How to Stay Healthy While Loving an Addicted Person
Remaining holistically healthy is hard for most people at the best of times. Many of us live very busy lives, with already existing time commitments to various aspects – work or school, spending time with our families, eating right, exercising regularly – depending on how you’ve mapped out your life, the list can go on and on.
But when we love an addict, a lot of that important self-care can get lost for long periods of time, often despite our best efforts. In fact, when we love an addict, we all too often become entrenched in their lives instead of our own. All of our conscious awareness can begin to revolve around that person’s plight – while our own needs are relegated to the back burner.
I call that “being addicted to the addict’s addiction.”
The Down Side of Being Addicted to the Addict’s Addiction
This happens because of comparisons we make in our minds. We tell ourselves “His problem is much bigger than any of mine” or “She needs all of my attention right now so that she can recover from this.” But when you give all of your attention to the addict in your life, that person often comes to expect exactly that – and because they have been able to get your nearly undivided attention as a result of a damaging, acting-out behavior, they may feel they need to continue on that path in order to keep that attention coming. In short, they begin to feel entitled to it.
And that’s when the problems can really start in the family. When the example is set that one person is the center of attention, others begin to feel less important, perhaps even less loved. In time, that can develop into resentment – and sometimes those who feel like they have to strive for attention in the family end up acting out as well, which creates yet another problematic issue needing to be dealt with.
Is it possible to love an addict in active addiction and stay healthy ourselves? My answer to that long-standing question is an emphatic “YES!!”
But, in order for that to happen, the focus needs to be on our continuing self-care. We need to be willing to come off that roller coaster of chaos that we ride with our addicts – up, down, all around, consuming our thoughts pretty much every second of every day. In essence, we need to stop being addicted to our addict’s addiction and begin to focus on ourselves.
Self-Care vs Selfish: They Are Two Different Things
There seems to be confusion for loved ones when it comes to their own self-care, so I’ll address that here.
Self-care does not equal Selfish. Self-care = self-ish, and in order to stay healthy while loving an addict of any kind, we need to be self-ish, in my opinion. If we’re not taking good care of ourselves on a consistent basis, we become depleted in a variety of ways and then have very little to give anyone else anyway. And since one of the main tenets of self-care is to feel good, depletion is not part of that equation!
Self-care is best developed and practiced in a holistic way, so it’s important to include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual facets.-Candace Plattor
Self-care is best developed and practiced in a holistic way, so it’s important to include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual facets. We need to incorporate good food and regular exercise, and make sure that if something is going on emotionally for us that we have a healthy way to deal with that. We need to keep our minds alert (especially as we grow older) by reading, taking courses, doing crossword puzzles – anything that keeps us on our toes mentally.
Last but certainly not least, we need to find what makes sense to us on a spiritual level and do as much of that as possible. For some people, it’s going to church, synagogue or mosque, while for others it might be walking with your dog by the water’s edge. It might be daily prayer and meditation. Whatever you choose, remember that the purpose is to feel appreciative of the good you have in your life and to ask for guidance and clarity around things that may be problematic.
Self-care is about increasing our enjoyment of life – so let’s all get out and do more of that!
There are still a couple of hurdles to overcome in order to remain healthy while loving someone with an addiction – or at least they often feel like hurdles for the family and other loved ones of addicts. But once they are understood and mastered, life becomes so much easier. The inner work around accomplishing this is so very worthwhile.
We Cannot Control Anyone But Ourselves
The first is to understand that we will never be able to control anyone but ourselves – so we can stop trying so hard to do so. The only way we ‘control’ anyone else is if they allow us to do that – in which case, it isn’t really control. The only person any of us have any control over is sitting on our butt. It’s that simple, but unfortunately often not that easy. Many of us grew up believing that if we acted in a certain way, we could make others happy, or if others acted the way we wanted them to, then we’d be happy.
It just doesn’t work that way – have you noticed?
It’s your job to make yourself happy, as it’s mine to make myself happy. If I’m upset about something you did, it’s my responsibility to find a way to get back into balance so that I can feel good regardless of what you’re doing. This is often hard, especially at the beginning, but it’s a lofty practice and well worth the discipline.
Helping is Very Different Than Enabling!
The second thing we need to understand, in order to stay healthy while loving an addict, is the difference between helping and enabling. Simply put, an enabling behavior keeps the addiction going and a helping behavior assists it to stop. If you’re doing things like giving money to an addict (even though you know that money will go toward the addiction), you’re enabling.
When you’re ready to tell your addict that you love them enough to stop these enabling behaviors, but that you’ll be there for them when they’re really ready to stop, then you’ll be helping. As long as you continue to enable, you won’t feel good about yourself, your addict won’t respect you, and all you’ll be doing is contributing to the addiction continuing. There is nothing healthy about being on that path.
In order to be holistically healthy and self-respecting, you may need to go deep within yourself to find out what makes you want to help your addict stay in active addiction. Once you discover what that’s been about for you, that is when you’ll be able to be much healthier in all of your relationships, especially the one you have with the addict you love so dearly.
You Don’t Have to Do This Alone
If you’re having difficulty with self-care, or with control issues, or with enabling, please don’t be afraid to reach out for some help for yourself. For many people, these changes feel like huge paradigm shifts – and if that’s how you feel, remember that you don’t have to do this alone. If you have trouble finding someone to talk with in your area, know that there are many online resources and a growing number of counselors and therapists who also work by phone, Skype, Zoom, and other online platforms that are easy to get used to.
Help IS there for you – and I wish you all the best!
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