Being in a relationship with an addict can be extremely tough emotionally. Addiction typically takes priority over everything in the lives of those who suffer from it. If you love someone suffering from substance use disorder, it is important that you try not to take their actions personally; you must remember that their condition is not your fault.
Addiction is a disease that affects not only the individual living with it, but also immediate family and friends. Addiction is not a choice, nor something that the individual can control. Drug or alcohol dependency is a compulsion, and in order to stop it, those suffering need professional help. On top of that, addiction is unfortunately so often characterized by relapse that, as a bystander, it can seem impossible to withstand it all. One thing you have to remember is that addiction is a disease, and their condition is not a reflection on you.
The Importance of Boundaries
When dealing with a loved one who is addicted to something, it is important that you establish clear boundaries. This could include not lending money, asking them to follow specific guidelines, such as having times they should come and go from the house, or asking them not to socialize with certain people. Take some time to consider your limits and make that clear to yourself and to your addicted loved one. Setting these boundaries will protect you from unwanted hurt. For example, if your loved one has been using, you have the right to refuse to allow them inside your home. It can be hard to set (and stick to!) boundaries that your loved one may feel is unfair, therefore have a support network around you that helps you feel safe and supported when setting these boundaries.
These boundaries are in place to protect both you and your loved one, and if possible, it should be explained that they aren’t being put in place as a punishment for the addiction, rather as a way to protect both of you from more pain.
Remember that being supportive of their recovery does not mean making excuses for their addiction and consequent behaviors. Encourage them to seek the help they need. Help them to find the best treatment and let them know that you are there for them.
Unfortunately, relapse is often part of the recovery journey. Remember that it is not a sign of failure, but a common part of the recovery process. In the event of a relapse, take some time to analyze what might have triggered the lapse, and then make an action plan on how they could avoid that specific trigger again. Although relapse can feel like a huge disappointment, not only for the substance user but to all those supporting them, However just because they’ve relapsed, doesn’t mean it’s the end of their recovery. Help them pick themselves up and continue onwards. Do not allow the perceived shame of using again to affect your loved one’s perspective on the hard work they’ve put into their recovery thus far. Use the experience as a reminder that recovery comes day by day, and each moment is a miracle.
Look After Yourself
You need to make sure you’re emotionally and mentally prepared for the journey you may need to take with your loved one; recovery can often be a bumpy road. Make time to focus on your mental and physical health during this process. Speaking with a therapist could be extremely helpful to the family members of an addicted person. Therapy can offer a safe space for you to express your true feelings and a nonjudgemental environment where you can work through any emotions that may need processing. Therapy can also help you develop resiliency, become aware of, and prevent your enabling behaviors, and also can assist in making and setting healthy boundaries with your loved one.
What if I can’t handle it anymore?
First and foremost, you have to remember that it is not your job to save your loved one. You can only do as much as you’re able to do. Sometimes, despite how much you try, helping someone can become too painful. Seeing your loved one’s physical, mental and emotional deterioration and detachment will be one of the hardest parts of living with addiction. Watching the person that you love in pain is hard and can take a toll on one’s mental health. As we mentioned before, your own self-care is one of the most crucial components of looking after someone suffering from addiction. If you’re unable to continue living in this situation, remember you are allowed to leave. This may be the last resort and something you’ve never thought could occur, but living with addiction can be too much. It is not shameful to prioritize yourself and the rest of your family and other loved ones. However painful, it can sometimes be necessary.
Practicing self-compassion can be an integral part of healing. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you may have made during this process. Forgiveness is a process that takes time and there is no right or wrong way to navigate through it and move on from the past. No one is perfect and everyone reacts to situations differently. You may feel guilt over the way you handled things and events that occurred; Allow yourself to acknowledge the depth of the predicament you were facing and the difficulty of your position within that – allow yourself to forgive the mistakes.
Living and loving an addict can be one of the most difficult experiences anyone has to go through. Ultimately all you can do is let them know that everything you are doing is because you love them. Let them know they have your support, even if it’s not in the way they think they want it. Making sure you tell them you love them is just as important for you as it is for them.
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