It’s really tough to not be able to help someone you love, who’s caught in the grip of serious addiction. Often you try and try again, before you realise with frustration it’s not working.
Your help, and your love – is just not enough to fix the problem.
This feeling of helplessness sucks.
If your repeated attempts at helping them are not working, you may have no choice but to step back, let you know you love them, cross your fingers and toes, and hope to hell that that everything’s going to turn out okay.
I’ve been both these people. I’ve been the addict who people wanted to help, and I’ve been (and still am) the person trying to help someone else beat their addiction .
For years I was the addict. I was the person who couldn’t be helped until I was ready. If anyone tried to help me with my alcohol or drug addiction (no one knew about my gambling addiction back then), I would lie to cover it up, understate how serious it was, avoid their phone calls, avoid hanging out with that person – I’d do whatever I needed to do, so they would get out of my face with their genuine love and concern.
And I’d feel terrible.
Expressions of care often makes addicts just feel guilty on top of all the other crappy feelings that they’re experiencing. They will do whatever they need to do so no one takes their drugs/booze/behaviour away, so they can continue self-medicating the only way they know how.
Thankfully I’m not that person anymore.
More recently I’ve been the person who’s been trying to help friends and loved ones with their serious addiction. And I’ve also had to come to terms that these people are not yet ready to give it up. It’s a terrible thing to have to consider that you might lose someone at some point because of their addictions, and there’s not whole lot you can do about it. It’s sucks to have to entertain that thought that if something bad happens, at least you know you tried and tried and tried again.
Thankfully worst case scenario hasn’t happened yet with the people I’m talking about above. Worst case scenario did happen with my dad, but there was nothing any of us could do about it.
By trying to help someone, I mean letting them know you’re there for them. I mean actions like giving endless words of support and encouragement, contact details for support groups, therapist and psychologists who specialise in their particular addiction and/or their underlying mental health issue. Links to informative documentaries, self-help books, inspirational stories, guided meditations – all the typical advice that’s given for treating addiction.
Some people blame themselves for their loved ones’ addiction. Other people cry puddles of salty tears into their pillow every night out of sheer worry, heartbreak and helplessness. Some people pray to <insert chosen being> that their friend or loved one won’t become one of the tens of thousands of people each year who end up dead or in jail.
It’s frustrating, it’s scary, it’s heartbreaking and there’s not a hell of a lot you can do about it. Their recovery is actually NOT up to you – it’s up to them. Until such time as they want that help – until they are ready to accept it – you need to put your hard hat on, buckle up and keep checking that your own mental health is strong because this ride sucks and it’s probably not going to be over any time soon.
It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. This worry can start to consume far too many hours of your thinking time, it can distract you from other aspects of life where you should be focusing, and it can erode your own mental health if you are not careful.
Until they are ready to get help, you can put in all the time, words or effort you want, and your help is not getting through or having an impact because they are NOT ready to be helped.
When they are ready, is ultimately up to them.
Unfortunately, ‘ready’ to get help for an addiction often comes after a form of rock bottom such as mental breakdown, overdose, prison, losing a job, losing friends, marriage breakdown, a car accident etc.
‘Rock bottom’ is often a blessing in disguise. This can be the window when they are broken down by addiction enough to listen and want to get help.
Serious losses and mistakes have a strange power to give people the determination and power required to make drastic changes.
It was only at my own rock bottom that I realised I was being totally controlled by the dark force of addiction. When I hit my rock bottom I thought my life was over for a time – as does everyone who has gone for a visit to the dark and lonely land of rock bottom.
After a time of wallowing in emotional agony at rock bottom – if you look closely – you can find a secret pathway that leads to a new, and far brighter land.
You also get a chance to rebuild. Free will says you can walk the same old path if you wish. The old path often comes naturally – it’s second nature and you know how to walk that path with your eyes closed. It’s familiar. But the destination will also be the same.
Or you can stand up and confront your pain, your fear and get stubborn. You can say to addiction – the destroyer of worlds, “F*!# you! I have had ENOUGH”. You can learn to take your control back. You can work out why you are so susceptible to addiction and fix this wound.
Often they ‘whys’ of addiction involve unprocessed emotions, or pain, and addiction is latched onto in an attempt to medicate against something. Much of this is done subconsciously – often you’re not even consciously aware of it until you bring it forward into the light. You need to find out what your something is. It’s a subject I discuss a lot on my website because it’s a key to addiction recovery. Finding out what you’re using addiction for, and clearing it.
Giving up addiction is not easy. But to have peace of mind and soul and start to find joy inside, makes it worth it. And the alternative to giving up addiction – being an addict for the rest of your life – is a bleak, hard and desolate future.
In my own personal experience, if someone is not ready to get help and support for an addiction, then for the sake of my own mental health, I must step back. I have no choice. If I don’t, then each day I can feel myself sliding a little bit further backward.
What’s the point in chipping away at your own mental health, while not helping this person or you? What’s the point of having two casualties instead of one?
I used to be a selfless helper. I was the person who’d go down with the ship if I needed to. Purely out of empathetic love and concern. But now I’m older and wiser, I’m still a helper – but ONLY when someone wants to be helped. Only when it’s actually making a difference.
By all means, try and try again to help them. Tell them you love them, tell them you are worried, and tell them you are here to help, when they are ready to accept that help.
If nothing gets through, assess the situation. And step back if it is impeding on your own mental health. Step back and center yourself. Is this person you love and care about helping themselves? Or are they just taking your energy for no benefit at all? Are your attempts at helping falling on deaf ears?
You may also need to talk to someone yourself to help you through it – a professional or a support group for you – for the person who’s supporting an addict. It’s an emotionally difficult position to be in, and it often helps to know you’re not alone – there are many other people who are experiencing this pain also.
It’s hard being an addict, and it’s hard loving an addict. Stepping back does NOT mean you don’t care. It means you care about them, but that you also care about yourself too.
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