1. Accept that you are in a difficult situation while still affirming your intention to be their best chance for choosing and/or sustaining recovery.
As difficult as it is to love someone who suffers from SUD, (Substance-use–disorder), ‘acceptance’, is always the first action to take and is the best choice. Or, you can judge and criticize your loved one, but that will likely make you feel tense, lonely and miserable, while making them feel the need to run to comfort. For them comfort is the substance of their choice. Our goal is to become a source of comfort while still advocating for their recovery. Although this can’t happen until you accept their disease and choose to get calm and educated about your own recovery and their addiction so you can be their best chance.
How it works is that the quality of your connection with them determines the level of influence you have over their choices. This might seem counterintuitive at first look, but instead of yelling, screaming, shaming, and blaming, your best choice is to accept that they are struggling. Then, work on finding your inner calm through a mindfulness practice, or through prayer or meditation and begin to use communication tools to create positive interactions.
Alternately, you could nurse your anxiety and despair that you’ll never be able to control their usage, which will make you feel stressed, overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless and sad. Or, you can deny their addiction and pretend that it isn’t bothering you. You could also out of ignorance assume you are just dealing with bad behavior and stupid choices, which is what I did. And as a result, I detached emotionally, pushed my 2 IV heroin using daughters away with angry words and threats I did not intend to keep, blocked their texts and emails, kicked them out of the house and tried to avoid them.
These are all tactics that we as family members often resort to before we understand how our own recovery impacts our well-being and can help our loved ones choose recovery/ and or to sustain recovery. Ironically, these tactics will allow the challenges in the relationship and those resulting from your loved one’s addiction to further embed themselves into your psyche and hurt you and your loved one.
What does work is to accept that your life and relationship with your loved one is super hard, and decide that you are going to make it less hard by shifting perception about what you’re dealing with and how to respond in the most healthy and helpful way.
This gentle acceptance does not mean that you are resigned to a life of misery, or that the situation won’t change and can never get better. Maybe it will—and maybe it won’t. Accepting the reality and difficulty of loving your loved one as they are, whether or not they are in recovery, in treatment or early recovery, allows us to soften. This softening will begin to melt the walls that have been built up using the old tactics mentioned above because both you and your loved one will feel the impact of your compassion and wisdom opening the door. Compassion and wisdom are needed for your recovery process and for regaining a healthy connection with your loved one.
- Your loved one may tell you that you are the cause of all their using or the negative consequences that have resulted from their using.
This isn’t true. You did not cause their addiction or substance use disorder, nor the consequences of it in their life or your families. Accepting that you caused it in any way takes the away the opportunity for them to accept responsibility for it themselves. Being accountable is vital in any stage of recovery.
Get informed about how the brain changes when substances are used. Even after only a few times using the substance, their brain can be hijacked by addiction. There is a great book on this called, “The Craving Brain” by, Ronald A. Rudin
- Tell the Truth
When you aren’t truthful with your loved one, (perhaps to avoid confrontation) you become complicit in the creation and maintenance of their reality, which is poisonous to you both.
For example, they might ask you why you didn’t invite them to a family party. You can easily say that it was a mistake that they didn’t get the Evite, and suggest that they should check their “spam” folder.
Not being 100% truthful is very stressful for us, maybe the most stressful thing. Lie detectors don’t detect lies. They detect the subconscious fear and stress that it causes. Avoiding full transparency and truth about what you’re seeing, feeling and doing, will not make the situation less damaging to your inner peace or help their recovery.
Instead, tell the truth, be transparent, for your own well-being as well as theirs. Be sure to tell them the facts instead of your judgments, opinions, or other peoples. Don’t say “I didn’t invite you because it would stress your sister out too much to have you there” or, “I didn’t invite you because you’re an addict and you’d probably show up high and ruin the party for everyone. “
Instead, tell them your truth: “When you’re using, I feel uncomfortable, anxious, jittery and I can’t relax, so I didn’t invite you.” And follow that with a truthful, loving statement such as, “there is nothing more I would like than to have you in my home and be a part of family gatherings, but until you’re ready to stop using or get into treatment, this is how I choose to take care of myself.” This is a gentle way to set boundaries which protect our feelings and fulfill our needs. Remember your tone of voice is crucial to delivering these hard to hear but truthful concerns or boundaries with your loved one. It takes courage to tell the truth, because it can make people angry and start flooding emotionally. They may not like the new, truth-telling you, but if you deliver the truth in a gentle tone, almost as if you were cooing an infant, keep an honest expression on your face, keep your body language non-confrontational, it will likely go under the radar of their defensiveness and allow them to hear the truth in a way that will touch their heart instead of throwing them into an emotionally charged reaction and giving them an excuse to run and use.
- If you feel angry or afraid, bring your attention to your breath and do not speak (or write) to your loved one until you feel calm, or get some coaching from a family recovery coach or therapist. It’s normal to want to defend yourself, but remember that anger and anxiety weaken you and your connection with your loved one. Trust that soothing yourself is the only effective thing you can do right now. If you need to excuse yourself from a difficult situation or conversation, go ahead and step out and get calm. Even if it feels embarrassing or it leaves people hanging. It’s crucial for your wellbeing and that of your relationship with your loved one to keep calm, build a closer connection and become their best chance for recovery.
- Have Mercy
Anne Lamott defines mercy as “radical kindness bolstered by forgiveness”, and it allows us to alter communication dynamics, even when we are interacting with someone under the influence. You can change your negative thoughts about them by becoming more educated and compassionate about their craving brain, addiction and SUD’s. You can’t change them, but you can try to be a loving person and this does contribute to a better connection with them. Again, the greatest tool we have to influence anyone to choose recovery or sustain it, is based on the quality of our connection with them. Can you have compassion for their suffering? Can you practice a loving-kindness meditation?
Forgiveness takes kindness to a whole new level. I used to think I couldn’t really forgive someone until they’d asked for forgiveness.
What I’ve learned is that we must forgive whether or not we’re asked for forgiveness, in order to heal ourselves, whether or not the our loved one is still hurting us. When we do, we feel happier and more peaceful. Sometimes you might need to forgive your loved one every night before you go to bed, even on bad days, sometimes every hour. Forgiveness is an ongoing practice, not a one-time deal.
When we show mercy to our loved one who has cost us unbearable pain, inner peace, money, sleep and so much more, something miraculous happens, a new point of view that can make us feel calm and loving again and melt down walls that imprison not just our loved ones but ourselves and others as well.
When we live from radical kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance—and when we tell the truth in even the most difficult times—we start to soften and feel inner peace and joy again. We can love and forgive and accept even the most terrible aspects of our own being as well as our loved one, and this makes us feel free.
For more information on how to get your sanity back, improve your connection with your using loved one and be your loved one’s best chance at recovery, call us now, (424)203-4569.