Are you looking after someone with an addiction?
In this weeks blog I’m going to share some tips and strategies to use if you are looking after someone with an addiction that will enable you to best serve them and you.
Let’s face it when someone has an addiction it turns everyone’s world upside down. Most people feel totally helpless and at a loss to know what to do.
Before we get into it, for those of you who haven’t met me, my name is Dean Powell and I specialize in addictions and subconscious re-framing.
Not just with drugs and alcohol, which is the first thing we think about when we hear the word addiction but all things addictive. Things like sugar, food, pharmaceuticals, work, exercise, relationships, sex, anger, depression and SO MUCH more.
And also what happens as a result of these addictions, like unhealthy relationships, isolation, loneliness, shame and guilt, low self worth and disconnection from others and ourselves.
The reason for this is many years ago I was addicted to Meth Amphetamines and Alcohol as well as a number of other things before finally getting my shit together. I ruined many relationships with my partner, kids, family members and friends let alone what I did to the relationship with myself.
After working in rehab centres for a number of years I realised I want to work more holistically with people helping them discover that void or missing-ness deep inside that they are trying to fill.
Ok so let’s get into it ‘How best to look after someone with an addiction’
The first and probably most important thing to realize if you haven’t already, is that most of what you do when caring for someone with an addiction inevitably pushes them further into the addiction.
Even though what we do is done out of love and genuine care and concern it seems to have the opposite effect.
There are a number of reasons for this:
1. Someone struggling with an addiction is often feeling powerless in one or more areas of their life (often stemming from childhood trauma) and having someone else ‘take the reigns’ so to speak can leave them even more helpless. They can become resentful of this and act out even more and subconsciously seek to gain more power as a result
2. You unconsciously ‘enable’ them by providing a ‘safe space’ for them to continue using. Often we do this because we feel in some way responsible or there’s an underlying fear, that we’ve caused the problem. People do this in a number of ways:
· Helping them out with money. It’s always nice to help those we love and the natural instinct is to save them from pain. However it is from the pain that we often learn. If they have the consequences of their actions taken away we often rob them of the learning.
· Providing free room and board. Again this can make it easier for them to continue living the way they do.
· Saving them from certain consequences like fines, police matters, making excuses for them and their actions. Example parents paying their kid’s fines or taking the wrap for them when police get involved.
· Making sure everyone tip toes around them so as not to upset them for fear of them reaching for the bottle or drug or whatever else they do that causes so much conflict. This inevitably gives the person an incredible amount of power and addiction already is a very selfish and self-centred behaviour so more power isn’t necessarily a good thing if it’s used in this way. My mum used to do this with us kids all the time. Don’t upset your father he’s had a rough day or isn’t feeling well.
3. Often when caring for someone with an addiction can often mean the only connection you may have is through the addiction. Often loved ones feel so isolated and pushed away they are desperate for any connection. For example a partner drinking with their partner in order to feel connected to them. I remember my partner dong this when I was an alcoholic. Although it let me off the hook to drink more without repercussions from her, it added to my shame and guilt that I was dragging her down with me.
So let’s explore some ways to change at least some of this.
1. First and foremost it is imperative that you get support. Preferably from a professional or at least someone who has had experience and moved through it in a healthy way. This is why I created a twelve week ‘Online Carers Program’ specifically designed for people looking after others with addictions. It’s a step-by-step guide to bringing the focus back to you and taking that power and energy off the person with the addiction.
2. Allow the person to experience some pain. Stop trying to save them! The easier you make it for them the easier it is for them to continue doing what they do. Now I don’t mean create unnecessary dramas or stop being caring and compassionate, I mean be ruthless in determining what is your ‘stuff’ and what’s theirs and leave them with theirs. They will inevitably have to deal with it one way or another.
3. Don’t in any way shape or form collude in their behaviour. If they offer you a drink and you want them not to drink say no. If they are eating shit food and it’s affecting their health don’t serve them or join them in unhealthy food. Don’t make it any easier for them to continue doing what isn’t healthy for them. Often we can do this to avoid what is going on in our own lives. All the focus goes onto the person with the addiction so our ‘stuff’ has to be put on hold.
4. Encourage them to get professional help. There are a million and one amazing places and even more people out there that are dedicated to helping people change and often it’s because they know that pain of addiction. Let them help!
5. Get help yourself. When you change you automatically give everyone around you something different to respond to. When you take the focus off the person and onto yourself at least two positive things happen.
1. You feel and live better
2. You automatically take that energy and what can be experienced as pressure off them and onto you. They suddenly get breathing room. When they see and feel your change it can often change something in them. I’ve seen this so many times when I was working in the parents and partners programs in the rehab centre I worked in.
6. It doesn’t make you a bad person to leave someone with the consequence for his or her actions.
7. Set boundaries No boundaries can result in everyone (including the person with the addiction) feeling totally unsafe. Most of us try to set boundaries around everyone in our lives so we feel better. It’s far easier to set the boundary around yourself.
I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you feel called to empower yourself further, please check out my specific program developed for carers of addicts at https://www.lifetorque.com.au/carers/