Many of us have a strong desire to rescue those we love most, despite the damage it does to us in the process. However, loving someone with an addiction can be emotionally, spiritually and even physically painful. How can you start to let go of an alcoholic?
We review here. Then, we invite your feedback about facing addiction in the family or with friends at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all comments with a personal reply.
The alcoholic knows best
Any substance we use to numb the pain can take a toll on our lives and the lives around us. I know from experience. My father and mother both dealt with their own addictions; one was a substance addiction while the other had more obsessive tendencies.
But no one can honestly express an alcoholic state of mind and the suffering involved quite like an alcoholic themselves. For this reason, I asked my father to give me a personal testimony in the epilogue of my book: The Journey Principles Book.
During our talk, he asked me to share a few key points that he holds dear. We will quickly notice how the voice of a former alcoholic can give us incite, change our perception, and help us to support them (without participating in any of these examples of enabling behaviors). After over thirty years of alcoholism, my father has now been sober just as long.
5 Key admissions from a former alcoholic
So what are some of the secrets to really helping an addict or alcoholic? First know this:
“It’s them, not you.”
My father has shared with me that he often spent time moving the attention from himself by putting it back on those he loved. It was their fault that things weren’t going well, not his. But this belief is false.
“It was me,” he tells me now, “and there is no reason someone who loved me should have ever taken on my disease as their personal self-esteem. Don’t for one second believe there was any help, love, person or system that could make a difference until I wanted it for my own reasons…someone can love, yell or scream and to me none of it mattered until I decided it did.”
1. You gotta acknowledge the term.
An alcoholic must realize they are an alcoholic before they can accept any true help. Loving them from a place of active addiction is difficult; it hurts because we want to do more, but we must love them at a distance and have firm boundaries of our own.
2. Alcoholics will lie.
People struggling with addiction lie not to intentionally hurt others but because their desire for the substance is stronger than anything else. Please keep in mind they are lying to themselves far more than they are lying to us. Know that without honesty about what’s really going on, NO other steps can be made! Alcoholics live in a world where alcohol is like food. How long could any of us go without food before we began to lie, cheat and steal to survive?
3. Don’t bail them out!
My father shared that the reason it took him so long to face his alcoholism was because he could easily manipulate others to bail him out. The “bailout” allows more time to pass without having to face the issue. When we choose to bail addicts out, we are choosing to let them continue the destructive behavior.
Rock bottom is where the light of Jesus steps in. Sometimes I wish people would have let me get there sooner so I could find him quicker. At the same time, some don’t make it back because of their own choices, not the choices of their loved ones.
4. Tough love is mandatory.
You cannot expect change until its desired; change will never work by force of your own wishes because an alcoholic’s desire for change is required. Instead, you can control how you react. However, expect backlash. An alcoholic will say and do hurtful things. When we begin to set positive boundaries, we will hear and see an alcoholic do things that are not really meant for us; instead, it’s a force of projection.
5. Your loved one is choosing alcoholism
“We as alcoholics are there for one reason and one reason only,” my father told me. “We choose to be! Knowing this could free up someone who loves someone who struggles.”
When someone you love struggles with addiction, it is vital to remember that they handle their own mistakes. It can be upsetting to watch a loved one make poor choices, but getting caught in the crossfires will only cause more pain. Love them enough to let them hit rock bottom; they may just thank you for it later.