Watching a loved one whether it be a wife, husband, child, or friend go through addiction is as painful experience as any other form of illness can be. Many feel overwhelmed by the situation and completely powerless, as to what will help them to get their loved one to quit. It becomes all-consuming as the addict or alcoholic takes centre stage within your life.
Many have tried to control the loved one, only to feel less in control. Many have tried every form of emotional support, or even emotional blackmail to get the addict to try and see sense. Money has been given, lent, stolen, withdrawn and still no change.
You’ve kicked them out of the house, only let them back in on the backend of promises about how they are going to change. They change for a period and you renew resolve of hope, for it only to be destroyed again by another bender or crisis.
You’ve listened to every reason why they drank and used again, you believed once again every promise made, that they will change this time around and things will be different, yet still no change from them.
For many, alcoholism and addiction is a taboo subject which has been kept within the family only. The thought of others knowing brings about the fear of what others could say, who would they blame for this? What will others think of you?
How do you help the alcoholic and addict?
You’re unable to make them quit, unfortunately, the desire to quit must come from them. As difficult as it may appear, you will need to take a back seat and wait until they come to you for help.
By stepping back, this may give you the chance to work on building a better relationship, as you aren’t on top of them anymore, they may feel more receptive to come and open up to you about wanting help. This could be the start of them trusting you and you trusting them again.
This can be referred to as ‘tough love’ or ‘loving from a distance.’ This will require a huge amount of support on your part, it may even mean you seeking support from a counsellor, or a specialist drug and alcohol service, so you’re able to share openly and honesty with someone what you are going through.
Many loved ones feel a mix of emotions whilst they are waiting for a loved one to get help. Anger, shame, sadness and disappointment just to name a few of them. Having specialist support with this, will be crucially important on your own healing process. This can stop the cycle of shame within the family and give others a voice to speak up.
There is a lot of healing in talking about what you are going through. By you taking the lead and speaking out, it will encourage other family members to find their voice and speak their true feelings of what is going on for them. Everyone is affected by addiction in a separate way.
Engaging with specialist support will help you to gain some knowledge and awareness about addiction. They will teach you about the illness of addiction and its pitfalls. This will give you skills on how to have an open and honest communication with your loved one.
It may help you see and understand when they are lying, deceiving or trying to manipulate you. Accepting certain realities about addiction isn’t a straightforward process. To know that your loved one’s life is at risk and that you can’t do anything to help or save them in any way isn’t easy however, there is some comfort to be found on the other end of the feeling of hopelessness.
If you have and are doing everything you can to support them without enabling them anymore, then there is empowerment within that.
Setting boundaries and no longer enabling their addiction
Whilst you are starting to make decisions about seeking help for yourself and getting educated about addiction, you will need to set new boundaries in place and not allow yourself to enable their addiction.
You will need to state
- What is and isn’t any longer acceptable from them?
- What you will and won’t do to help them?
- The consequences if they break the boundaries.
Once you’ve had an honest and frank conversation with them you will need to ensure that whatever you’ve stated, you follow through with, otherwise, this disempowers the boundaries you’ve stated and keeps the cycle of their manipulation and addiction. They may get angry with you and hurt you with words or threats, however, they will thank you in the long run for holding your ground.
Boundaries can be very basic. At the start they might look like, not being drunk or having used drugs if they want to see you or be in your home, or you will no longer lend them money, you may say you will buy them food, clothes, cigarettes but will no longer hand over cash. They cannot be in the children’s company if they aren’t sober etc.
If the boundary is broken, then it’s best to stay calm and state to them “ we’ve talked about this” or “ I love you but I’m not accepting this” I’m not about to go down this road once again “ this then must be followed up by the consequence you agreed on. When you set this boundary, this could be stating you won’t see them for a period of time or indefinite.
For alcoholic and addicts, the experience of their consequences can sometimes be the only way they will realise what they are doing. It can be a great motivator that will bring about the necessary changes needed from them.
A reality check will sometimes help them reach their “rock bottom” quicker. This is what we were referring to at the start as ‘loving from a distance’, sometimes the greatest love is to allow them to hit the bottom. It is important to ensure you are not an enabler.
They must do the work
Even once a loved once enters rehab or a recovery program, they must do the work for themselves. You can support them, by attending groups with them or counselling sessions however, the work they must do on themselves to change must come from them. They can’t “do it for their family or children.”
A key element to recovery from addiction is about personal responsibility. Once a loved one completes rehab or a recovery program, it is still their own responsibility to maintain their sobriety. They must attend their counselling sessions, their support groups or AA, NA or CA 12 step meetings.
You cannot babysit someone who is in recovery, you can support them and love them, but at an arms distance.