I had a friend when I was in rehab that had a mother who was an alcoholic. She had drank for his entire life and showed no signs of stopping. He was in treatment dealing with his own addictions and after about a month of being there, he noticed that his life was beginning to change. One day, after realizing that he really had a chance to actually recover this time, he stopped one of the counselors at the treatment center and said to him, “Now that I am getting sober and really doing this, how can I can go about getting my mother sober?”
The counselor responded quickly and emphatically, “You don’t.” A little taken back my friend asked him what he meant by this and the counselor expounded that, my friend personally couldn’t do anything to force his mother into recovery, but that the only actions he could take were to be an example of what recovery can do for a person and try not to placate her in her alcoholism.
This is a hard truth that we have to face when dealing with a loved one’s addiction, the fact that there is no way for us to get them sober. The desire must come from the person with the addiction and only from the person who has the addiction. No matter how much we may wish that our loved ones have the desire for recovery, we can not impart it on them magically.
That being said, all is not lost and it doesn’t mean that we just have to sit back and do nothing as we watch someone close to us destroy themselves. There are certain actions that we can take in order to help someone we love, who is suffering from addiction, reach the bottom and in turn acquire the necessary desire for recovery.
How To Help Your Loved Ones Who Are Addicted
Usually, the first response from any parent or person who has a loved one suffering from addiction is to go out and try to get them help. This may mean forcing them into therapy or getting them to attend rehab or something of the sort. Very often, even those these things are bathed in a loving attempt to help, they do not end in the desired result of getting the addict clean and sober, but only drive a wedge between the addict and their loved one. It creates a scenario of resentment on both sides, as the parent or whomever cannot understand why their loved one didn’t get sober, and the addict cannot comprehend at that moment why people won’t leave them alone.
So does this mean that you should not force your loved one into counseling for their addiction? That I cannot really answer and is a question best left up to you and a trained professional, but I am simply just putting a likely scenario that I have seen occur hundreds of times to no avail and so I wanted to address it first before I go into some of the more pragmatic things I have seen work when helping loved ones with addiction.
Enabling is a term that often comes up when talking about helping loved ones who are struggling with addiction, and it means that a loved one, or loved ones, help the addict to continue in their addiction by either creating failsafes for them, lending them money, or making excuses for their actions that allow them to avoid hurt, pain, or legal consequences. This makes perfect sense because we never want to see those we love hurt, but by intervening in their addiction we can oftentimes cause more damage than good.
So in order to help your loved one that is struggling with addiction, you must first stop enabling them. This does not necessarily mean that you have to do the “tough love” routine where you kick them out of the house and force them into homelessness, but it just means that you allow them to grow up and stop leaning on you for everything.
Many addicts are emotionally stunted and as such they depend on others to a much greater extent than they should. By allowing them to experience the consequences of their actions as any other adult would, you allow them the possibility of hitting bottom, thereby gaining the desire to get sober.
This may seem counterintuitive, but the most important thing you can do to help a loved one who is struggling with addiction is to take care of yourself. It is similar to how on airplanes they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. By this same token, you cannot be of service to your loved one if you yourself are not okay.
So in order to truly be of help to them, you first have to get your own “house” in order. This can be accomplished in several ways, whether through personal therapy or support groups such as Al-Anon. Regardless of how you go about doing it, it is important that you are emotionally stable in order to help them better. When you think about it, it makes sense because if you are centered in your own life then you will be able to look at the situation with your loved one from an objective and calm position, rather than solely through emotions. By doing this you can present when they ask for help and make the right decision for everyone involved.
Going along with this, it is important that you talk about what is going on with other people so that you do not get wrapped up in the stories of your mind and start to believe the delusion that the addict often times spins. By having clarity on the situation, by talking to others about it, you are more likely to be able to help your addicted loved one when the time comes and not give in to their lies.
Having a loved one with an addiction is one of the most difficult things that a person can face. You can’t force them to get help and many times the feeling of powerless can be overwhelming. By remembering to take care of yourself, talking to others, and not enabling your loved you can be of better help to them when the time comes.