Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Loving An Addict Without Destroying Yourself

I've loved many addicts.

Most notably, my father, who post-separation from my mom, would drunk dial me as a child. 

After an interminable, one-sided conversation, I'd hang up the phone only to hear it ring again immediately. My dad again. The exact same conversation all over again.

“It's you and me against the world, little darlin'.”

“I love you too, Dad,” I assured him.

He never remembered those calls. I never forgot them.

For several years I worked the front lines of addiction services at drop-in centers, through street outreach, and in transition houses.

During that time, I had an epiphany.  I realized that I can unconditionally and non-judgmentally accept and express loving care towards people with addictions... unless they are my loved ones.

Listening to addicted clients talk about their children and parents, I thought about how harshly I had been treating my own father. I recognized the face of shame he carried for his "inadequacies" as a parent in the faces of the people I offered support to.

I became ashamed of my own behaviour.

I resolved to love my father unconditionally, accept his addiction, and give him the respect he deserved.

My Dad - One of the greatest
influences in my life - Made me
a better person. <3 RIP Dad
It was not an easy task. It took practice and commitment. I had to catch my natural tendency towards negative thinking and switch to love thinking.

This is a lifelong struggle. It is an exercise of catching myself and changing how I think that helps me love the addicts in my life (including myself).

The following ten beliefs make it possible to love an addict without letting it destroy you. It works for me and I hope it works for you. xo

1. An Addict's Behaviour is a Reflection of Them, Not You

It's easy to ask ourselves, “What did I do wrong?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “What's wrong with me?”

But it's not about us.

The goal was never to hurt us. The goal was to fill the empty space that must be filled.

No one can fill that space for them, either. Many of us have tried, right? “If I give enough love, there will be no reason to use. I will heal this person I love. I will save him.”

But it doesn't work that way.

2. You Can't Save Them

Many of us think if we “connect” enough, the addicts in our lives won't need to use.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Addiction doesn't disappear because love appears.

By thinking we can save them, it also becomes our responsibility when we fail to save them. That's called “codependency.” We blame ourselves when the addictive behaviour continues and then, our addicted loved ones learn to blame us too.

Addiction, like any disease, can only be healed one way. By the deliberate intention and actions of the one with the disease.

3. To Lie is Survival

Lies are what our addicted loved ones need to get themselves where they're going.

Lies, they believe, will help them escape without hurting anyone or getting hurt.

Lies are a way to cushion the blow...a way to creep back home...a way to put off facing the truth.

Lies become chronic. A person who lies all the time will lie more and more.

Practice makes perfect. Perfect liars.

Addiction is the big lie, after all. It is the promise of relief, escape, and wellness to the one who is addicted. (And yet it destroys us.)

You may ask yourself, but what if I give them no reason to lie? At least then, could I trust my addicted loved one? Only you can know the answer to that.

4. They Probably Think You're Too Good for Them

Have you ever heard this from your addicted loved ones?

“You deserve a better (partner, son, daughter, parent) than me...”

Sometimes addicts try to tear down the people they've placed above themselves. They find reasons to be angry at us or to betray us. They incite us to reject them because they feel they don't deserve our love.

But the truth is, we don't deserve their games. We don't deserve to watch them destroy themselves.

5. Addiction is a Selfish Disease

Addictive behaviour is a known symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Even as I write the acronym “PTSD,” I feel like having a drink.

PTSD can basically be defined as repeated traumas (complex trauma) resulting in symptoms and behaviours that negatively affect the individual.

One common symptom of PTSD is to use substances to cope with and to escape from the fears and feelings associated with past and current traumas.

Chances are high that your addicted loved one has experienced trauma.

And chances are high that she feels sorry for herself.

Addiction perpetuates a cycle of self-pity and re-traumatization. The addict knows she is destroying her life but feels like her life is too difficult (traumatizing) to handle without the addiction.

The addiction (coping method) depletes serotonin and causes depression. Depressed people are miserable and self-centered. They are as far from unity consciousness as you can get. They are inside their own bodies feeling terrible.

Poor me.

It is not that they don't care about others. It's that they are incapable of thinking and feeling beyond “what's best for me at this moment.”

It's not personal. It's survival.

6. Coming Down is a Living Hell

I've done drugs. I know what coming down is like. I've been through withdrawal. I have perspective.

Sometimes coming down is a health emergency. You could die if you come down too fast or too suddenly. Withdrawal is a physical process wrought with vomit, diarrhea, and excruciating pain.

Sometimes coming down only depresses you. Deep, despairing depression that sits heavy in your chest and threatens to choke you. I should not say it “only” depresses you. There are always other detox effects; only they pale in comparison to the depression.

When addicts want to die, it is probably because they are coming down. Remind them (and yourself) that the depression is temporary.

Don't devalue it. The depression is very real. But it is caused by coming down.

This is not a good time to lay a guilt trip on the one you love. This is a time to be quiet and express love.

7. Being High is Being Well

An addicted person I love once told me, “I love being high. I hate everything that comes after but the high is amazing.”

Many who love addicts say things like, “You're never going to change!”

We turn our tears on them and beg them, “Please don't do this again.”

We try to manipulate them, “You must not love me if you're doing this!”

What we forget is that being high means being well.

Depression disappears. Anxiety disappears. In fact, most physical pain disappears too.

You may think your addicted loved one doesn't have any pain. But how would you know?

The important thing about remembering this truth is to not take it personally when our loved ones use again. They are not rejecting us. They are seeking wellness.

8. To Help Them...Give Them Respect; Not Pity

Many of us put up with hurtful behaviours from addicted loved ones because we feel sorry for them. We tell ourselves that without us they will lose everything. We worry they will commit suicide.

However, pity is a dangerous feeling to impose on someone. The reaction to pity is almost always shame. Shame never empowers.

Pity leads to enabling.

How will someone find strength if they don't have to? How will they accomplish goals like paying their own bills and buying their own groceries if we do everything for them?

Their success depends on their ability to achieve their own goals. Our pity only cripples them.

Similarly, making ultimatums or expecting our loved ones to do what we tell them is not only foolish but it is abusive.

We do not own our addicted loves ones. We do not have the right to control them. Any decisions they make to improve their lives must come from them. They must control their own lives. We all must.

There is only one thing any of us can control in our lives and that is our selves.

Think of it this way. Adjusting your expectations lower for someone who struggles with addiction is disrespectful.

All people deserve the respect of being trusted to live up to reasonable expectations.

The question is how do we avoid controlling behaviour while also maintaining reasonable expectations?

And the answer is unconditional love combined with boundary setting. We want them to be happy but not at the expense of our own happiness.

Demonstrating unconditional love with boundaries is not just about protecting ourselves. It also teaches our addicted loved ones how to love themselves. They see us loving ourselves when we say “I don't accept this in my life anymore because it hurts me.”

Loving ourselves is something we should all learn as children, but most of us don't.

“I love you but I also love myself.” Words I have said to addicts I love. “I love you but I am not here to be trampled on. Letting you trample me will only make us both feel worse.”

Instead of making your addicted loved ones feel worse, do them a favour. Love them unconditionally. Set boundaries. Relinquish control. Give them space to direct their own lives.

Everyone has their own journey to face in life and it's not our place to stand in their way.

No matter where our addicted loved ones are in the world at any given time, knowing someone loves them unconditionally will comfort them. It comforts us all.

9. To Help You...See the World in Greys

A mistake that many of us make when dealing with our addicted loved ones is that we feel there are only two choices. We see the world in black and white. We expect complete sobriety or complete estrangement.

But the world is not black and white. Sure, it probably is best for us to cut off all ties from an addicted loved one so we can move on with our lives. But sometimes we need something less permanent. Sometimes we need the third option.

The third option is to love from a distance.

We are not confined to one of two choices – should I stay or should I go? We can choose the third option.

You should first ask yourself, is it feasible to stay in each other's lives and get along? Will this hurt me as much as or more than I am already hurting?

Or maybe the question is simply, can I remove myself completely from the addict I love? Often we are not ready to separate completely.

That is when you say: I will not trade my happiness for anxiety, stress, suspicion, and pain. However, I will care for you and I will love you from a distance. Our relationship may end but that my love for you will go on.

10. When In Doubt, GTFO...With Love

All of the above is well and great to know when you love an addict, but sometimes the best thing really is to separate and end all contact.

Sometimes our pain is too great. Even small interactions with our addicted loved ones are devastating. We distrust every word. We sense a disconnect that eats away at us. Whatever it is, we cannot live in peace with them in our lives.

This is the time to Get The Fuck Out (GTFO) of the relationship. There is only one person who will care for your feelings and know when to back off. That person is you.

We are the sole protectors of our own hearts.

It would be easy to GTFO in anger. The anger is there. It seethes beneath the surface, with the tears, and the regrets.

We could say, “I hate you! I wish I'd never met you! This hurts so much! Why did I ever trust you?”

But is that what you really want to do?

Or would you like to leave painful relationships while you still have love and respect for them?

I have done it the other way – waiting till I hate them before I end it. It's a lot easier, in all honesty, but it adds up to many wasted months or years. It's not worth it. And we are not friends now.

I like to remember how awesome it was while it lasted. We had something beautiful before it changed and became more painful than nourishing. Let's respect that.

Let's acknowledge the person underneath the horrible things we have said or done to each other.

I like to let go with love.

Living in Love

This theme of love intertwines throughout this article as it does throughout our lives. It is a very powerful way to live, in love all the time.

It allows awe and pleasure in every day things. It allows us to walk away from a painful relationship with forgiveness and kindness.

Even coping with betrayal, we can say to our addicted loved ones... “I forgive you but I cannot live like this anymore. I love you but I cannot trust you anymore. I wish you the best and I will always cherish the memories...

“...because I wasn't a fool for loving you. It was a highlight of my life. And if I get many more highlights in my life like that, I will consider myself very fortunate. I choose to live in love and sometimes that means I must let go with love too.”

In the end...

...what really matters is that we fully experience life. The most beautiful part of life is love.

If we give in to jadedness and close ourselves off to love because of past or present pain, we are denying ourselves true passion. Numbing one emotion numbs them all.

We can give ourselves permission to love the addicts in our lives without trying to control them or save them. We can love them and we can also love ourselves, setting boundaries on what we accept in our lives.

We can begin to view the addicts in our lives differently, with respect and dignity. Allow them to make their own choices and have their own journey. Let them learn what they need to learn.

Hopefully we will not lose them to addiction. Hopefully they will overcome their disease. But that is their decision to make.

Decide for you what you want in your own life. Then live your life with love.

I used to think that I fell in love with addicts because of my father. That it was some kind of cycle that children of addicts go through.

Is there a subset of us who chronically fall in love with addicts? I don't know. Addiction is so rampant, it seems like you can find it anywhere.

Even if there are warning signs at the beginning, and often warning signs are not obvious, I don't think it means some of us “pick” people with addictions.

I do think some of us “stay” with people who disrespect or abuse us. And this is where our mistake lies.

We don't deserve to be disrespected or abused. It is our responsibility to ourselves to set boundaries on how we allow others to treat us. Staying is consenting.

When I started applying my professional philosophies to my personal relationship with my father, an incredible seed was planted.

My dad and I grew very close as adults. I truly came to accept him (with boundaries) the way he was. Liberation!

Dad continued to drink until he became too sick at the end. He died of lung cancer on June 17, 2014.

He never admitted he had a drinking problem, but before he passed, he told me how sorry he was for not being the father I deserved.

"No, Dad. You loved me unconditionally. You taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life. I wouldn't change a thing," I told him. I meant every word.

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