Do you ever hear yourself saying things you never thought you’d say in a million years? Do you have those moments of astonishment, when you realize that somehow, without you even knowing it, that you’ve changed?
I want to share it here with you, in case you need to hear it. In case you have found yourself in the darkness and hopelessness of loving someone with an addiction. In case you are on the other side, with no peace, no rest. I’ve been there, I’ve wept the same tears of anger and frustration and grief. A year ago, I was lost in that cycle, and never dreamed that I’d be able to write this post today. But here I am, and I want you to know, there is a way out. And it has nothing at all to do with that person you love who is at the center of the storm. It’s not because they get sober, or finally understand and do the right thing, or apologize for all the hurt and pain.
It happens within you.
It comes down to this. You must let go of the idea that you can fix this, or control it. You can’t. No matter what you do in the world, it will never, ever make this go away. You can’t loan them enough money, bail them out of jail, give them a place to live, a car to drive, a job, a new set of clothes– you can’t pay their fines, support their kids, or give them enough reading material or say the right things often or sincerely enough to fix this. You can’t yell loud enough, punish them, give them the silent treatment, or beg them enough to change this. You don’t have that kind of power. When it boils down to it, trying to convince them that you know better than they do is a way of trying to control them. It might be well intentioned, and it might be true, that you know the better way. But the more control you attempt to exert in their lives, the farther they get away from you and from doing what they must to fix it themselves. You are taking away their chance to grow and learn to become responsible for their own life. What you are doing right now isn’t working, and it never will.
You are utterly, totally, absolutely, powerless.
That’s frightening, isn’t it? I know. But that’s not all. There’s more. Not only are you powerless, but you also have to LET GO. Even though it goes against your instinct, even though you are scared to death, even though you keep telling yourself that if you can JUST get them situated with this one thing, then it will be okay, you have to accept that it won’t. You must pry your fingers off their life. What will happen if you do? Will they make bad choices? Probably. They won’t do it the way you would. They don’t have any practice making good decisions (if they are even interested in doing that at this point), so it’s likely that they will not think things through the way you would. They may be impulsive. Short-sighted. Self-destructive. They might make awful decisions, that will result in disaster. They may make illegal, immoral, offensive decisions.
But that’s their right.
Stay with me, here. I’m not saying they ARE right, not at all. But that they have THE right. God has given them a life, a soul- He’s given them free will, as much as He has given it to you. He, the almighty, all knowing, omnipotent Creator, put the right to choose within them, knowing full well who they are, and who they would be. God knows their strengths and weaknesses far better than you do. And He STILL gave them the right to forge their own path. Even if it means they choose wrong. Even if it means they squander the gifts He gives, even if it means they bring about their own sadness and demise. Even if they choose to waste the gift, and be miserable. Even if they hurt, alienate, manipulate, and abandon. Those things are all terrible and tragic and not in anyway RIGHT. But their life is theirs to live, or lose- and you must respect that. You don’t have to respect what they do, certainly not. And it doesn’t mean you stand by silent, oh no. Cry out the alarm to them! Warn them! There is Truth, and it is not relative or quiet. And sometimes that will mean following your conscience beyond just words. Doors may have to be closed. You can’t control them, but you can control YOUR life. You can and should set boundaries. You can control your response to their choices, this is YOUR right. YOUR responsibility.
This is a lot easier to accept when you realize that it’s their only chance. For you to let go. Because while you are still working in their life, cleaning up messes, doing damage control, then there is no reason for them to do anything differently. They have no pride, no self confidence, no motivation. They will continue to be irresponsible and uncaring, because you will continue to do that FOR them. YOU will care. YOU will be responsible. That position has been filled, so why should they bother?
I know, I know– you are doing these things because you love them and you are AFRAID. You can see where this road leads, even if they don’t. But you have to take responsibility here, and see that what you are doing is making it easier to stay on that road. You may alleviate some short term pain, but their direction is still set. Eventually, they’ll be so far gone that nothing you do will make any difference. The hardest thing in the world for you to do, is the only hope they have. You have to face your fear, admit your helplessness, and give them over to God’s care if there is any chance for them.
So step back. For them, but also for yourself. Because chances are, when you get so busy in the addict’s life, you quit living in yours. Everything becomes about them, how they feel, what they’re doing, their mood, their problems, every little detail of their life takes precedence over yours. You spend hours analyzing, counseling, monitoring, reviewing, crying over the minutiae of their life, while abandoning your own. You stop taking care of yourself. You stop doing things you enjoy. You can’t remember the last time you really laughed. You look tired, all the time, and the years begin to show on your face. Friendships slip away, you never go anywhere or return calls.
You lose you.
Because you’re not meant to live more than one life. You get yours, the addict gets his.
1,146 words in this post. 15 years to get to the point where I could say them.
If you love someone who has a drug or alcohol problem– there is hope. And it’s not what you think- it’s not them getting sober (though, OF COURSE, we want that!!). This hope comes from the fact that no matter WHAT happens with your loved one, you can be happy. You can live your life fully and joyfully. It doesn’t feel that way right now, you can’t even imagine being happy when they are in this condition. But you CAN. And you SHOULD. So many recovering addicts will tell you that it was when their families and friends finally got the help they needed, that it forced them to confront their own problems and get sober. That was the point for them- that was what finally did it. Help yourself, and you could be saving their life.
It’s a process. It’s tough at times- and you need support– but it is possible. And it begins like any other journey, with one small step. Go to an Alanon meeting. Seriously. Even if you don’t feel like you belong there. Even if you’re not sure what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter. You need to go because you need to hear something different than what you’ve been telling yourself. I’m not a spokesperson for Alanon, but I can tell you, it helped me tremendously. I fully believe it will do the same for you.
Mark Twain said, “If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.”
I get that. We do that, I think- holding onto the tail of this out-of-control situation, because we don’t know what else there is to do. But, it’s time to let go. We’ve learned all there is to learn by doing things the hard way. Let go, no more scratches, no more bites and hisses.
There is a better way. Sometimes loving something, means letting it go.
Just ask the cat.