It’s heartbreaking to stand by as someone you love struggles with addiction.
It’s devastating to know there’s only so much you can do.
Right now, it’s important to understand you have the right to take care of yourself first. Just as you’re advised to do when flying: apply your oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs. This is an incredibly hard concept to accept for the majority of us. However, only by preserving your resiliency can you continue to love this individual in crisis, hold compassion, and provide help and guidance when required.
Accept That It’s Not Your Fault
Anyone close to you is often in your scope of influence. However, there are numerous factors that contribute to substance abuse. There are also many ways someone can avoid becoming addicted.
As hard as it may be, first acknowledge and accept your loved one’s addiction isn’t your fault. Yes, there may be environmental, hereditary, or traumatic aspects that tilted the potential for risk—but no single factor determines if someone will have a substance abuse problem. An individual must take responsibility for his or her behavior and actions.
Further, there’s little you can do to force your loved one into recovery. Your role is to be supportive and understanding if this is his or her eventual choice.
Learn How to Say No
Maintaining a level of self-care often requires us to not overstep our limits and understand the power of saying no. This is challenging to do even in the best of circumstances regarding trivial matters. When it comes to drawing an emotional boundary line and refusing whatever our loved one is asking for, we often feel guilty, hold a sense of obligation, and feel it’s our duty to protect him or her.
Individuals affected by addiction can sometimes demonstrate behaviors that including lying, stealing, manipulation, and other misguided unethical actions. They may experience criminal or financial trouble, have difficulty maintaining employment or housing, and fail to keep up with personal care needs.
It’s not your responsibility to tolerate or fix any of these things. You don’t need to become codependent or enable your loved one to continue using by doing so. Yes, you may be able to still see that person you love, perhaps even gave birth to, through all the turmoil. This will, most certainly, pull your heartstrings into a tight knot and cause many sleepless nights.
But if the disease has altered his or her brain chemistry to the point where behaviors and actions are compromising to you or anyone else, you must say no. What does this mean? It means setting boundaries and keeping them. You can’t:
- Give him or her financial support
- Permit your loved one to steal from you or anyone else
- Allow substance use in your home under any circumstances
- Tolerate abuse of any kind of you or anyone else
These and other clear prohibitive factors must be made clear. Remember when setting boundaries, you must remain consistent in your message. For example, simply say: “I love you, and want you to be healthy. If you choose to seek treatment for substance use, I’ll be here to support you. If you choose to keep abusing drugs or alcohol, I won’t accept the following behaviors….”
Consequences for not following your rules should also be clearly communicated, and you must enforce them for the slightest infraction. Yes, you might be afraid of what will happen as a result, but you’re not in control of your loved one’s actions.
Establish a Support Network
Setting boundaries with someone requires a lot of willpower and persistence. You might find it easier if you have people to turn to who understand what you’re going through.
Just as people in recovery have 12-Step groups designed to relate to the challenges and joys of sobriety and maintain accountability, friends and family members of people with addiction problems have specialized communities for coping, setting boundaries, and establishing healthy lives away from addiction:
- Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families helps break the cycle by nurturing emotional healing.
- Al-Anon Family Groups use the 12-Step process to help friends and family members of people afflicted with alcoholism.
- Co-Dependents Anonymous helps people recover from aspects of codependency and form healthier relationships.
- Nar-Anon Family Groups understand what family and friends of people with drug addictions go through, and use the 12-Step process to assist them.
You may also find solace and reinforcement through church or spiritual groups, individual therapy, and other friends and family members of your loved one.
Invest in Self-Care Routines
Dedicate time to care for yourself so you have the resilience you need to deal with this troublesome process.
- Stay physically active and get plenty of rest
- Spend time in the sunshine, around animals, and with people who support you
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Focus on other things in life other than your loved one’s substance problem
- Don’t assume all responsibility for caring for this person
Your sense of self, your accomplishments, your purpose in life—these characteristics aren’t defined by your loved one’s addiction or recovery. Setting healthy boundaries doesn’t change how you feel about this person, but can enable you to deal with the challenges of substance abuse.
Here are some books that may help you as well:
- Addict in the Family by Beverly Conyers
- Addict in the House: A No-Nonsense Family Guide Through Addiction and Recovery by Robin Barnett
- In Sickness and In Silence by Kirsten E. Vogel