Step right up, folks! It’s the scariest coaster in the park. Enter if you dare. And mark my words–by the time it’s over, you won’t know up from down!
You are in love with an addict and, as a result, have been issued admission to the ride of your life. You will experience every terrifying dip and turn–fully aware that someone (or something) else is at the controls.
But I’m not here to confirm what you already know. You’ve likely memorized the script at this point, and can recite the lies and arguments and seductive apologies verbatim. I’m here to tell you that there is hope–not just for you, but for the addict that you love.
Consider these Do’s and Don’ts as you assess your relationship with an addict:
DON’T be an enabler.
I don’t believe anyone wakes up thinking, “I want to enable my loved one’s addiction today.” But it happens, nonetheless. When we love someone, it’s gut-wrenching to see them hurting. And when an addict needs a fix, it’s painful. Giving money, drugs, and alcohol to your loved one not only perpetuates the abuse cycle, but also tethers them to you for all the wrong reasons.
DON’T internalize your feelings.
If you stifle the pain, it will surface at the most unproductive times. You’re forcing air into a balloon that’s at capacity, and it will likely pop during a disagreement or a particularly low moment for your loved one. Identify productive times to share how you are feeling and avoid language that revolves around blame.
DON’T assume that there isn’t hope.
Countless couples have survived the horrors of addiction. Seek these stories out and apply the suggested principles to your own relationship. You’ll quickly discover that the presence of open communication, a proactive support network, and utilization of local resources are key to recovery.
DON’T stay if you are going down with the ship.
If you’ve exhausted the resources and sense that your loved one simply isn’t receptive to help–save yourself. While you can play an active role in encouraging your loved one to seek treatment, you must put your own physical and emotional survival first. Know your limits and grab on to the life raft when necessary.
DON’T allow dysfunction to become a comfort zone.
By nature, humans gravitate toward routine. If chaos and discord are the norm, there can be a bizarre comfort in that. Addicts are needy. We all like to feel needed. But if we are entangled in a relationship with an addict, we may begin to misconstrue toxicity as normalcy.
DO put your well-being first.
By embracing a healthy self-care routine, you meet your own needs while modeling an alternative lifestyle to the addict you love. All too often, the loved ones of addicts adopt a “When in Rome,” attitude in regards to the situation. By abusing substances with your loved one or by disengaging from your own healthy habits, you are cementing yourself to the endless roller coaster ride.
DO create a life outside of the dysfunction.
Whether it’s your professional network, an exercise group, or a circle of healthy friends, you need a sense of normalcy. Having these healthy social outlets will keep you anchored to the real world. They will also provide you with the sense that your life does not end if your relationship has to.
DO seek out people in similar situations.
Your feelings of guilt, shame, and anger are actually quite common. Establishing a support system of others who have been in your shoes might prove the catalyst you’ve been seeking. Here is a list of resources that offer online support options. Another resource is Alanon, which offers face-to-face support to the loved ones of addicts.
DO know your options.
You’ve reached a point where your toxic relationship cannot continue, but aren’t sure where to turn. In addition to support groups, you can enlist guidance from a local addiction specialist. Many therapists are certified in substance abuse treatment and can connect you and your loved one to the most appropriate resources. In the event that you’re considering a family intervention, an appropriate treatment provider can guide you in that process.
DO utilize your power.
While life with an addict often leads to a sense of helplessness, you do have control of some things. Recognizing that your own life and well-being are still in your hands can be critical in the change process. Yes it’s true, as long as you are in the relationship with the addict, you will experience the inevitable highs and lows of their roller coaster. But you do have the ability to intervene when the peaks and valleys grow to extremes. You do get to set boundaries and decide when it’s time for a smoother ride.
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), sobriety coach, former alcohol enthusiast, and writer living in Florida.