One of the most incapacitating aspects about watching a close friend or loved one struggle with addiction, is watching them destroy themselves, and often be unaware of the problem. It is extremely common for alcoholics and addicts to deny that the one thing that brings them the most pleasure, is also causing them the most pain.
So if your loved one is denying their addiction and need for inpatient treatment, how can you make sure to take care of yourself in the meantime?
Seeking Help for Yourself
As common as it is for addicts in denial to not want help, it is equally as common for their loved ones to sacrifice themselves trying to offer it. One of the best ways to deal with a loved one struggling with addiction is to use the oxygen mask metaphor.
If the plane is losing oxygen, you are instructed to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. In other words, you can’t save someone else if you yourself can’t breathe.
As difficult as it may be, to lovingly separate your own life from the others, it is completely essential if you are going to be any sort of helpful presence in their life. How does someone do this?
- Al-Anon Meetings: Al-anon is a program that was created by the loved ones of alcoholics in the early days of AA. It is completely free and open to anyone who struggles with relationships with addicts or alcoholics. You can find a list of meetings near you here.
- CODA meetings: Many people are unaware that their own behavior when dealing with an addict in denial can be enabling and harmful, both to themselves and the other person. Codependents Anonymous is a 12 step program designed to help people overcome codependent behavior patterns and learn how to create healthy boundaries for themselves and their loved ones. You can find a meeting near you here.
Letting them Hit Bottom
My own mother admitted, years after I got sober, that she always gave me a little money when I asked because she didn’t want me to have to steal from others or sell my body. In her own way, she was helping me in the only way she knew how. All the while, working two jobs to secure her own life and the lives of my siblings.
Finally, she stopped giving me handouts. I fell into everything that she feared I would, and it took over a year before the chaos of surviving my own self-inflicted torture brought me to my knees. The first person I called when I was really ready to stop was my mother.
When we truly care about someone, many of us would go to any length to ensure that they are safe and protected. When we love an addict in denial, all common sense can sometimes go out the window. We find ourselves doing immoral or reckless acts just to ensure they are protected. Things we would never do in our right minds or things we never thought we would have to do such as:
- Lie to their employers or to police
- Loan them money, knowing they are going to get high with it
- Bail them out of jail
- Cover up their illness to friends, families, and coworkers
- Stay up all night wondering if they are dead
The most difficult thing a parent, a spouse, a sibling, or a friend will ever have to do, is let the person run their course. There is always the thought of the worst possible scenario happening, and the guilt of “I should have done more”
The terrifying aspect of addiction is that it will not stop until the person has hit some sort of bottom. This bottom is different for everyone, and for some people, it will be a lot lower than others. The important thing for loved ones to know is that it has nothing to do with them, and no amount of forcing them into rehab or IOP will help until they are truly done.
How Is It Done?
There are certain methods in creating boundaries with love that can again, seem impossible for loved ones of addicts in denial. However, these are vital in creating safety and security for yourself, while creating boundaries for them.
- Talk with Intention: be honest about what you see and how you feel, and LISTEN WITH INTENTION to how they respond. HEAR what they are saying, don’t try to force your own viewpoints on them. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope, so if they ever open up to you, absorb it. Respect it and value it. Addicts who are in denial of their addiction often feel like they have to have everything under control. If they know that someone else truly cares and understands them, it can help keep lines of communication open down the road.
- No Loaning Money: My mother had no idea that she was enabling my addiction because she is a sweet, innocent, naive woman who thought she was helping. In reality, she allowed me to get high without any of the consequences. Addicts in denial will write false checks, steal, go into debt, and possibly even lose everything, but the good thing about money is that you can always make more. When the person becomes sober, they will have the rest of their life to come back and learn about the value of money, taxes, saving, etc. Thousands of people in recovery who lost everything are now able to live happy, financially comfortable lives that they appreciate the heck out of.
- Don’t let them come home high: If your loved one comes back home out of their mind, set a boundary. “If you need to get high, fine, just don’t come here until your sober,” is what I have had to tell a few friends and roommates of my own. The hardest part was sticking to it; until I caved in and woke up the next morning to my friend, overdosed on the floor of the bathroom. Not a fun way to start the workweek. From then on, I held a strict rule with any friends or roommates who had relapsed, that my home was a safe place to cry or hide from the world, as long as they weren’t on drugs.
A few more rules to live by are:
- Don’t be the savior
- Don’t lie for them
- Always be a safe place for when they ARE ready
If loving an addict in denial teaches us anything, it is how to also love ourselves. In order to love and protect others, we must be in a stable enough place emotionally, mentally, and physically to do so.