I’m returning once more to the issue of living with a friend or family member who is struggling with addiction. First, let me thank again those of you who take the time to read these posts and/or comment. It means a lot to me and I am very touched by what I read. It drives home to me yet again how devastating it is to watch a loved one self-destruct, and to live with the insanity of addiction.
A few readers have pointed out that alcoholism affects everyone close to the one who drinks. As Jason C. wisely stated, “It’s nice to think that it’s not your problem. However, if you live with a secret drinker…their alcoholism will cause you problems indirectly eventually.” Or, as Kevin B. said, “There is no running away from alcoholism in your family.” However, not everyone saw it this say. One writer asked, “I don’t see why their partner needs to acknowledge the elephant in the room if they don’t want to.”
Living with alcoholism or addiction creates a no win situation for everyone. Partners or family members may opt for an “ostrich” approach, burying their head in the sand with the idea that “it’s not my life, it’s theirs” – but that can only work for so long. Ignoring or pretending that addiction “just isn’t there” or “isn’t that bad” is, unfortunately, a form of denial. It may work for a little while, until the day the you-know-what hits the fan (again) and the mental blinders are mercilessly smashed. (Ever notice that addiction and drama seem joined at the hip?)
The reverse of “the ostrich” is, of course, to never let the person out of your sight. But constant monitoring and “surveillance work” creates its own insanity, since no amount of control is ever enough. No matter how many bottles you check, or curfews you monitor, or bank accounts, or emails, or social sites (Facebook or Myspace), there’s always something you’re going to miss – and be stuck with a big fat resentment. Plus, the effort itself is draining and demoralizing.
You may be thinking, if you happen to be in this kind of painful situation, “So what am I supposed to do? Give up?” No. There is a lot you can do – for yourself. Follow me. Why do people either rationalize/pretend/deny on the one hand, or control/monitor on the other? One might say, “Because the addictive patterns are overwhelming.” In any event, we can agree that the denial/control type of behaviors are reactions to addiction.
But not only to the addiction. They are also reactions to the partner or family member’s own difficult feelings – such as rage, sadness, guilt, shame and so forth. The thinking, logically enough, is that “if I can get the addicted person to stop, the chaos and drama will stop, and I’ll feel better.” Who doesn’t want to feel better?
Thus the problem seems to lie “out there”…though those very distressing feelings are “in here”. And trying only to change something external to help the internal is a recipe for misery — especially when one is powerless over the addiction. Notice I said “only”. If you’re in the near vicinity of someone needlessly shouting, you ask them to stop. But if they won’t, you have to take care of yourself and go to plan B.
If you live with someone who is addicted, and can somehow intervene effectively, that is terrific. Sometimes this happens. But in many cases, there is very little – if anything – that loved ones can do. (This in itself creates distress.) Nothing may cajole, persuade or force the addicted person to stop, but something must be done. And very often that something means getting support for one’s own emotional trauma and distress. It’s a little like the safety instructions on an airplane: you need to help yourself before you can help the person next to you.
If you’d like help, but don’t know where to start, try asking your doctor, or local therapists, psychiatrists, hospitals, treatment centers, and so forth, about local resources. You can even email a therapist on this very website! Try not to make major decisions about interventions, divorce, legal situations, etc., on your own. Talk to someone with experience. Get support. Trying to figure it out by yourself only leads to more hurt and heartache, and that awful lonely feeling that is so hard to shake. You’d be surprised what’s out there – even online, if local resources are scarce.
I urge you to seek help, if any of this applies to you. It’s the most caring thing you can do for all involved.
© Copyright 2011 by By Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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