No matter how much we want someone to stop using drugs or alcohol we cannot force them to change. No amount of meditation, prayer, yelling, wishing, visiting a voodoo shaman or purchasing a magic potion off the internet will cause someone to wake up one morning and just decide to be sober and follow through. Change must come from the addicted person
We can engage in patterns of behavior that may seem helpful, but actually undermine recovery. The following four behaviors are common missteps we see:
Co-Dependency involves placing a lower priority on your own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. It has roots in caring, but it is caring gone wrong. It robs the other person of independence and experiencing consequences – both positive and negative. It sucks time and energy from our mental health, relationships and pursuits.
A common example of co-dependent behavior in this context is a person who constantly re-arranges their personal schedule to accommodate a loved one’s schedule. They do this to ease their own mind, as though the stress of an addict managing their own life would cause them to relapse. The message of co-dependency is either: 1) we don’t believe you are able to do it on your own, or 2) we don’t trust you to do it on your own.
Enabling is doing for others what they can do for themselves. It perpetuates unhealthy behaviors, as the addicted person never has to experience the negative consequences.
Some examples of enabling include: your husband gets a DUI and goes to jail. Do you bail him out? Do you rescue him from the consequences of his behavior?
Your child steals money to pay for their habit. What do you do? Do you gloss over it or cover the overdraft expenses? Or do you talk to your child about their options; which can include getting treatment or calling the police? And then follow through with your decision – no matter how frightening it may be to you.
The message of enabling is similar to co-dependency – we don’t think you are capable to do for yourself or we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t do it for you.
3. Unhealthy Boundaries
While someone is active in their addiction setting a boundary is likely to elicit a strong emotional reaction. The resulting behavior is often acting out which can include emotional outbursts, threats, saying hurtful things and sometimes even physical violence (more likely if violence was already an issue in the relationship).
When an addicted person wants to be healthy and work on their sobriety, they may not like boundaries, but they understand the purpose of them.
Knowing when to set limits, say no and put yourself first is difficult. It is as much art as science, you will make mistakes and it is ok because you are not responsible for the other person’s response. Setting healthy boundaries suggests a need to be selfish – not in the sense we normally think about, where a selfish person does not care about others – rather, it is about self-care and putting the oxygen mask on yourself first and then the other person. If you do not have the ability to breathe and make calm decisions you cannot help yourself or others.
4. Fear-Driven Decisions
Fear is powerful and has a purpose, but if it is the driving factor in how you make decisions regarding your loved one struggling with addiction, chances are you are unintentionally feeding the addiction.
Over the years I have seen many examples of family members making fear-driven decisions. These decisions can include scenarios such as allowing a loved one who is high to be in your home, going out and buying drugs/alcohol for a loved one, submitting to unreasonable requests that are truly just veiled threats or manipulations, etc. The fear is about what may happen to the addicted person if we don’t do what they ask. We are more concerned about what may happen in the short term if we don’t accommodate their request, rather than being focused on healthy behaviors that will support sobriety.
The good news is we can change these behaviors. It can feel overwhelming and scary, but education and support can guide you in creating healthy behaviors that support recovery.
If you feel like any of this discussion describes a situation you or someone you know is experiencing, we can help. Please call or visit us online at www.southvalleytherapy.com or email us at [email protected].
Misty & Chris