It’s dicey, I’m not gonna lie. Loving an addict takes knowledge, skill, courage, and a healthy dose of clarity. Loving an addict is understandable too, since they are by and large charismatic, full of a life force that emanates undeniably! Many addicts are significantly accomplished, creative, and intelligent. They are straight up lovable people. Addicts don’t just crave that which destroys them; ultimately, they crave everything. They crave knowing the very essence of your soul and that which will fill the tiny crevices of their being. They can be quite…magical. If you are like me, you are drawn to addicts like a moth to the flame.
An addict will only find peace when they learn to seek that which brings life instead of that which brings death. But, statistically, most never do. According to American Addiction Centers, almost 20 million Americans struggle with substance addiction, influenced by genetics, environment and culture. Addicts present a risk and the Center for Disease Control suggests that only 10% of them will seek help in their lifetimes. Even if an addict recovers for over a year, they will always hold the potential for relapse. Many addicts underestimate the work needed for lifelong recovery, and the mental power of their addiction literally works against them as soon as they retreat from that work. The numbers for lifelong success are ambiguous due to lack of long term studies beyond the first year, but it is agreed the numbers of success are quite low, even below 20% of those 10% who do seek help.
Shall we then remonstrate the addicts? Cast them off for our own survival? Well. It is not that simple, is it? Some addicts are family, for one. Some are not living in addiction until long after we fall for them. Others may show signs, even extended periods of respite from their fantastic capacity for destruction. Hope surfaces. We try to love them some more.
Also, there is the keen awareness that some recover for life, and carry on superbly. This is the possibility, and that very possibility can carry us for years.
Therefore, it is important that we understand some basic tenets of how to love an addict, which is known to a very small portion of people in the world. It requires something that seems to be secret information to the world at large, and it is so simple that it is almost insane. Simple, but not easy.
The true secret to loving an addict is to Know Thyself and to Love Thyself, to know what you are, separate from them, and to know where your boundaries lie. To know where they end and you begin. To be capable of effectively loving an addict is to hold them loosely, and to fully appreciate that they are not in charge of YOU, and for goodness sake, you are not in charge of them. For years, I had awakened thinking, “So, tell me my love, how are we going to feel today?” The addict determined all of my emotions then. It requires a daily ability to detach with love, which is promoted in Al Anon for friends and family of Alcoholics.
However, this lesson may take years to master. In this case, alcoholism is synonymous with all other addictions: Gambling, Sex, Consumerism, Work, Food, Technology, and other potentially destructive activities. Addiction can take many forms, in sinc with substances, or in lieu of substances.
Thus, I wish to give a starting point. For if we are not careful to look at our own side of the relationship, and how we can contribute to their suffering, we have already lost.
Self-care is essential. It is common to let oneself go as we become overly responsible to the needs of the addict, and find ourselves depleted, resentful and sometimes alone. We must insist on demanding the very things that protect our body, mind, and soul. We must not give up our own power and our own needs.
We surrender our control over the addict. Every fiber of our being will wish to dictate the addict’s actions and thinking, but aside from setting our own boundaries, we are wasting our time. We absolutely can not control them.
Do not take it personally. No one, let me repeat no one, can save an addict single-handedly, nor are we to blame. And our way of trying to control can appear in a thousand ways: The silent treatment. Pretending we don’t care. Pretending all is well. Blaming ourselves. Begging them to stop. Begging them to live a specific program of recovery. Lying to others to avoid embarrassment. Lecturing. Making excuses for them. Wailing. Shutting them out. Taking them back. We forget that this disease is not under our control any more than it is under their control. It has literally nothing to do with us. As a result, we need to stop making it about us.
Have compassion. No one wants to be an addict, so stop thinking this person is doing something to you. It is okay to be sad, hurt, angry, but don’t confuse that with self-pity, or worse, indignation..
Spiritual fitness is key. It is not my way to pray for others, but many people do. I believe the gods allow us free will, and I do not like to mess with fate. Disease is a tragic and shadowy part of life. My spiritual fitness asks me to accept my lack of power over the addict, yet it promotes my power over myself and my own choices. I ask for the strength and clarity of how I might be useful. I am reminded that I am a divine child of the universe, and I deserve to be happy. I must know that loving addicts is no different than loving any other human being who faces all of their own struggles and risks, including their falls.
The truth of the matter is, we do all sorts of crazy things in order to love an addict, and much of it will prove ineffective. On the other hand, loving an addict will teach us more about ourselves than we ever could possibly know without them. The choice to love an addict is rarely a real choice. We don’t usually make that choice to love. We just do. But there is a way to be safe and even experience great joy in our lives anyway.
It is understandable to have to leave or avoid or deny the addict, especially if they begin to abuse us or demand that which we cannot abide. But I have found that with mutual support and a spiritual path, with self-knowledge and a relentless desire to get it right, it can be beautiful. I no longer remain close to those who cannot recover. That does not mean I don’t love them. The irony of course is that I am also an addict, and I am grateful for those who have chosen to love me. I do believe I am worthy of it as well.