Your spouse comes home drunk again and throws up all over the carpet. Do you clean it up or leave the mess for them to clean up the next day? You threaten to take your child’s car keys if they drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When they arrive home high the next week, do you take the keys or let your child have continued access to the car? Your alcoholic parent asks to borrow $20. Do you give them the money or refuse the request? I know that navigating a relationship with an addict can be agonizing; you want to love and nurture them even as they are spiraling out of control. It hurts you, it hurts them, and hope fades away with each episode of substance abuse. There IS hope, but many changes need to be made. Although you should never blame yourself, it is vital to identify things you may do out of love that could backfire.
1. Cleaning Up Their Messes
From vomit to bail payments, cleaning up after an addict inflicts a drastic toll on everyone. You may wish to help them, but constantly handling the consequences of their actions prevents them from facing the reality of their addiction. You are not responsible for their disease. I’m not saying that you must abandon them, only that confronting the truth is the first step to change.
2. Providing Money
An addiction has terrible, overwhelming power; it may compel your loved one to stop at nothing to acquire a fix. If you believe you’re in danger if you don’t give in, seek help immediately. But if you can say no, do so. Refuse to be manipulated. You wouldn’t buy the substance for them yourself, so why give them the resources to do it?
3. Lying on Your Loved One’s Behalf
You don’t want your loved one to be shunned from family events or fired from work, so you say they are sick instead of at the bar or suffering from a hangover. Your actions only give the addict a mask to wear so they can hide from others and themselves. I’m not saying you have to shout the truth from the rooftops or tell everyone you meet, but lying on their behalf gives them yet another toxic refuge to avoid the truth.
4. Avoiding Confrontation
When was the last time you asked your loved one to drink less, mentioned the shrinking bank account, or questioned why they spend so much time online? Silence is a form of permission; it can also be twisted into a sense of approval. You need to give them a reality check. It’s a daunting task, but it will only become more difficult as time goes on.
5. Not Following Through on Consequences or Plans
Maybe you’ve told your loved one that you will call the police if they stash drugs at home or will leave if your spouse gets wasted once more. If your threats are empty, you’re letting them continue to cling to the lie that it’s not as bad as it is. Try to execute your claims; it will hurt, but know that short-term pain is far more bearable than long-term misery. If they drink heavily before a social outing, go without them. Live your life anyway, as it may provide them incentive to try to be a healthy part of it.
Get the Help You Need
You are not the cause of your loved one’s addiction, but taking these steps can ensure that you are being proactive about freeing them. Arm yourself with knowledge and know your resources. A therapist can help you set boundaries and stand firm for your loved one’s sake and your own. Al-Anon can also offer active support for you and your family. Once you care for yourself and find solid ground, you’ll be more equipped to guide your loved one to treatment and recovery.
Photo by: Racchio (Flickr)