I am active in recovery culture. Because of this, it would make sense that I am around a good deal of addicts, alcoholics, and generally troubled individuals on a frequent basis.
However, lately it has felt heavier and more frequent. The sentiment has seeped out of the safe rooms of recovery that I find solace in, and into my “real world”.
I seem to be running into situation after situation where I am consoling worried parents, distraught sisters, hurt friends, etc.
The four messages that I find myself relaying over and over, no matter the audience, is this:
“You can not fix them.“, “This is not your fault.“, “Your only responsibility is to not make anything worse.” and “You must stop accepting unacceptable behavior.“
The only ounce of wisdom that I have in this head has come from the mess. I can look at those sitting on rock bottom and know with absolute certainty that there is a way up and out, because I have been there.
I have the ability to look at a situation from two perspectives: The worrier and also the worried about.
Neither place is a fun one to be in, but let’s unpack this message:
You Can Not Fix them
I know that you want to, but you can’t.
I know that you love them, but your love will not fix them.
I am so deeply sorry. You just can’t.
Often as humans, we allow our egos to drive us through our lives. We operate under the false notion that WE can do something. WE can fix things. WE know better.
Truth: We don’t, and we can’t.
I am sure you have had to make a number of tough choices in your life. I feel pretty comfortable assuming that ultimately many of your choices were based on self. Whether it be self-improvement, self-sacrifice, or even self-preservation.
This is the same for the addict/alcoholic, and something that you MUST accept.
Every single decision that your loved one is making is being made solely out of self-indulgence. They are not making decisions based on ANYTHING or ANYONE other than what they want/need right now at this moment.
Most likely, they KNOW that they are hurting people.
I promise you that they have wondered if they would be better off if they changed their behavior.
Unfortunately, right now at this moment, their need for their next indulgence is stronger than any shame they may or may not have about their own lives.
None of us make any sort of difficult change until we realize the pain of the consequences of our behavior outweigh the benefits of our current actions. You WILL NOT be the person that will make them come to this realization.
It may seem obvious to an outsider looking in, that if this person continues on the same path that he or she will lose their family, their home, their job, their freedom, etc.
It seems crazy, and it makes sense that you would feel the need to point this out. But the truth is: nothing that you say is going to change the person.
I will never forget the first time that someone told me that I should get help. The strange part of the conversation that I will never forget, is that none of it was a shock. I already knew that my drinking and my behavior was an issue, but at that time, I was simply not ready to address it.
I was too scared.
The truth came to me from a man that I knew and respected… a man that I loved.
He called me at a time that he normally didn’t. I knew that this meant the conversation was important. I also knew what was coming before he even said a word.
He said it so simply.
He said, “You’ve got a real problem. I think you may need help.”
Thankfully, he said it politely and softly, because God knows I didn’t deserve his kindness at the time. I could tell that my recent behavior was pissing him off, but also breaking his heart. I didn’t tell him he was wrong. The only words that I could make come out of my mouth were, “I know, I am so sorry.”
And I WAS sorry (SO GOD DAMN SORRY). I never intended to hurt him or anyone else.
That phone call broke my heart into a million pieces.
It was just another reminder that I had become a person that I genuinely didn’t like. I was wildly embarrassed. I felt immense shame. I wanted desperately to behave differently. I wanted to make different choices.
But did I get sober after that conversation? No.
I wasn’t ready.
It took a few more months of my own self-destruction for me to ultimately make a decision to get MYSELF sober. The day that I finally put the drink down, no one told me to do so. No one told me to go to a recovery meeting. No one told me they were going to leave me if I didn’t. No one paid for a fancy treatment.
To this day, I am still unable to explain why on this one particular day I wanted to crawl out of the bottle just a little more than I wanted to stay in my own comfortable hell. But I did. I was in enough pain, that I knew a drastic change had to be made. So I made it. On my own.
My point is this: No matter what the required action is for someone to change their life, you will never be able to force them into taking it. You may be able to make them change for a brief period of time, simply out of fear. However, for long-term life changes, a person has to be ready to make hard decisions themselves, for themselves.
I deeply understand that this is insanely difficult and painful. However, you have to begin to accept and understand that this person is making their own choices and that they and ONLY they are responsible for the outcome.
This is not your fault
No one becomes and addict/alcoholic because of one person or one event.
You didn’t “do anything” to make them this way.
And PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, do not let this person trick you into believing that you did.
Often times people (addict or not), are incapable of taking responsibility for their own pain. I call this the “hot potato effect”. We/They/You/I want to believe that there is no possible way that we could be responsible for our own suffering. It is too painful to look at. So instead of internalizing the world around us for what it is, and accepting responsibility for our own actions, we pass that pain onto someone else like it is a hot potato.
STOP CATCHING THEIR POTATO.
You are not forcing them to make their own poor decisions, therefore you are not required to feel the pain of their own repercussions.
Let go of THEIR anchor, it was not made with the intention to keep YOU stuck.
Your only responsibility is to not make anything worse
So what do you do?
Often, unfortunately, the only thing appropriate to do is: nothing.
All you can do is to STOP. Stop enabling. Stop contributing to the problem. Stop beating your head against a brick wall.
You must allow this person to have the space to pick themselves up off of their own personal rock bottom.
Stop throwing money at the situation. It will only be money wasted.
Stop picking up the phone at all hours of the day/night. You are the only one who will end up exhausted.
Stop making excuses for them. It is unnecessary and everyone else see’s right through the bullshit anyways. It will only be wasted breath.
If you are consistently providing the person in question with a safety net, they will never have the opportunity to feel the brunt force of their own actions.
You must stop accepting unacceptable behavior
You must. Not for them, but for you.
Have you ever heard the saying, “you can not pour from an empty cup.”? You must stop allowing this person to take EVERYTHING from you.
There is a reason that when on a plane, you are instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting anyone else. If you can’t breath, you will be unable to help anyone else catch their own. Stop allowing this person to suffocate you.
I already said it, I will say it again, I will say it a million times until you no longer need to hear it:
YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CONSEQUENCES OF SOMEONE ELSES POOR DECISIONS.
Watching someone that you love self-destruct is the hardest kind of helpless there is. I know this. I honor it.
However, for your own sanity you must move into acceptance about the situation. You must find the strength to set firm boundaries. Again, not for them, but for you.
You are not, should not, and will not ever be required to tolerate someone treating you poorly.
Yes, they are sick. However, you must let go of the notion that as a loved one, it is a requirement to be the target that they use for shooting practice. This is not your job.
I have stared at a blinking cursor for awhile, attempting to figure out how to wrap this all up into one pretty package. But the truth about addiction is that it will never fit into a one-size-fits-all package. Every situation is different, none less painful than the next.
My advice would be to reach out. We are at our weakest when we are alone. Find like-minded individuals in your community who have or are going through similar experiences.
Knowledge is power. Educate yourself on the disease.
Finally, know that you are not alone. You are seen and you are heard. Your concern and your love are amazing and admirable.
You can do this.
*Disclaimer: This post is only an opinion piece. I am not a doctor. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction please reach out to a licensed professional.*