At first glance, I thought Hey, I’m not like these folks! They have issues. I’m in much better control than they are!
Ha! But something compelled me to go back just in case I was a little wrong. Uh-huh. By the second meeting, I heard some stories and thought to myself Dang! These folks have nearly the exact same story we do—different name, different day, same story. By the third meeting, I realized I was exactly like these people. Maybe they can teach me a thing or two. Everything about recovery starts with this:
You are not in control. (Whether you are the addict or the one who loves them, REPEAT: You are not in control.) Only God is in control.
But being the loved one of an addict, with more finesse than a Shakespearean drama, we find our roles to play in our family, because we are motivated by one thing:
The possibility of loss
And that drives everything we do. We want them to stop. It’s wrecking their health. It’s bankrupting them and us. It’s harshing our mellow and messing up our normal. (Now there’s a book!) Our motivations are good. Our love is pure. Our need to control is oh so……addicting! If we could just MAKE them stop. I KNOW now, I can’t make anyone do anything.
However, somebody I respect dearly, told me something a while back that not only perked up my ears, but was music to my soul. With profound wisdom, and a sly wink, he said:
True, you can’t lead a horse to water and make him drink, but you sure can give him salty snacks!
Oh, friend! What joy those words gave me!
Because even though I believe ultimately that God is in control, I am seeing we do indeed have a role to fulfill, a position in God’s army—a post we are to man!
We can be diligent: We will not ignore our intuition and bury our head in the sand when we know something is wrong.
We can confront the truth in love: We can clearly articulate the evidence we are seeing that shows the destruction or potential for it in terms of health, finances, or legality. This immediately falls into the next step:
We can establish healthy boundaries: Once a problem is stated—clearly, concisely, without condemnation or judgment, we can immediately let the other person know that because we love them we will in no way enable them in terms of money, excuses, or emotional support for the choices that harm them and have the potential to destroy them, and possibly harm or destroy others (such as driving, working, or parenting under the influence here).
We can encourage and help them in every way to seek the help they desperately need, and take practical steps to lead that horse to water. An addict has to first get uncomfortable in his or her addiction. If we keep rewarding them in anyway (money, acceptance of the habit by believing their lies “it’s just the way I’m wired, etc.”) we are actually partnering in their destruction, possibly others.
Whenever human life is at risk (theirs or others), we have an obligation to protect the innocent. Yes, this means calling law enforcement sometimes. If an addict drives under the influence, has illegal drugs in the home or around children, you have a duty to protect! Sometimes legal consequences are the only thing that finally motivates them. Even if it doesn’t motivate them, as a moral citizen, you have a duty to protect the innocent.
I learned this about boundaries: NO! The word no is a complete sentence!
We can get help for ourselves. Sometimes we’re not strong enough. Loved ones of addicts are prone to the same insecurities, hurts, hang-ups, and disappointments that addicts are. Getting stronger mentally, and also physically (working out, getting enough rest, eating healthy) are steps essential to our well-being. We can’t help anyone else if we are falling apart.
We can trust God, our higher power. This is the hard part for me. It’s not that I don’t trust God. I just always feel like there might be one more thing that I should be doing, that I’m not. I have to trust that when I’ve done all I can do for the day, the rest is up to God. I can’t do more than I did. I can’t know what I haven’t learned yet. I only have enough courage, energy, strength, and grace for today!
If someone you love is struggling with addiction, I pray you get help for yourself. Join a local Alanon or Naranon group today! This is support: Seeking others with the same struggles as yourself and learning healthy coping skills and perhaps a few “salty snack” recipes so they realize you are no longer a part of the environment that allows addiction to thrive. This is NOT support: Rehashing dramatic stories but offering NO solutions or NOT BEING receptive to new ways of thinking or doing things.
Above all don’t fall into the trap that you are powerless; you’re not! If you do, you will fall into the same rut as the addict you love. Though you can’t change them and they have to do the work for themselves, you too can learn to think and behave differently. You can give them the salty snacks, also known as the gift of uncomfortableness, in leading them towards the steps to recovery!