It can be heart-wrenching to watch a loved one suffer from addiction. Those of us who have been through this understand the helplessness and frustration that come along with the promises to stop, followed by even worse behavior and dangerous using. As for me, I was that addict and I never understood why my parents were so worried; I had it under control, or so I thought. They had no idea what I was REALLY doing behind the scenes, but I think if they had known, they would have set up firm boundaries with their addict daughter long before they finally did.
Why are Boundaries so Important?
Let’s be honest, you’re reading this because you have a child, a spouse, a parent, or beloved friend who is an addict! You are not alone in your journey, although it may feel like you are. I know that my parents did. In the tiny town of 5,000 people that we hailed from, my mother used to say she couldn’t even pump gas or buy groceries without being followed by judgmental stares and looks of pity. The hardest part for her was that no matter how hard she tried, or how much she yelled or cried or begged, or gave me every opportunity to turn my life around, I never got it together. She would bend over backwards if I asked for help, and my addiction ended up putting her into debt and ruining her credit. Then she learned about boundaries. Yes, there was some enabling going on there for a while, but she found an out. She finally saw that no matter how much she tried, she wasn’t going to ever be able to get me to stop. So she finally decided to remove herself from my situation and let me figure it out on my own. It turns out that was the best thing she ever did for me. It wasn’t the money she loaned me, or answering the late night phone calls to pick me up from the bar, it was letting me go. This is obviously the last thing that we want to do when it comes to the safety and well-being of our loved ones, but take it from a recovered addict who now deals with this stuff herself, the only way to save an addict is to let them hit bottom.
How to Set Boundaries
It all sounds horribly harsh and unsympathetic, but if my mother had never changed the locks or cut me off entirely, I would have been able to keep using comfortably for a long time. Today, I am struggling with these issues myself as my best friend and roommate has just relapsed. Now that I have been on my own for a while and understand the value of money and a peaceful home, let me tell you how I set up healthy boundaries to protect myself and her.
Set a Time Limit
Here’s the deal, when we know someone, we know when they are not themselves. We can see it in their eyes. To be honest, I had a feeling my roommate was getting high weeks before I finally confronted her. However, I gave her a time limit. First, it was mental, for my own certainty. I told myself that if her behavior hadn’t changed in a week, I would confront her. Once the time came, I was surprised to discover that she got honest with me about it. So from that point, I gave her a week to get her act together, to get back on the wagon and shape up. If she couldn’t, she would be asked to leave. When the time came, and she hadn’t gotten back on the horse (surprise, surprise) she already knew that she had to be out, so the process didn’t result in a huge blowout or screaming match.
This is tricky as addicts can be master manipulators. However, it is absolutely vital that you do not give in to their requests, especially concerning money or a place to crash. Trust your gut, not your heart; if what they are asking for gives you an uneasy feeling, trust it, and don’t cave. You will just be prolonging their using. Once you make the decision to back away, you have to stick with it.
Always Come from a Place of Love, not Anger
This can sound crazy, especially if you have been through the ringer with them countless times. But addicts already suffer from overwhelming amounts of shame and guilt for their actions, so you need to distance yourself with love. They need to know you aren’t playing around, but that when they are finally ready to surrender, they can come to you.
Don’t Be Afraid To Say No
Many loved ones of addicts struggle with codependency issues – they continually put the needs of others before their own. Here’s the deal . . . we will never be able to take care of others unless we ourselves are in a good place, financially, emotionally, spiritually. Think of it as if you are on an airplane when the oxygen masks fall, you need to place yours before your child’s. It’s the same thing here; we cannot hope to be of service to anyone unless we ourselves are in enough of a position of strength to be able to do it with love and compassion.
It can be difficult to distance yourself from your loved one because we know in our hearts that they are beautiful, wonderful people underneath the booze and drugs. However, creating boundaries with an addict is the only option. We have to allow them room to find their bottom. The more we try to intervene and pick them up, the longer they will have to look for it. I understand that it is strange and feels alien to us as we want nothing more than to hold them close and take care of them forever. Being able to distance yourself from an addicted loved one will be one of the hardest things you will ever do. But take it from me, as someone who has experienced both sides, that when that addict finally hits bottom, their ascent back to life will be the most beautiful thing to behold. They will be forever grateful for what you did for them, and you will find out that the relationship between you will grow and flourish.
Getting Help at Wayside House
If you are a woman struggling with addiction and mental health issues, Wayside House can help. We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer inpatient rehab with various therapies, relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare, as well as programs for medical professionals and veterans. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.