Even under the best of circumstances, loving someone requires strength, honesty, self-reflection, objectivity and patience among other hard won mental and emotional attributes. Loving someone in the throes of addiction can be even more challenging requiring you to call on these attributes within yourself in different and often more challenging ways. Although a comprehensive guide to loving an addict would be quite long and potentially involved, here are some of the basics that can help us to develop the mental and emotional foundation on which to build and nurture that love.
Facing the reality that loving an addict means that there will be parts of your life that you cannot control is the first step in building an ongoing foundation of love for that addicted individual. Since their behaviors are governed by their addiction, you must focus on what you can control rather than the areas that are out of your control.
This often means setting appropriate boundaries with the addicted loved one and learning how to say no (and mean it) as well as say yes (and mean it) when it’s appropriate. Although our first instinct is to be self-sacrificing when setting boundaries with a loved one living with addiction, the truth of the matter is that you must make decisions based on what is best for your own life first. If you are not strong, happy, healthy, and in a secure place (in all respects), you cannot be of any help to the loved one beset by addiction.
This may mean keeping up your own routines and doing the things that you must for yourself rather than enabling or rescuing the loved one. This can range from focusing on work while at work and having time to yourself to do the things that you love to keeping your finances in check (not loaning the addicted loved one money) or allowing them to disrupt the home and not contributing to its upkeep in meaningful ways.
These and other approaches to loving an addicted person are about understanding the difference between helping them and enabling them—both in ways that worsen their lives and yours. It is only when we stop our enabling behaviors that we can actually begin to help our addicted loved one.
In our heads, we all know that we cannot change another person’s behavior or fix them, but our hearts, if left unchecked, will compel us to try in fruitless and potentially destructive ways. Since you cannot control anything that the addicted person does, it is more productive to their wellbeing and yours if you look inward to see where and how you may be contributing to the unnecessary drama of the relationship. The behaviors that compel us to enable our addicted loved one rather than help them can be many, as we’ve discussed earlier.
A big one that we have not discussed is guarding yourself against being manipulated by your addicted loved one. It’s vital that you hold fast and be consistent so that they realize that they will not get their way in order to help your loved one over the time. You might need some professional counseling of your own to help you with that inward reflection and to stop these enabling behaviors.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of self-reflection that can help us love an addicted loved one in a healthy way is to work every day at rebuilding our own lives and fulfilling ourselves in ways that make us whole. Only you can answer what this means because only you can say what was important in your life that you have given up or abandoned due to challenges of life with an addicted loved one.
When you identify what is important to you, it starts you down a path where a sense of happiness and self-fulfillment become your most important overall responsibility. By practicing self-compassion and self-forgiveness, you build a foundation where strength, honesty, self-reflection, objectivity, and patience define your actions and reactions where your addicted loved one is concerned.
In order to love an addict in the healthiest way, you must do the right thing time after time and day after day even when it’s difficult. This is the only way for you to help set the stage for their recovery.