Learning to Let Go When You Love an Addict
When you’re in a relationship with an addict, it can seem like an impossibility to separate yourself from the problems. You may convince yourself that it would be irresponsible - that if you’re not right there in the middle to attempt to salvage what’s left of your loved one’s job, reputation, and self-respect, that everything will just crumble around both of you and be destroyed.
Here’s the tough reality - things need to start crumbling around the addict in order for him or her to realize their need for help. I know that you believe you’re doing the right things when you help to save your loved one from losing their job, or going to jail, or saving them from whatever horrific thing is getting ready to happen. But in reality, instead of helping your loved one, you’re attempts may be helping the addiction. You could be making it is easier for the addict to continue drinking or using because the consequences aren’t bad enough to convince him or her to stop.
It can be difficult to let go and allow the addict to face the consequences of their actions. Especially since it can effect your own well-being as much as theirs. You don’t want your life to become more stressful. You don’t want your spouse to lose his or her job and leave you broke. You don’t want to admit to family and friends how bad things have gotten. So you do everything in your power to keep the outside world from finding out.
When it comes to the other people in our lives, especially the addict, we must learn to let go. We can’t make their choices for them. We can’t control what they do, and the more we try, the more out of control our own lives become.
Learning to let go and detach is a process, but you can learn to distance yourself from the troubles of addiction. It is about letting the addict handle their own problems. This does not mean that you stop caring. You can show compassion for the addict without their problems becoming yours, you can listen with a loving ear without taking on their responsibilities, and you can offer guidance without belittling.
Here are five tips for letting to:
1) Every day, do at least one thing just for you. This must be something for pure enjoyment. This doesn’t include things like cleaning the house, or going grocery shopping - even if you believe those things are enjoyable. Here are some suggestions: taking a long warm bath, doing fifteen minutes of meditation, going for a walk, treating yourself to a manicure or pedicure, or visiting a friend who makes you laugh.
2) Avoid feeling sorry for yourself or taking on the victim role. When you find yourself throwing a “pity party”, put an end to it as quickly as possible. Learning to let go is about embracing your own inner strength. This doesn’t mean you hold back from crying when you feel the need. It’s important to release those emotions. Get it out so that you can move on. But if your sadness doesn’t go away, please seek professional help. Depression is a serious medical condition, and you shouldn’t try to deal with it alone.
3) Let your loved one face their own consequences. This does not show a lack of love. On the contrary, it may be the most loving thing you can do. By constantly “protecting’ your loved one, you may be preventing them from ever realizing their need for help.
4) Break free from isolation. Rebuild old friendships and take time to form new ones. Getting involved in healthy activities outside of the addictive environment is crucial to your well-being. An aerobics class, a reading group, church activities - the list goes on and on. Look for opportunities to spend time with people who are positive and leave you feeling good about yourself.
5) Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others when you need assistance, guidance, or a shoulder to cry on. You don’t have to face this battle alone. If you don’t know who to turn to, I suggest visiting an Al-Anon group. This is one of the best forms of support for those of us who are dealing with a loved one’s addiction.
As you move in this new direction, you will find yourself growing more and more confident. You are putting your focus back where it belongs -- on you. You may find that you are not so emotionally attached to the addict anymore. You allow your loved one to make his or her own choices and face their own consequences. It can help to remember that with each mistake the addict makes, they are one step closer to realizing their need for help.
In the meantime, you start making healthy choices for yourself. You are setting a good example for your family. You are focusing on your positive future. You are getting strong - and that is the real purpose of letting go.