sportsman about the one thing that keeps them going for that perfect score, that ultimate time, that end goal and they will all tell you the same thing. Progress through practice! Go for progress, don’t aim for perfection. It is largely unattainable without small wins along the way. Two steps back and one step forward is still a step forward!

It doesn’t always work, so let go

Although the previous paragraph preached slow progress and all the great things to use to attack addiction and win the war, sometimes it doesn’t work out. Love can only go so far. It may become apparent that the only logical thing to do is to let go. Yes. Let go. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them anymore, it just means that you cannot go further down the hole without burying yourself in the process. Letting them go is another way of saving yourself and remember, while you are leaving them, you are not forgetting them, and when they see the light of recovery, you know you will be there for them to hold their hand as they reach for the truth, a real future, free of substance abuse. Remind them always of the love you feel, then, now and forever.

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