1. You Don’t Have The Power To Change Someone Else’s Addictive Behaviour
This is one of the hardest things to accept.
On the flipside, it is one of the most freeing things to accept.
You might think, “That’s not true. What if I did….x,y,z?”
But think about all you have done so far to stop the addiction. You have probably exhausted the options - being the source of unconditional support; being the voice of tough love; being subtle; expressing threats…
But your best efforts have likely left you in the same place.
Powerless over the addiction.
If an addict decides to change his/her behaviour, it will be because of his or her own desire to experience life differently. Not because you made them change.
Being affected by addiction is one of the toughest ways to learn about control; accepting what you can and can’t control.
12 Step Recovery Meetings end their meetings with the serenity prayer:
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.” AA
It turns out that this same prayer serves as the lifeline for both addicts as well as loved ones affected by addiction. Its message is about discerning between what you can and can't control which is an ongoing practice.
Why is this good news?
Because it forces you to stop fighting and accept your limits.
You don’t have the power to change your loved ones’ addiction but you do have the power to take steps to take care of yourself in the midst of the chaos.
2. Your loved ones’ addiction could be your addiction
When I ask my substance affected clients how they are doing, their most common answer starts with telling me how the addict is doing. This might include how many times they think the addict has drank or used in the past week. They will not tell me how they are feeling unless I ask them specifically to focus on themselves.
Does it feel like you are on the addict’s leash? If you wish you could be free from the addiction but also feel afraid to detach from the addict in your life, the reality is
the addict’s addiction has likely become your addiction.
Like the addict who has an unhealthy attachment to a substance or behaviour, you have developed an unhealthy attachment to the addiction.
There are 2 main components to addiction: compulsive behaviour and mental preoccupation. Similar to the addict, loved ones experience both of these in their own unique ways:
- Mental preoccupation includes spending excessive time worrying, planning and strategizing. Common thoughts include “where is he? What is she doing? What else can I do to change this?”
- Compulsive behaviours feel like they happen in spite of your best efforts to stop them. For loved ones, this can include snooping, acting like a detective by searching for evidence of the addiction or ignoring your own personal safety.
It is normal to feel as if you are addicted to the addiction, but establishing boundaries is essential so that you are not in an unhealthy relationship with the addiction.
3. Their behaviour is more important than what they say
“I’ve changed.” “This time it’s going to be different.” “I know I’m done with drinking now.”
How often have you heard these words? How often have you felt despondent when these words ended up being lip service or broken promises?
It’s only natural that you are going to want to hang on to hope when the addict talks about making a change.
Sadly, words come easier than changing behaviour.
If you find yourself feeling frustrated by this, consider how this applies to you.
How often do you say you need to let go of worry and trying to control your loved ones’ addiction?
Now ask yourself if you’ve actually been able to stop worrying or controlling?
The addict might talk about what they want to do by saying, “I was too busy to go to a meeting, but I will” or “I know I need to reach out to more people and stop isolating.”
As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
If you want to know how the addict is really doing then pay attention to what they do instead of what they say.
How someone behaves will always be the best indicator of what they value.
4. It’s not your fault
Contrary to what you might think or fear, your loved ones’ addiction is not your fault.
This is not happening because you aren’t a good enough parent, son, daughter or partner.
There is a chance you may have contributed to the addiction if you have enabled the addict. But it is essential to tease apart contribution from responsibility.
Addiction involves a complex interaction of genetics, environmental factors and neurobiology. The addict might have started using or drinking for certain reasons. However their addiction has continued for other reasons.
Physiologically, addiction continues to happen in a brain that has changed its reward system, believing it needs drugs or alcohol for its survival. This memory system is strengthened and reinforced by environmental cues. Emotionally, addiction serves a needed escape or a way to emotionally regulate from overwhelming thoughts and feelings - including past trauma.
I have not met a loved one who doesn’t somehow feel guilty for their loved ones’ addiction. But the reality is: addiction is complicated and it is way bigger than you.
5. When you enable an addict, you are meeting your own needs (not the addict’s)
When the one you love is in active addiction and you find yourself giving him/her money, providing housing or taking care of his/her finances to help them get by, ask yourself
“who am I doing this for?”
You might say you are doing this to support the addict. You'll probably feel like this is a selfless act because “what kind of partner , parent or child would I be if I didn’t support the addict?”
It is counter-intuitive to think that making life 'easier' for the addict isn't exactly a loving act. But when you are dealing with addiction, you’ve gone off-roading. You are in different territory.
Enabling addiction ends up meeting your own needs. It could be about your need to know that the addict is safe or your need to feel you have some degree of power or influence in the addicts’ life. Sometimes, enabling has to do with your need to be needed or it could be a way to alleviate a sense of guilt if you think the addiction is your fault (which it is not).
A good question to ask yourself about what motivates your behaviour is, “whose needs am I really meeting?”
WHY YOU NEED HELP FOR YOURSELF
Like a tornado, addiction does not skip over anyone in its path.
Counselling can help navigate the emotional wreckage of addiction by helping you set clear boundaries for yourself, learning how to practice self-care (which is more than going for a massage or burning a scented candle) and start learning how to detach lovingly from the addiction.
Catalyst Counselling specializes in helping you un-leash from your loved one's addiction.
Call or email me to see how I can help: 778-882-8204 or email@example.com