How do you help someone help themselves? It’s one of the most painful things in the world to watch someone you love suffer from a deadly addiction. Especially when you’re standing by, ready and more than willing to help them. You try everything: love, tough love, threats, even bargaining, but the truth is there’s nothing you can do to force someone to be better. They have to do the work for themselves, and they have to want to do it. As painful as that is, real change has to come from inside that person.
So what are we meant to do? Stand by and do nothing? Of course not, but in order to do anything in the right direction, first and foremost you have to learn the proper way to take care of yourself. Addiction is a disease that creates its own unfair game, holding everyone that loves the addict hostage. “If I say yes, they continue to hurt themselves and me. If I say no, I will lose them from my life.” It’s the ultimate catch-22 and there’s no winning unless you have your grounding. Navigating something like this means staying emotionally strong and maintaining self-protective sanity.
Addiction problems are deep-rooted and often come from untreated trauma: when a person goes through something mentally intolerable it causes them to self-medicate. Often trauma goes hand-in-hand with low self worth; another source of addiction. When a child experiences trauma inflicted by one that is meant to be trusted, they will believe that it’s a result of their behavior or actions. Meaning a child will feel they are not good, because they have not been treated with love. When these children grow into adults their vices are a temporary relief from this old pain, a pain so deep and pervasive that it takes a lot of self-work to unearth.
If you find yourself constantly struggling to give someone the cure to their vice, you have to accept that this is out of your control. You can love them and voice your support for their health, but you cannot will them to change. The problem will take work on the part of that person, and it won’t happen over night. The hardest part of addiction of any form, is that sometimes for a person to truly confront their problem, something outside of them has to force them to confront it: a bright shining mirror that hits them hard enough to remember who they were and what their life is worth. There are few forms this mirror can take besides a near-death experience or an experience that takes them to rock-bottom: their problem brought to life in ultimate form. A “forced” mirror can take the form of an intervention: done with the help of a professional and fully-committed loved ones, a severance of support can force them to confront their problem and how it has hurt those around them in full force.
It’s a double-whammy because you feel the imminence of losing that person so every moment is by definition, precious. But this does not change the necessity of protecting yourself. Whether it’s a therapist, a psychiatrist, or attending a related support group, don’t take your mental health for granted and don’t place yourself in a position where you are forced to endure pain. As you proceed, try not to feel that any actions you decide to take based on your situation are unloving. The fact that you are searching so hard for an answer is loving and brave. With the right kind of support you can set up a relationship that prevents you from causing injury to yourself, and you can begin to properly help that other person. The love of family and friends can help to show a person that they want to change, but that love must come in the right form. It must not enable the vice: the monster: the disease. It must contradict it and illuminate the alternative.
It can be off-putting to have to deal with this subject matter because it means acknowledging a very icky truth, but you’d be amazed at what happens when you start listening for the right answers. Life can do a 180 right before your eyes. Have hope, always.
Featured image: Harry Houdini, License All rights reserved by Skirball Cultural Center on Flickr