Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
Are You Being Bullied By Your Addicted Loved One?
Catherine – not her real name – wore a bright red scarf that matched perfectly with the color of her lip stick. She grinned, wiped the tears from her eyes and stated, “No one said life would be easy, but jeez! No one said it would be this tough, either! “
Just moments before Catherine had barely been able to sit still in her chair. Her face showed tension, her lips were turned down and she refused to make eye contact with the people around her. She was clearly distraught over her son’s addiction and when asked to share in group was hesitant to do so. But despite the fact that she didn’t want to share, she did and after acknowledging her pain and sharing it, Catherine was in a much better place. She went on to say, “There are days I want to dance, and moments I want to scream.”
Listening to Catherine, I’m sure most of us can relate.
The ups and downs Catherine describes, are also known as life. Life happens to all of us. Mostly, life is one damn thing after another. Except with addiction, then it’s the same thing over and over again.
Anyone struggling with this illness knows terror and pain. But no one knows it better than the addict’s family.
Years after getting clean and sober there are still moments I want to curl up in a ball and cry. Working with the addict’s family is hard. It is also heart-breaking. Maybe because I’m the adult child of an alcoholic, I’m more sensitive to it. Or perhaps it’s because as an active addict, I get to see first-hand how horrifying my manipulative, bullying behaviors were and how much they hurt my family. It seems I’ve been rooting for the under-dog my entire life. It saddens me, when I see someone being taken advantage of. When an adult bullies a child we know it’s not okay. But what happens when an adult is being bullied by their addicted adult child? Parents often make excuses for their addicted children’s behavior, but it is not okay!
Seriously. It’s not okay to bully ever. Period!
Yet it happens time and time again when there’s addiction in the family.
The addict relentlessly bullies their family to get what they want. The family tries to keep the peace by accommodating the addict’s needs, and ultimately, they grow desensitized to these unhealthy behaviours.
Just to be clear, bullying doesn’t have to be about physical contact, although that does happens. Bullies are confusing. One minute they can be loving and charming and the next, they’re mean as a snake! They have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Should you give the bully what they want; you’ll see their sweet side. That’s the whole purpose of their charm, but should you say no and set boundaries, be warned. Mr. Hyde will appear.
A bully only feels powerful when he or she can degrade, manipulate, or intimidate others. Bullies are unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. To engage in their abusive behavior, two things must happen. One, their self-centered lifestyle creates a lack of empathy for the person or persons they bully. In other words, the addict’s need for their next fix outweighs love and common sense and two, they get rewarded for using this ugly behavior. In other words, it works!
The best thing you can do for your addicted loved one is not give in when they’re acting badly. Otherwise, you only reinforce and reward the behavior.
It’s okay to say no.
It’s okay to set limits (actually it’s crucial)
It’s okay to call the police when you’re being threatened.
It’s okay to dial 911 when the addict is bullying you through emotional extortion and threatening to end their life.
It’s important to act in their best interest, when they can’t. Don’t expect to be liked or receive a thank you. That won’t happen until they get clean and sober. What you can expect is to feel guilty, and wonder if you’re doing the right thing. You might have very little contact once you start setting boundaries, for the truth is if an active addict isn’t getting something from you, you may not see much of them.
Be firm. Let them know you love them, and that you’re there for their recovery, but you won’t enable their illness. If you can’t be manipulated, your addicted loved one has a far better chance of recovering. Remember, addicted individuals don’t get well when they see the light, they get well when they feel the heat. Let the consequences be applicable.
Although it may not seem like it right now, there is hope. You can love your addicted loved one without becoming a symptom of their illness. It’s easy to become consumed by their disease. Navigating the emotional ups and downs is too much for any one person. Without support your world shrinks to one of darkness, pain and despair. Addiction is infectious. If your life is unmanageable, you’re being effected.
To recover you must fight back. Be prepared to do whatever it takes. Addiction occurs when taking the easier softer way or doing what one ‘wants’ to do. Recovery results when you step outside of your comfort zone and do what you need to do.
The best chance your addicted loved one has, is you. But you can’t help them, if you’re coming apart at the seams. Don’t tell them how to get healthy. Show them. When you broaden your support circle not only will you be healthy, you’ll be there for your loved one in a way that doesn’t make you both sick.
Although addiction affects the entire family, recovery can occur. The trick is not to wait for the addicted person to make the necessary changes, but to make them yourself.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the confidential support line for assistance. 1 888 614-2379.