Finding the balance between giving too much of yourself and not enough can be a frustrating dance when your loved one is suffering from a substance use disorder.
It’s almost impossible not to get sucked into the downward spiral. This is because addiction not only affects the person abusing drugs or alcohol, it affects friends and family. The closer you are to the person, the more likely you are to become exhausted and emotionally drained from the tug of war of wanting to help and feeling helpless.
Understanding your need for self-care can be hidden by the turbulence that comes with substance use disorders. The best thing you can do for both you and loved one, however, is to take care of yourself. As the old adage goes, “You can’t help anyone without first helping yourself.”
Accept the Reality
Acceptance doesn’t mean you should continue to allow your loved one to abuse drugs pr alcohol. Rather, accept the fact that they are either chasing an addiction or on a long road of recovery. If you accept this, you can allow yourself a mark of distance and understand that you need not internalize their journey.
Find out what substance your loved one is abusing and do some research. Increasing your awareness about the substance by learning what it is and how it affects a person both short-term and long-term will clarify your perspective.
All substances are different and come with a wide array of different cognitive and behavioral patterns. Knowing these patterns can help you to identify where your loved one is in their recovery and may help you take note of relapse warning signs.
Forgiveness is a huge step toward healing. Holding onto the damage caused by the wrath of addiction will only grow into resentment. Forgiveness in relation to your loved one has to do with forgiving all parties involved, including yourself.
It’s critical to remember that addiction is a disease, not a moral deficiency. Trying to find blame for your loved one’s addiction is like trying to find blame for cancer or diabetes. The point is not to find blame; the point is to get better.
Remember the 3 Cs
This is a simple way to put the complex issue of loving someone with a substance use disorder in perspective.
- Cause: You did not cause the addiction.
- Control: You cannot control the addiction.
- Cure: You cannot cure the addiction.
Create and Commit to Boundaries
Creating boundaries will not only help you, but it will also help your loved one. Be upfront about what you are willing and not willing to do. For example:
- Let them know that you will not bail them out of jail or pay for a lawyer if they get arrested.
- Tell them they are not allowed to have any friends over who use alcohol and/or drugs.
- Tell them you will not tolerate any more insults or yelling.
- Stop lending them money.
- Stop having an open-door policy.
The reason boundaries are important is that they provide distance from the undulating emotions and chaos that surround a person suffering from substance abuse. When you aren’t wrapped up in the turbulence, you will be more apt at clear thinking and beneficial responses.
Being the bystander of someone you loved struggling can make it easy to want to do things to help. But every time you give your loved one money, offer advice, or remain in denial about the situation, you are opening the door for them to continue down that road of pain. Know the difference between actions that help and actions that harm.
If you find it difficult to differentiate between helping and harming, consider seeking the advice of a professional. There are also meetings, like Codependents Anonymous, that help people learn how to build healthy relationships.
A person who gives into the needs of others who are actively self-destructive is often dealing with self-esteem issues, according to an article in Psychology Today. After a while, the enabler’s self-esteem or self-worth becomes dependent on “helping” the other person. You cannot help a person who will not help himself.
Rebuild Your Life
Depending on how long your loved one has been suffering from addiction, your life has most likely been centered around their well-being and their whereabouts. It’s time to begin to build a life of your own.
There’s a good chance that this is going to be a difficult endeavor met with feelings of guilt, but your happiness matters. You deserve to have your own life. This doesn’t mean that you are abandoning your loved one; it means that you are done abandoning yourself.
If you care for yourself, you will only be more psychologically and physiologically able to offer the best version of yourself when the time comes. Lead by example.