Every time you enable someone else’s drug abuse or alcoholism by cleaning up their mess, you help them avoid the consequences that might just motivate them to change.
BY DR. STEVE GANZELL
If you are not an alcoholic or drug abuser but you are in a relationship with someone who is—or who is recovering from addiction—it can feel as though your life starts to revolve around their behavior, their treatment, or their recovery. Sadly, this almost guarantees disaster.
If you talk to folks in recovery, they will often talk about how they had to reach a “bottom” before they were able to make changes. One of the dangers of being in a relationship with a user is that you can do all kinds of things to delay getting to that “bottom.”
Every time you enable someone else’s drug abuse or alcoholism by cleaning up their mess, you help them avoid the consequences that might just motivate them to change. When you call the boss and tell them that your partner has the flu, when in truth they are puking all over the carpet in a drunken stupor, all you are doing is helping them avoid the very consequences that might make the difference.
If you are going to make the choice to be in a relationship with someone who abuses substances, here are three pointers for the very best chances of survival and even success.
Recovery is NOT a linear process. People in recovery make progress and then backslide. It is not a failure; it is a natural part of the process. If you do not understand this you will be devastated when your loved one falls off the wagon… and they probably will. You getting pissed off doesn’t help. I once heard a guy say “hey we’re alcoholics it’s what we do.” There was profound meaning in that simple concept.
Their recovery is NOT about you. I know you would like to think that you are so powerful you can make other people change. You can’t. All you can do is stand by and watch. If you can manage to do this, you will find that eventually you may have a place in the recovered alcohol/addict’s world. But if you cannot maintain strong boundaries, and detach with love, you will (to borrow from the folks who sit in rooms and talk about this stuff) just be co-signing the bullshit.
Love is not all powerful. Love is wonderful. But does not cure anything. If you are hoping to love someone into sobriety, you will fail. Love is powerful when it is unconditional, if what we are calling love is conditional on you changing your behavior, it is not love, it is manipulation. Remember Romeo and Juliet is not a romance…it is a tragedy. If you don’t comprehend the difference there will be more tragedy.
People who have recovered had to do WHATEVER was necessary to help them obtain and keep their sobriety. It was not an easy process. They probably had the support and understanding of others. Living an exciting life of your own and encouraging someone to join you, may be a lot more effective in creating change, than threatening someone with increasing their misery if they don’t do the “right” thing.
Most of us find that we have very little experience with addiction until it becomes deeply personal. We either struggle with our own recovery or we struggle alongside someone who is trying to recover. Most people seem to think that because they care, there are not only knowledgeable but that they are also capable. That is the equivalent of a child coming home after school and telling his parent that he has a pain in his belly. His father responds that since he is the father and loves that child more than anyone else, that the kid should hop up on the dining room table, while dad uses the kitchen cutlery to remove the kid’s appendix. Kinda crazy huh? No different that when a loved one believes they know what is best for someone in recovery because they love them.
The good news is that there is real wisdom out there. ALANON meetings are for the folks who are in relationships with someone using or recovering. There are folks who have walked this road before. But a fish doesn’t know it’s wet. It is hardest to know what you don’t know. Just take it as a given that if you are dealing with this issue, you will need support from those who know what they are talking about. Go get it… and don’t try to do this alone.