I want to begin a discussion, then again maybe I don’t. After all is there truly such thing as beginning a discussion with one’s self? Probably not and I am not going to spend the next fifteen to twenty minutes pondering my mind for an answer. However, what I do want to discuss or at least acknowledge the facts to are a lot more complex than one would think; loving an active addict who refuses treatment. This doesn’t just apply to a spouse/lover, but also a family member or close friend. The reason why I think this is relevant and crucial to discuss is because addiction doesn’t just hurt the addict, it hurts their loved ones as well. That being said a lot has happened to me over the course of several months that have left me stressed and emotionally drained to the point I had to step away from those situations and focus on myself. I will bring up two real events then go farther into depth and explanation after about the things I’ve learned on a personal level.
For a brief time I was dating an active addict who I thought was in recovery, but later discovered he lied to me about his clean time. Originally he told me had eight months clean, but then that changed to only a few months which I later learned was his own personal translation for relapsing. He was not in recovery and though fully acknowledged he was an addict still participated in various addictive behaviors revolving around substances. This took a strain on our relationship and his mental health as he did suffer from bipolar disorder and refused treatment for that as well. The sad part of this whole situation was he had full access to treatment not only for his opiate addiction, but his mental illness as well. Thoughout our relationship I felt emotionally abused and absolutely frightened. Things began to spiral out of control when he was intoxicated on a regular basis and ended up stealing my medication. I confronted him on this and he immediately began to use his drug addiction/mental condition as an excuse and blamed me. “I am an addict you should hide your things better I can’t help myself and you should know that.” At that point I felt awful and blamed myself thinking it truly was all my fault and caused my boyfriend to abuse my medication. Sadly it did not end there, the relationship spun out of control and I felt as if I could no longer trust him. Resentment built a castle in my stomach as his behavior worsened and eventually the relationship was put to an end. However this wasn’t the final straw as he began to constantly harrass me with angry threatening voicemails. This behavior went on for two whole months and half the time his extreme drinking or drug use would cause him to have these episodes to the point his behavior would become out of control. He eventually told me that I made him use and that he was injecting heroin right in my bathroom. In the end this whole situation took alot from me and although I felt I couldn’t walk away, I did.
The second situation hits a little harder so to speak as it revolves around my best friend’s alcohol and drug addiction. We’ve been together through thick and thin and have known each other our whole lives. She was there for me through all my difficult times and when she began to struggle with addiction I thought it only made sense to be there for my best friend. The only difference is her difficult times became my difficult times. When my friend finally went into rehab I was so proud of her. I was convinced that in the long run this would fix everything and she’d be okay. However, this is not the case even though in rehab she was clean, telling me how happy she was and so forth things changed when she came home. At first it wasn’t major until she said “hey it’s okay if we go have a drink. It’s fine if it’s only wine or beer.” This deeply confused me because I personally thought a bar/any place serving alcohol would be a huge fat “hell no” and that drinking in general was off limits for obvious reasons. At first I was very uncomfortable with the whole idea, but eventually came around and she seemed okay. This was only the calm before the storm as close friends of hers began to tell me she was using drugs again and how she is going to the bar at least three times a day even during her work shift. This completely frightened me and I began to notice how out of control she was when I literally had to tell the bar tender to no longer serve her and then had to practically carry her up her porch steps. Soon every time we would go out, she needed to go to a bar. Even if we were just casually shopping it would later turn into a bar. I would try to keep her away as long as possible. I even told her I didn’t think it was a good idea, but I missed my friend and wanted to see her so we could catch up on lost time. Eventually, I became annoyed; I didn’t want to put up with her behavior anymore and confronted her about the issue in a calm subtle way. This lead to a heart breaking discussion about her going back into treatment and family issues. We continued to walk back to her mother’s art studio and although my friend’s face was a little blotchy she calmed down and sobered up. However when we arrived her mother was the complete opposite and her medication when intoxicated made her very hostile and aggressive. I watched her and my best friend argue, except it was more so her mother screaming at her and threatening her. I was so scared I debated on calling the cops, but refrained. However things went from bad to worse as she then began to blame me and state this was my fault even though she takes her daughter drinking on a regular basis. I should have not engaged with her, but eventually did when she began to accuse me of selling her daughter drugs and the reason her daughter has so many issues. I was dumb founded and completely confused. I tried to remain calm and the conversation ended when she said, “I no longer want you to see my daughter” after I said, “your daughter has an alcohol and drug problem she needs more help.” That night I said goodbye to my best friend, but continued to stay in active touch with her and genuinely thought she would improve. This was not the case as a week later she contacted me stating she was drunk and needed a ride home. I told her no and in a sense that ended our conversation. Our friendship in my mind altered and I just felt so much stress, guilt and sadness that I gradually kept my distance as my work schedule became much more hectic. When I moved in with a close friend/now boyfriend she reached out and asked if I needed help moving. I politely decline and told her with my schedule its just so hectic and thanked her. In reality I did not want her knowing where I lived because it was a 20 minute walk from her favorite bar and did not want her to think it would be acceptable to sleep off her drunken nights at my house. I later discussed this with my therapist and we both agreed that the decision I made was the best choice for me. As although she is clean from drugs, she still actively drinks and it’s not something I want to be held accountable for.
With that being said throughout both these situations I’ve learned alot from them.
- You can not save or change an addict. Ultimately it is there choice to change.
- You can not make an addict recover, they choose to.
- You are not selfish if you want to continue living your life or want to take care of yourself.
- You are not a horrible person if you make the decision to take a step back from the relationship because emotionally it is draining.
- You are under no obligation to stay with the loved one if you two are in a relationship, they are not your responsibility.
- You are not responsible for the choices they make. Do not blame yourself.
- It’s okay to change the locks on your door, hide your things or even ask your loved one to not come over until they are clean and sober for however long. Ideally this may be helpful in the long run if you are a parent or live with others and do not want to expose younger children to this behavior. Yes there is concern if the loved one will use drugs in the house, anything can happen and you should not become a liability.
- You can say no to allowing them to spend the night or giving them money. If you’re worried about your loved one using your money on substances/dangerous things then saying no is crucial. If they need groceries/food etc offer to buy them.
- Do not offer to pick them up from the bar, dealer’s house, jail/police station or buy them alcohol/substances. Do not let your house become a “crash pad” for them to sleep off their drunken nights or drug binges. These things are not your responsibility. In a sense this is enabling behavior. It’s showing them that they can do these things and you’ll be there to bail them out/help continue their destructive path.
- Yes your loved one may try to manipulate or lie to you. If in contact it may be best to keep the conversation short and sweet and end it with reminding them how much you love them etc.
- Alanon and Narnon meetings may become your best allies along with a therapist or other support groups.
- Don’t be afraid to encourage recovery especially once they are out of a treatment facility. Offer company to meetings, go out to lunch at places that do not serve alcohol.
- Do not mention drugs or alcohol let alone parties or concerts that are known for this. Face it no addict wants to know about how “fucked up” everyone was at a party they could not be at.
- Telling your loved one “hmm I don’t think doing that is a good idea,” and being honest can be helpful.
- Do not continuously tell them how mad you are at them or how much they hurt you or continuously attempt to make them feel bad. They know and hopefully will make amends to you when they’re ready.
- Do not expect your loved one to not struggle. There is no cure to this. It is a life long condition, offer patience, but also boundaries. You can love someone from a distance if need be.
- Do not just cut your loved one off with no explanation and ignore them. Tell them that you feel it may be in your best interest for there to be distance between you two for the time being as you are going through alot and it’s overwhelming.
- Do not believe in things such as “oh I’m cured now,” “I’ll never do it again,” “I can drink/use this because it was not my substance of choice,” “it was just a slip and won’t happen again,” etc. These phrases are troublesome.
- If you are a parent to an addict and your child lives at your house you can take action and set limits. Stating there will be no drug use in the house and any drugs found will be confiscated immediately along with either going back into a treatment program or kindly leaving the premises. Ideally this is easier said then done, but when your child is 18+ you really can not force them to do anything, but you can make it clear that drug use will not be going on in your house and that you will not enable this behavior by giving them money or dropping them off at bars and so forth. It is your house and you can set a curfew along with not supply them with money. Saying “if you need groceries, toiletries/necessities I will pay for them. Just make a list or come to the store with me.” -Refer to #8.
- You are not a horrible person or mean if you set boundaries your loved one doesn’t like. These are your boundaries and limits if they cross them that is not your fault.
- Hold them accountable for their actions without placing guilt. Yes they have an addiction but they can choose if they want to get help or not. They are responsible for their behavior just as they are for their recovery; you nor anyone else is responsible for what they choose to do.
- Do not hold others accountable for your loved one’s decisions. Just as you are not to blame, neither are others. The huge issue that occurred with my friend’s mom and I was the blame placed on me. She not only blamed others for her daughter’s addiction and problems, but also expected me along with others to keep her daughter clean and sober. When ideally her daughter is an adult and although I offered support and told her that she can reach me anytime this was not going to keep her away from substances if she didn’t want to be. No one can control your loved one and don’t be shocked if your loved one is also manipulating and lying to their friends, spouse or other family members as well. I did not know until later that on multiple occasions both my boyfriend and my best friend behaved this way.
- Saying things like “look I love you, but this is hurting me too and I need time. I know you know this behavior isn’t okay, so I just don’t want to enable it” can really come in handy and are ways to put your foot down in a non agressive/hostile manner.
- Talk, talk, talk it out with others (as mentioned prior) and take time to treat yourself and show yourself love, you need it!
- This is crucial: you can address the addiction even if you are a recovering addict/in recovery. I did not address my friend’s issues because I felt I would be seen as hypocritical. I did not set boundaries because I didn’t want her to think I felt like I was above her. I thought it wouldn’t be fair for me to say something because I went through a difficult time and struggled with substance/alcohol abuse several years ago. However I got help and I actively see a therapist and developed a relapse prevention plan with my therapist. I should not be ashamed of feeling this way and I have a right to talk about my feelings and concerns about my friend’s well being. I also have a right to look out for myself and my well being and do what is best for MY mental health and recovery even if that means keeping my distance. You have that same right as well.