“If an addict thinks you’re his best friend, you’re probably enabling him. If an addict is pissed off with you, then you are saving his life”. I’m not an addict’s best friend anymore.
Fear. My own fear was the corroding thread in the fabric of my relationship with an addict. The fear of being rejected, abandoned, and simply unlovable.
Upon walking out of my own unlocked prison of alcoholism I stepped right into the unlocked prison of an addict. I had originally fallen in love with an addict that I believed wanted recovery as much as I did. But he didn’t.
Before the actual physical relapse, I began to cater to the alcoholic thinking he was exhibiting. He seemed edgy and irritable. He must be hungry. Let me fix him something high in protein to help him. That will make him better. He’s frustrated, I must have asked him to help me around the house too much. Let me praise him for his hard work and tell him to rest
If he was okay, I was ok
Then the physical relapse began. The world seemed to have fallen apart. The perfect honest relationship was slipping through my fingers. My fears kicked into high gear. I will lose him and be alone. He will choose drugs over me.
My fear of losing him and abandonment led to my denial. My fear of being seen as a problem or cause of someone’s angst led me to walk on eggshells and cater to his every angst. My fear of not being good enough led me to enabling him. Providing him with a comfortable home, clean and folded clothing, warm meals, while he went off and got high.
I had become his best friend. He was content. He didn’t have to feel the consequences of his actions. I was keeping his addiction up and running like a well greased machine. I was playing the role of the enabler, beautifully.
He got sicker but so did I. Finally, over time my depression and anxiety got the best of me. I had hit my bottom. My desperation brought me to the realization that I can’t listen to my fears anymore. They were running the show, causing me unhappiness, loss of myself, and allowing him to stay sick! I was playing a really good part in the disease.
This is where my higher power came in. I realized this disease had isolated me as well, but my higher power was still present. I needed to finally let go and trust that something greater than me had my back. I asked for my fears to be removed. I needed to trust that regardless of what will happen to the man swallowed by his addiction and to our relationship, I will be ok.
I felt relief. I found my voice and my soul again.
I no longer stayed in denial. I accepted that the addiction had taken over the soul of the man I loved. I no longer believed his lies and manipulations. I just told myself he is a sick man and prayed for him. I no longer believed his behavior was about me or from my doing. If he accused me of such, I ended the conversation. I finally set up boundaries that I could never do before. “I will be ok, anything will be better than how I was handling it before”. I no longer enabled. He had to leave my home. I had to allow him to travel this path he had chosen without my ease and comfort to support him.
In truth that ease and comfort that I believed I needed to provide was destroying him! Providing such comforts didn’t prove I was good. It only gave me personal relief from my unrealistic fears and allowed him to use without consequences. I was keeping his addiction alive.
But now I was no longer this addict’s best friend.
He was furious. He challenged me. Regardless, I stuck to my newly set boundaries. I was scared but again I handed it over to my higher power.
I distanced myself and could better see the reality his addiction had distorted and became stronger. He felt the consequences of his addiction. It took him further and further. But I didn’t go that final leg with him. That was for him to experience. Instead I stopped enabling and told him I believed he could find his way out on his own.
This addict has since gotten clean. Did I help? I don’t know, I’m not that powerful. What I do know is that once I stopped letting my fears dictate my actions, I wasn’t hurting either one of us anymore.
I stopped being the addict’s best friend. An addict’s best friend is his worst enemy. Don’t be a friend to an addict’s best friend.
The confusion that besets a family member who has a loved one with substance use disorder is tremendous. When addiction takes hold, a million thoughts and feelings take us captive and we begin the journey of searching for answers and a possible solution. Love and addiction
The person you gave birth to or the man or woman you married was fun loving, humorous, generous and kind.But where has this person gone?He or she isolates himself or herself, they lie and manipulate you in every possible way, and they can’t seem to show up in any meaningful way.
We try to figure out what went wrong and the question arises of what can I do to fix it? It’s not what you had imagined your life or their life to look like. This is so common when someone you love is an addict or an alcoholic. We still try to find the real husband, son or daughter somewhere in there and we try and treat them as if there is no problem.
But due to the deception, stealing, lies and no shows; we begin to lose faith and trust in a better tomorrow.After this has gone on for sometime, we peg the patterns and our responses start to change. We begin to see the truth and we find ourselves reacting differently and it almost feels cruel because we are no longer willing to pay for their gas, let them borrow money, or even live together any longer. We ask ourselves how can this be? We can only manage these behavioral changes for so long and then the entire family starts to struggle.
Individuals with substance use disorder will do anything to get that drug or a drink. It is not a want any longer; it is a necessity.But when they realize the drink or drug is no longer working for them, it is a dark moment, hour, day, week, month or sometimes year. The first year of sobriety is one of deep pain. They have not been managing life well up to this point and when they decide to get sober, they are feeling their feelings for the first time in a very long time. Pain motivates all of us to change. So when you love an addict, the most essential thing they need is to allow them to feel whatever comes up. There are no quick answers or solutions.
Is My Helping Being Helpful?
I wanted to believe I was being helpful, but I was the handicap all too often.I had to learn by making many mistakes and had to realize that my helpful wasn’t actually being helpful. I was providing a way out for him or her and in my heart I was not convinced they could stand on their own.I robbed them of their dignity to figure it out on their own.Over time, if they are serious about getting well, they will stop falling down as often and graduate to crawling, then walking, then running with their heads held high.It is possible for them to do this without me hovering and monitoring every action. I did these things out of love and concern and I also had an ulterior motive; I wanted to be able to have peace in my life and not obsess incessantly about where and what they were doing.The anxiety was killing my spirit.
When I let go and let be, we both got better.I am not suggesting we cannot be helpful; but, check yourself and ask if they can they do this themselves and am I getting in the way of them leaning into being a responsible member of society?” I realized I was standing in their way rather than actually helping.
Loving an addict and being addicted to them is tiresome and heartbreaking. Through the trials of living with alcoholism and addiction, I was finally at my breaking point. I arrived at my bottom.I could not live with the worry and anxiety and fear any longer. The shame and fear that my family was different made me want to crawl under a rock. So I hid indoors and I isolated.I stopped socializing with friends and other family members.
I came to realize I was an addict myself.I was addicted to the alcoholic and needed to find a program for my obsessive thinking and the need to control them.Perhaps you can say I was addicted to the chaos or thrived at the thought of being needed and felt good at being able to take care of others. I finally found help for myself. I wanted freedom from the bondage of the disease that I had allowed to define my entire life.Quite frankly, I did not want to become a member of Al-Anon or any other formal group where people were going to sit around and talk about more problems that would keep my mind sick.I was fortunate to find a group that introduced a way out of my messy thinking and was solution based. Somebody once said to me, “If you love an addict, find your own recovery.”I contend that my behavior and thinking was sicker than the addict in my life.
In my recovery today I have the benefit of being able to help others. My mind can periodically get cluttered with worry and anxiety from time to time. The solution in my life today allows me to get up everyday and be thankful for all that is in my life and to think of what my experience through addiction has taught me and how I can perhaps give hope to somebody else who may think their situation is utterly hopeless.
So if you love an addict, let them know you love them and get help for yourself and perhaps your whole family. This will provide for the opportunity to heal together and then to share the gift of recovery with countless others.
We live in a world of instant gratification and results don’t we! Instant messenger,instant breakfast, instant responses(thank you texting!) and the latest is Google home. You don’t even need to get on a computer, you just need a google speaker and bingo you have your answer! So it shouldn’t surprise us that when we arrive to a program we want our loved ones to get quick results and want instant answers to all the problems associated with living with an alcoholic and addict.
Recovery is a process and it takes time and effort. It is not an overnight matter. Our relationships and family situations take a hard hit during active addiction. Trust is lost and healing old wounds is a reconstructive process. “It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents -anyone can increase the list”(Alcoholics Anonymous 2001, page 18). These are common results of living with addiction of any kind.
As much as I wanted my alcoholic to be and stay sober, I had no power over his choices. I only had the power of my own choices and the direction I wanted and needed to take. I found my own recovery because I learned through experience that I had a problem too. I was too preoccupied with him. Thankfully the 12 steps provided me with the ability to see my addiction, find a solution and change my patterns of behavior and mostly my thinking.
Making choices are key in my recovery today. It’s about self care and boundary building.When I sense there are situations that can be dangerous to my recovery today which may put my physical, mental or spiritual well being at risk, I can put distance between me and that situation. I can get quiet and know when these areas are at risk and I can make choices to take care of myself. Before getting into my own recovery, I had no ability to step aside, be quiet and not get in the drivers seat. I can put spiritual space between myself and alcoholism today. I don’t have to get involved, particularly emotionally. I can make a decision to leave or simply not engage the person.
I know my conditioning today and instead of believing everything I think, I can pause and be of few words and enlist the help of my recovery circle. I have recently had some challenging situations present themselves. My dad is a sober alcoholic, not necessarily recovered. The triggers still exist and there is a fair amount of manipulation and selfishness still present. I can let him be exactly who he is and not have the need to take it personally nor do I have the need to make his experience any different than what it is. I still love him and care very deeply for him. In fact, I love him enough to let him do what he needs to do.
So today I contemplate before taking action and I take my space. I consider is this mine to fix ? Is it any of my business? I can think it’s my place, but when I stop and think, I wasn’t even asked to get involved. I used to assume that you needed me for something and that it was within my duties to help you. That is exactly where I rob my alcoholic of having his own experience. I think I know better or that my plan is better. Before I learned about my own dysfunction or disease, this is how I navigated in the world. It was not only in relation to addicts in my life. I found this to be true at work, with my friends and countless others. Boundaries were not modeled for me. Since I grew up with addiction, I thought that way of life and engagement was normal. The twelve steps taught me differently. Now I have a roadmap to go by and I have a sponsor who I can ask for some guidance, direction and suggestions. I also have a bunch of other friends in my recovery circle that I have come to respect and rely on. We share a common problem and we have found a solution to our troubles and our thinking!
People talk about detachment and some folks have a fair amount of resistance or prejudice to that word. Detachment, for me, does not mean disconnect, disengage or withdraw. That is exactly what I used to do when things didn’t go according to my plan. I would put walls up, give you the silent treatment and wait very impatiently for you to approach me. I learned through the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that this was my self centered and selfish behavior. You might be thinking, that makes no sense! Well it makes sense to me. If I didn’t get my way, you were going to pay for it or at least feel it. My specialty was subtly! I had a motive and I wanted to be the hero or the martyr. That’s the truth, as much as I don’t like to admit it. I had to get honest in regards to my behavior and what my real motives were. I saw the truth when I experienced a transformation and it is a continual process that I am still learning about. It’s not only about maintaining, it’s about spiritual growth and that growth often times come through pain.
Life keeps coming at me! Just because you go through the steps does not mean life is going to be painless and rosy. I have realized that having an alcoholic in my life was a gift because I don’t think I would ever found the peace I now have as a result of the transformation of the 12 steps. That may seem crazy to you, but having an alcoholic father, niece, nephews, aunts and uncles allowed me to have enough discomfort in my daily living to seek another way of being and living. So my recovery does not revolve around the alcoholic, it’s really about finding my own way and learning how to manage my life and to make better choices and how I can help others who may have had similar experiences.
Do I do all this perfectly? Absolutely not! Sometimes I still want to isolate, put walls up and not be vulnerable. I had a great deal of death and loss early in my life and felt abandoned at times. Some of my family members still have not recovered from the death of my mother and I get it. Trust is a precious commodity and when you have been hurt and twisted upside down and all around, we want to get off the merry go round and not play anymore! I was there for decades and I was desperate and wanted a change. The 12 steps allowed me to re-create my life, gave me a new circle of friends, and a purposeful way of living. I get to help others today and guide them out of their dis-ease.
Find recovery for yourself. It may just be what you have been searching for your whole life. Take the dive and commit to yourself to find answers and a peaceful way of being.