This time of year, we hear a lot about love. From all the bright red heart balloons in the stores to endless ads for flowers and chocolate covered strawberries, to aisle upon aisle of pink Valentine cards and candy. It’s easy to celebrate love in the good times. But what about when it’s painful? When you’re frightened for someone you love? Confused about someone you love? Angry with someone you love? While you may love someone in active addiction, these types of emotions are just a few of the things you might feel while they are consumed by the disease. How can you love a person, truly and fully, when you hardly recognize them anymore?
- It’s Not About You. As much as his or her addiction may be hurting you – or the rest of your family – it’s critical to understand that they aren’t trying to hurt you. Don’t take the addiction personally. Don’t take it as a sign that you did poorly as a parent. Don’t take it as an indicator that you’re a bad spouse, friend or sibling. Your loved one is sick with a compulsive disease. He or she isn’t purposefully taking a drink or another hit or pill because of you. Instead of using love as a weapon to stop their addiction, focus your efforts on learning as much as you can about the disease – so you can help them more effectively.
- Separate The Person From The Addiction. When a person becomes sick with the disease of addiction, you may feel as though you hardly recognize them anymore. Even if this person is a close family member, child or spouse you have known for a long time – you may be surprised, astonished, or taken aback by their words, behaviors and actions. Your loved one’s addiction does not define who they are as a person. They may be actively addicted, but your loved one isn’t a bad person. He or she is a sick person – and their addiction is causing them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Think about it this way: Separate your loved one from their addiction. Try to remember what your loved one was like before they fell into the cycle of addiction. Understand that they are still that person – and that they need help in order to be that person again.
- Put A Stop To The Shaming. Addiction and shame go hand-in-hand. Often, a person uses drugs or alcohol to hide from their own feelings of shame and guilt about who they are, how they feel, and the things that they have done. In addition to these overwhelming emotions, they’re also ashamed that they are drinking or using drugs – and even more ashamed they’re unable to stop. Knowing that your loved one is already feeling this way, the last thing that you should want to do is make them feel even worse. Try to avoid shaming by telling them they are a disappointment – and instead, show compassion for their pain. It is possible to show acceptance of your loved one, without showing approval of their behaviors, words, and actions.
- “Tough Love” Isn’t Always The Best Approach If addiction were some sort of moral failing or bad habit, tough love might be the best solution. However, addiction is a disease and it must be treated as such. That means that addiction can’t be punished out of a person – and they can’t be shamed out of addiction either. Sometimes, getting ‘tougher’ can mean more fights, more sneaky behavior, more stealing, more badgering – and those things don’t help. Instead of ‘tough love’ – try kind love, strong boundaries. Strong boundaries are key to creating healthy relationships, which are crucial to healing. When you set boundaries with an addicted loved one, you increase the chances that he or she will seek help. Check out these seven critical boundaries to set when a loved one is addicted.
- Don’t Ever Give Up. You addicted loved one is in a dark place mentally, spiritually and emotionally. There is strong possibility that he has given up on himself, or she’s lost hope. In order to best show your loved one the love, they need you to show them that you still have hope. Hope can be the foundation for recovery; people can and do recover from addiction. Your faith in them and their recovery may be what keeps them hanging on. Your belief can and will make a difference.
Loving an addicted person may be one of the most difficult seasons of your life. It is, however, possible to love someone in active addiction without enabling or encouraging their drinking or drug use.