Alcoholics and addicts have been some of the most amazing, frustrating, and downright ridiculous people I have ever had the privilege of working with. These are the people who are destroying their lives, the lives of the people they love, and their own sanity to have just one more go at making their addiction work. They go through benders, for days or weeks, and emerge saying, “I promise to never do that again.” And a few hours, days, or weeks later they are back at it. If you have the curse/privilege of loving one of these people you are in for a ride, often you will wish you never met them! Then other times you will be struck by their sensitivity, huge heart, charisma, passion, and charm and feel their potential under all that chaos.
These people can be your partner, kids, parents, friends, siblings, grandparents or co-workers. You may have grown up with them or met them later in life. They may be alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, food addicts, or any of the multitudes of ways people chose to exit reality with. And they will almost always have at least one person in their life trying really hard to save them from themselves, and that might be you!
Unfortunately, if this is you then you are in for a long road. But this relationship might be just the thing to help you face and deal with your behaviors and beliefs that make you unhappy. Often those who love these addicted people have characteristics such as: perfectionism, need to control, low-self esteem, patterns of isolation, feelings of dread and hopelessness, anxiety, and depression. So here’s something to think about: the alcoholic/addict relationship is set up like a triangle. On one node is the alcoholic/addict; on the other is the partner/parent/child/etc., and on the last node is the substance or addictive behavior.
The alcoholic/addict has a primary relationship with the substance. This substance is consistent, it can always take away feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression, it does not talk back, it asks nothing in return, and can be a lot of fun! So imagine you are on the other node of this triangle attempting to have a loving relationship with this alcoholic/addict. You have to compete with something that is pretty much perfect. It takes all the pain away (momentarily of course), and asks nothing in return. So you would have to find a way to be perfect, understanding, super consistent, have no needs, no differences of opinions, and the ability to control the internal life of your loved one. That’s a tall order!! And it is bound to make even the most emotionally stable person neurotic and often just as insane as the alcoholic/addict.
So what can you do? Well first to acknowledge that you have been affected by this person/persons is a good start. If you grew up in a family with a parent or sibling who was addicted know that you will often be drawn to the insanity and chaos in your adult life. Check out and see if your perfectionism and need to control people, situations, and outcomes is causing you harm. Denial is a big part of this paradigm, so just look at the history and see if you have been involved in a long string of unsatisfying relationships and if you might have a part to play in those relationships.
The bottom line is that you cannot change or control these alcoholics/addicts. But that does not mean you need to stop loving them. Actually loving them from a place of detachment is probably the most kind and loving thing you can do for them, and especially for yourself. This means putting your needs first, allowing them to have the consequences of their behavior without your interference, and trusting they have a path which may involve a lot of suffering but that is their path to walk not yours.
If you begin to do these new behaviors above you will begin to grow and see what you have been avoiding by focusing on the alcoholic/addict rather than your own life. You will have to face some deep fears and patterns, probably beliefs that have been around for decades, but you will begin to learn about you and who you are. The feeling of love for yourself will grow, slowly at first but then more quickly as you realize that you are worth your own love and the unconditional love of those around you.
One last thing, there is a 12-step group called Alanon Family Groups which deals specifically with the effects of alcoholism/addiction on those who love alcoholics/addicts. There is no charge for attendance and there are meetings all across the country and world. The only requirement for membership is that someone’s drinking or use bothers you. Good luck and know that those you love can drive you crazy but they don't need to change for you to become sane and happy!
Karolina Walsh Psychotherapy
Providing psychotherapy, counseling, and support for grief, addictions, trauma, PTSD, relationship issues, and GLBTQIA.
“Karolina walks her talk, her ability to meet another in their capacities is sensational because she has done her own work” -Diane Israel
"An effective therapist needs to do at least two things: be compassionate and provide constructive feedback that actually changes the way people experience the world. I see many therapists who can do one or the other. I routinely watch Karolina do both..." -Patrick Weeg