For Those of You Who Love an Addict/Alcoholic/Self-Destructive Person

Loving an Addict

No one is ever going to save an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person from themselves.  I don’t know how many people came along in my life and tried to save me while I was in my addiction, but all they got from the relationship was hurt and confusion.  It wasn’t that I was incapable of feeling love, because I definitely loved people (including my two children), but my self-loathing took precedence over everyone and everything.  I could hide behind motherhood, a career and a meaningful relationship for long stretches of time, but seeping out from behind those images I tried so desperately to uphold, was a deeply terrorized person who lived in a state of absolute fear.  If you don’t know what that’s like, then it must be difficult to grasp the behaviors of an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person, because they can be so damn lovable at times, and terribly mean when you least expect it.  That unpredictability is because an addict is a person who behaves according to how good or bad they feel.  If they are feeling high, then you’re the best thing that ever happened to them, but if they are too drunk or going through withdrawal, or needing a drink or drug (or whatever it is that keeps them from feeling the terror within them), then watch out.  Anything you say or do can and will be used against you.

Reasoning with someone who lives their life in a state of fear is like reasoning with a toddler about why they aren’t getting a cookie that’s already in their hand.  It’s impossible.  You aren’t going to get anywhere except frustrated.  Everything an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person does is out of fear.  Nothing takes precedence over their deeply ingrained fear.  There will be times when they seem clear and ready to make a change, but the fear will always override.  The only cure for an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person, is for us to acknowledge our fear and to step directly into it.  We have to do the work ourselves, and many of us are afraid of the work because the fear of facing our demons is overwhelming to a degree that will push us further into our addiction.  This is why the programs of recovery teach us to do things “one day at a time.”  In our addiction, an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person is not capable of seeing things the way a “normal” person sees them.  Instead of seeing a mountain as something you climb one step at a time, we only see the whole of the mountain, and feel like it is an impossible journey.

If you are dealing with an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person, you may say things like, “Well, they don’t drink/use/behave badly all the time, so I don’t know if they are really “an addict” or if they are just having a hard time in life.  That is something my loved ones told themselves, because the thought of me being “an addict” was devastating to them.  People hear that word and they think “hopeless…”  Normal people have a difficult time digesting that label because it sounds like a person is doomed, but it can be alleviating to recognize this trait in someone who has been abusive and unpredictable, because it gives definition to their strange and hurtful behaviors.  Your alcoholic/addict/self-destructive loved one’s fear is like a boulder chained around their neck.  Sometimes they have slack in the chain, but eventually it is going to take them down.  It is only a matter of time.  Although the chain and boulder is not who they truly are, no amount of love, reason or chivalry will unlock that chain.  The addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person is the only one who holds the key.  Helping them out of their addiction is an impossible feat, and it will strip you of your own self-worth.

Loving an addict is like throwing a valuable coin into a well and hoping your wish comes true.  The value in the coin doesn’t guarantee a wish coming true. Your love cannot reach the bottom of the addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person’s fear.  The only way they can move through the fear is to recognize it for themselves, and to be willing to walk through it.  The willingness has to come from a place deep within themselves.  Sometimes it takes several years and many rock bottoms for an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person to become willing.  For me, it took me realizing that I could never die drinking, so I inadvertently decided that I wanted to live my life on the opposite end of the spectrum.  It was my own personal awakening.  No one who tried to save me ever got very far.  I was drowning in my fear of life, and my dread of feeling anything other than high.  I had no idea at the time, that my emotions were temporary and beautiful (like the seasons).  I thought everything I felt (the misery) was eternal, and this is the delusion that kept me drinking and using for eighteen years.  I had to lose everything in order to realize no matter what I went through, and how difficult life was, that I would not disappear. When I was still alive and well, during the great losses of my life, I finally understood how valuable I truly was. Prior to that, no one could love me to that degree of understanding. You cannot love someone to a place of ultimate recovery.  You simply have to know that your loved one is in a state of fear, and it is impossible for them to accept love when love is the furthest thing from fear.

If you can grasp the way an addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person is, the hurtful things they do and their strange behaviors will make more sense to you.  I know it’s difficult, because when one of us shines, we are brighter than most, and our loved ones recognize that there is more to us than the self-loathing, but that fear will always seep through the cracks of the images we so desperately try to uphold (whether that be a relationship, a job, or our vanity).  The fear blinds us from ourselves, but the one thing you have to know is that we are not hopeless.  We have the key to our own recovery.  Many people can and do recover from this affliction, but no one recovers because someone loved them to the doors of AA, or into treatment.  A person who is living in fear cannot be moved from the outside in.  It has to come from within.

If you love someone who is struggling in their addiction, and you’ve discovered yourself feeling lost, confused and yearning for their love – you are not alone.  Those of us who are afflicted with alcoholism/addiction/self-loathing are some of the brightest people around, who simply do not know how to balance in life.  We are loveable.  We are the kind of people that want to change the world, yet we feel so small in the grand scheme of things.  We cannot see that the only thing we need to change, is ourselves.  We see the mountain, rather than the small steps it take to get to the top.  We have a different perspective than you is all, but in order for us to change our perspective, we have to be willing.  The best thing you can do for yourself is to let go of that person who is struggling with their alcoholism/addiction/self-loathing and love them enough to let them find their way.  Letting go is like having unconditional love for that person and not expecting anything in return.  It sounds awful (kind of like recovery sounds to the addict), but it will set you free.  Letting go doesn’t mean you are giving up on them.  It simply means that you are in acceptance of their affliction, which takes precedence over everything.

Nobody enjoys feeling vulnerable, which is where loving an addict will take you very quickly, but vulnerability is a place of surrender, and surrender is the beginning to your own healing. Acceptance and surrender isn’t only for an addict in recovery like me. It is for anyone and everyone who wants to experience the fullness of their life. It is essential. So when it is all said and done, be grateful to the addict/alcoholic/self-destructive person in your life who brought you to this place of vulnerability. For they have unknowingly offered you a beautiful gift.

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