As people in recovery ourselves, we understand the impact that alcoholism and addiction has on families and the loved ones of those afflicted. In this section we provide the best advice and resources we are aware of to support and begin the healing process for those who have been or are presently affected by living with an active addict or alcoholic.
Dealing With Addicts & Alcoholics
Trying to communicate with a person who has lost much of their capability for rational thinking due to drug and alcohol abuse can be challenging to say the least. It often seems that even the most passionate pleas for the addict or alcoholic fall on deaf ears. It’s hard to understand why anyone would deliberately continue to behave in a way that is destroying their lives and hurting the people they love the most. It helps if we can step back for a moment and understand that addiction is a disease. This does not mean that the addict is not responsible for the harm they may cause, what it does mean however, is that they are caught in the grips of an illness which compromises their ability to see the truth. Addiction robs us of the ability to appreciate the consequences of our actions and the ability to pause before acting impulsively and carelessly. The desire for another drug or drink slowly overtakes our most natural instincts until we are left a shell of our former selves.
In dealing with an active addict or alcoholic the first thing to remember is you are not just dealing with your loved one, you’re dealing with a drug or a bottle which has taken them over. This is a sick person who cannot reason and make decisions as they normally would. If you truly want to help it is very important to avoid enabling their destructive behavior or insulating them from the consequences of their behavior. Examples of enabling might include paying the rent or electric bills for an addict who has spent all their money on drugs, or giving them money because they’ve spend all they have on using and drinking. It seems counter-intuitive, but by trying to help by giving the active addict financial support or making excuses for their behavior to others, we are actually harming them because we allow them to continue to progress in their disease. When we protect them from the consequences of their actions, we enable them to continue, we allow them to live in the fantasy that their drug and alcohol abuse isn’t really harming anything, so why not continue?
The most positive and helpful way to deal with active addicts and alcoholics is to be loving, but firm. Understanding, but unyielding when it comes to requests for money, lying, stealing or any type of dishonesty. The only thing that should be offered is the one thing which will help them most, drug and alcohol treatment. Pleas for money or shelter or alibis should be met with an offer of professional help. Sometimes this means sounding like a broken record and it isn’t always easy, but the very best thing you can do for the addict or alcoholic you love is get them into the care of professionals who can help them stop the drug and alcohol abuse and begin to get well.
A Few Words About Forgiveness
Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult processes for the family and loved ones in the journey to recovery. Be patient with yourself here as forgiveness takes time, but also know that it is the most important key to healing your relationship with the addict or alcoholic whom you love. Forgiveness is a must if we want to attain closure and move beyond past harms and resentments. It is absolutely essential if you want to begin to heal and undo the damage caused by the wrath of drug and alcohol abuse. As we say in recovery, first things first. The healing needs to begin with the person who is sick. Once they are in the safety of a drug and alcohol treatment program, the family can take a deep breath. At that point the family can work with the patients therapist, or perhaps a therapist of their own. They may also attend one of the support groups for families and loved ones touched by addiction and alcoholism. The two most well-known are AL-ANON and NAR-ANON. These fellowships have helped millions to begin to repair broken relationships devastated by drug and alcohol abuse by teaching how to love without enabling and how to forgive.
Supporting The Recovering Addict & Alcoholic
Once the grip of drug and alcohol abuse has been loosened by professional treatment, the fog begins to clear. The addict will often be in a great hurry to get back into the stream of life. They sometimes have a difficult time understanding why the trust of the people they have hurt seems so hard to come by. They can even become indignant, feeling as if they are still being persecuted unfairly for past wrongs. This will pass, it is a part of early recovery for many of us. The best thing you can do is to remain calm and measured in your responses and unwavering in your commitment to be loving, without enabling. The addict and alcoholic in must rise to the challenge of taking ownership of their own recovery. Remaining clean and sober and repairing the damage they have done over time is their responsibility. They do not have to do it alone, but ultimately their recovery is theirs to attain and sustain. The best way to support them is to let them know that while you may not be ready to forgive and forget everything just yet or trust them with the car keys and checkbook, you are willing to meet them halfway. Carefully allow them opportunities to demonstrate responsibility and trustworthiness and over time everything will begin to fall into place provided they do the work.