How to Love an Addict

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.

The Epic Rewards of “No”

There was a time for me when saying “No” was nearly impossible! I recall an old friend asking me almost daily to drive her places, out for the night, over to her lover’s, back to her home, the store, anywhere and everywhere. And I would. Since I was afraid of her, and she must have known this on some level.

But after I became a teacher, my students would take advantage of my kindness (which was really just fear) and chaos would rule my days. Learning to say “no” to younger people was great practice for me because the one thing I needed more than their love was their respect. Eventually, I learned to say no to my peers, and family members, even occasionally beautiful and selfish men as well.

I didn’t have to be mean about it. I could say warmly and confidently, “I am sorry, but no.”

It became almost amusing to practice saying no without apology, to simply own the power vested in me and declare a simple Nope. Sometimes I’d soften it for those I truly liked. “No….(soft warm smile…wince)…sorry.”

Sometimes I was willing to give my reason calmly, but it was important to not give a tone of deference. It was important that the explanation was an act of compassion and not an obligation. It took me a long time to see that people do not always require an explanation.

My students occasionally suggested that I would be the coolest teacher ever should I grant their wish. I learned to reply that I was already entirely cool without their approval. I would even help them to understand that whining repeatedly was a form of manipulation I did not appreciate. This left them puzzled and melancholy, having grown used to their lifetime success at begging.

Saying no takes hutzpah, and that means one must conquer one’s fears in order to do it. Fear of another’s wrath. Fear of going to hell. Fear of being blamed. Fear of retaliation. Fear of causing someone discomfort, and of course fear that people will condemn you and leave you behind. Let’s face it. It happens.

People really do not like hearing “no.”

However, setting boundaries with a clear “no” is fruitful too. People learn that you will not be submissive at the expense of your own needs.

People are less likely to take advantage of you, period.

People will come to know that you are capable of saying Yes, just not every time.

People begin to respect you. People also think twice before pushing too far.

Life becomes fair. Less stressful.

The greatest gift of saying No is that you come to learn who your true friends are. Loyal people don’t go away just because you say no. Even you will like yourself a bit more.

In the social circles of addiction recovery, there is an unwritten code that one should never say no when they are asked to be of service. Addicts are by nature selfish, thus we encourage selflessness as a new behavior.

But in the fellowship of recovering codependents, this rule cannot apply. For codependents spend their lives serving relentless sponges in order to feel needed; and codependents pay for it with their souls, becoming a mere husk, blowing hither and thither at the beck and call of the ones they love.

For saying yes indiscriminately and without regard for one’s own needs is the surest way to resent our loved ones. It creates bitterness and eventually a passive poisoning of any love that once existed.

Here is where the spiritual part comes in…

Because I am certain that my soul is divine, a natural result of intentional communion with the gods, because I recognize my own holy, mysterious and powerful essence, a Yes is often and simply not required. The beauty of this capacity to decline is that no one ever has to wonder if I am secretly feeling burdened, or if I am disrespectfully pretending to comply with feigned affection.

When I say Yes, it is because I wish to say Yes. You can trust me to say what I mean. You won’t need to repeat the annoying question, “Are you sure?”

Please, do not ever say yes to me unless you truly want to, for sayin yes when you want to say no is, according to divine law, a form of dishonesty and cowardice I could not abide.

Say No, and watch me cringe and squirm. I will love you for it.