Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
Letting Go Is Never Easy
Life doesn’t always go as planned. You fall. You fail. You stumble. And for the most part, you get back up and learn from your mistakes.
Every experience we go through is meant to teach us something.
But what happens when instead of learning from your mistakes, you keep repeating them?
For people struggling with substance use disorder, this is called progression. This means that the addicted person’s thinking and behavior deteriorate as their substance consumption rises.
Addiction is a family illness. It’s extremely stressful and can persist for years. The long-term dysfunction and chaos addiction creates can make it hard for families to communicate clearly and openly. Those struggling with addiction can be aggressive, manipulative and needy.
To facilitate peace, parents may tolerate intolerable behavior and give in to unreasonable demands. Parents may struggle to see the addicted adult in front of them. Instead, choosing to see the child they once were. The parents of an addicted adult child may view the substance abuser as incompetent and unable to look after themselves.
It’s this misguided thought process that allows denial to exist and enabling to occur.
Enabling happens when another person, often a well-meaning family member, helps the addicted person avoid the natural consequences of his or her behavior.
Substance abusers spend all their money to maintain their drug or alcohol habit. Parents enable this behavior by paying their addicted child’s rent, gas, car payments, cell phone bills, lawyer bills, vehicle fines and even child support. This allows the addicted person to continue their downward death spiral.
Protecting one from the consequences of their actions is never helpful. It’s disabling and when addiction is involved, it’s deadly.
Imagine a new mother. For the first few months she will carry her baby everywhere she goes, but as her infant grows, this will change.
My nephew is 12 months. He’s meeting all his baby markers and learning to walk. Experience and tenacity have allowed him to move beyond rolling over and crawling, to standing up and taking his first tenuous steps. Through this process, he’s stumbled and fallen. Just yesterday he took a spill. He was trying to step over his dog but didn’t make it. Instead, he landed on his bottom. His mom did not swoop in and save him. She allowed him to figure it out. It wasn’t long before he was stepping around the dog, instead of over him.
But what happens when you have an overprotective parent?
Imagine the child who was never allowed off their mother’s hip? It sounds ridiculous but when there’s addiction in the family, it can be like that.
Children who rely solely on their parents to fix all their problems grow into dependent and needy adult children. They don’t learn to self-regulate or work through difficult situations.
I worked with a 70-year-old mom whose 45-year-old son was living rent-free in her basement. She cooked his meals, did his laundry and cleaned his room. Her retirement savings were almost gone. She reached out to me because she was feeling anxious and wanted help. She couldn’t afford to keep providing for her son but didn’t want to upset him by asking him to pitch in. This lovely woman still saw her grey-haired son as an unruly teenager.
She wasn’t far off, either. Although her son had grey hair, he was still a 14-year-old child emotionally. He was also 14-years-old when he first started smoking marijuana to cope with his feelings. Instead of working through difficulties, he avoided them by numbing himself with drugs. This resulted in his emotional arrest. Fast forward and he can’t hold a job. He angers quickly and doesn’t like working. He’s used to everything being provided for him and wants to keep it that way.
His mom’s love has become fear and her help, control. She feels by doing everything for him, she is keeping him safe.
Her son is stuck in a role in which he feels inept, incapable, disempowered, dependent, entitled and useless.
Mother and son are in survival mode. They are doing the best they can with what they know. Without help, their pathological relationship will continue to deteriorate.
Addiction is a terminal illness. Families’ worst fear – death by overdose – can and does occur. To make matters worse, doing the right thing for your addicted loved one is often painful. Addicted persons won’t thank you for not enabling them. Instead, they might resort to emotional blackmail. You may hear statements like this: “You don’t love me, you’re the worst parent ever, I’m never talking to you again, thanks to you I’ll be living on the streets or if I die, it’s your fault!”
Without steady support, feelings of fear and guilt can outweigh common sense and logic. Saying no and setting boundaries is difficult. Painful emotions can lead families back into enabling, just as it will lead an addicted person back to using.
Letting go is never easy. You may feel it’s disloyal and uncaring, but letting go just means you’re allowing the consequences to belong to the person who created them. When the consequences are greater than the rewards one gets from using, recovery happens.
When you stop enabling, it doesn’t mean you stop loving the person. Nor does it mean that you can’t help them. You can still help someone who is too sick to help themselves. By calling the number below, you greatly increase the chances of a successful recovery for you and your entire family.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1-888-614-2379.