All too often I hear people share in meetings about how one of their loved ones is actively suffering from the throngs of some type of addiction. Many of them talk about how they have tried everything to help those addicts and that it’s tearing their lives apart. Yet none of them realize that the best thing they can do to help those addicts is to stop enabling them and instead to begin the path of detaching with love…
So what does detaching with love look like? It means:
- Holding back from the need to rescue, save or fix the addict from being sick, dysfunctional or irrational
- Disengaging from an over-enmeshed or dependent relationship with the addict
- Accepting that one cannot change or control the addict
- Developing and maintaining a safe, emotional distance from the addict whom one has previously given a lot of power to affect their emotional outlook on life
- Establishing emotional boundaries with the addict that one has become overly enmeshed or dependent with in order to develop one’s own sense of autonomy and independence
- Not allowing oneself to be led into guilt or feeling responsible for the addict’s failures or falterings
- Letting the addict that one loves and cares for accept personal responsibility for their own actions and to practice tough love by not bailing them out from their troubles
As soon as a person begins the path of detaching with love, an addict often attempts to dominate, manipulate, and control them a lot more to prevent them from doing so. My mother was the first example of an addict in my life that I experienced this first hand. There were many others I brought into my life after her that repeated these same lessons. What I had to learn how to do was emotionally detach from all of them but to do so meant changing many of my own behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. For the longest time, I thought what this meant was to change the way I was acting so that I didn’t “trigger” them into doing more of their addict based behaviors. That is NOT what detachment means at all. Trying to change certain behaviors so as not to “trigger” an addict is actually enabling them further into their disease.
My path of successfully detaching with love from all those unhealthy and toxic addicts throughout my whole life began with me learning a set of principles that came from therapy, reading self-help books, and Al-Anon. They are:
- I couldn’t fix, save, or rescue the addict
- I was giving my power away every time I tried to fix, save, or rescue the addict
- I was not responsible for the addict’s happiness, failures, shortcomings, or bad behaviors
- Every time I had hope that things would change with the addict, I was living in an illusion and setting myself up for more pain
- I was the one who was allowing the addict to convince me I was helpless, powerless, and incompetent
- I could survive and thrive without the relationship with the addict, that life would go on, and that I wasn’t a bad person for doing so
- There was no shame in walking away from a relationship that was destructive and toxic
The most important thing though, that I learned was critical if I wanted to detach with love, was the fact that I had to learn how to love myself a lot more so that I could see I deserved better. Once that began to happen, I began detaching with love from all of those toxic relationships with addicts by walking out of all of their lives.
If you are feeling at your wits end with someone you love who is suffering from any type of addiction, I encourage you to take a moment, breathe, and realize you will never be able to make that person become healthy regardless of how many acts of love you offer them. No matter what you ever do, you will never be able to save, fix, or rescue them. Detaching with love means loving yourself a lot more and reminding yourself that you deserve better. Pray to God to help you with this and know that if you end up walking out of that addict’s life, you don’t need to feel guilty. Not only is it going to be healthier for you, it will be just as healthy for them because it often become’s a great catalyst to driving them into recovery.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson