For a family member or friend of an alcoholic or addict, life can feel like a non-stop roller coaster ride. When we are emotionally attached to someone whose life has been rendered unmanageable by addiction, our own life can become unmanageable.
- We might experience unhealthy demands on our time, energy, and finances.
- Our home or workplace might become chaotic or unsafe.
- Our own mental, emotional and physical health might become compromised.
How can we get off the roller coaster? How can we love our addicted loved ones while at the same time living our own life with a healthy degree sanity and serenity?
I often hear clients say, “I love him, but he’s making me crazy!” People often want to maintain a connection with their addicted loved ones, but they get hurt when they move too close or get too involved. In my experience, most people don’t want to permanently cut off the addict, but hope to find a way both to stay connected and to be protected.
A common struggle in maintaining a serene relationship with the addict is emotional reactivity. When the addict says or does something that triggers a painful emotion such as sadness, loneliness, fear or shame, our natural tendency is to react with anger, “preaching” or coldness. To counter this tendency to react we need to:
- Develop a better understanding of addiction
- Learn how addiction operates in the life of our loved one
- Adjust our expectations
- Establish boundaries accordingly
Al-Anon, the original fellowship, focused on recovery from co-dependency, developed as an off-shoot of Alcoholics Anonymous, and uses the same Twelve Step process and the same principles of mutual support. Other fellowships such as Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous also have auxiliary groups, such as Nar-Anon and Gam-Anon, for family members and friends of drug addicts and compulsive gamblers. Many people have found these fellowships, and the tools they provide, to be indispensable helps in working through their issues of over-connection to their addicted loved ones.
Roller coasters can be fun, but it’s important to be able to get off the ride when you want to! If your life is being made unmanageable by an unhealthy connection with an addicted friend or family member, I encourage you to avail yourself of the support and tools offered by recovery fellowships such as Al-Anon. Please feel free to get in touch with me to discuss this at greater length.