One of the questions I get asked often is "How do you draw boundaries, or remain in a relationship without condoning certain behaviors?" This question can lead us down many rabbit trails, all leading to a healthy garden, so today I will take one part of the equation. I don't have all the answers - I just have my own experience and exposures to draw from.
So much about recovery is finding balance in your world. We enablers and codependents have been sitting so long on the down side of the teeter totter that we've come to believe or allow that it's an all or nothing relationship. And, we continually think it's all about us and what we can do to rescue our lost loved ones. We can't balance the teeter totter this way, yet we continually say, "sure, I can do that" or "yes, you can leave it with me", or still "what can I do to help you change your life?"
In Melody Beattie's book "Codependent No More" she opens Chapter 5, entitled "Detachment" with the following quote from an Al-Anon member: It (detachment) is not detaching from the person whom we care about, but from the agony of involvement. WOWEE!!
You mean to tell me we don't have to be involved in everything??? You are trying to tell me my addict/appendage does not have to be the object of my obsession?? Are you saying I can finally take a step back and stop trying to intercept every painful moment that belongs to my addict and not me? Oh, thank you Lord, for permission to loosen my grip and let go!!!
Sometimes in well meaning relationships between a substance abuser and their family, there are large amounts of confusion over who owns what. The boundaries weren't clear before the addiction took root and then became even blurrier when the substance moved in lock, stock and barrel. By this time, we the enablers, have relinquished our selves and our rights to allow anyone and everyone to trample on our feelings, our beliefs and our dreams. Now, as we begin to step back and get a little breathing room, we struggle to put to rest all that we thought was true. And if you add your faith to the mix, sometimes we struggle to juggle all the different balls in the air and get them to land safely, softly and in love. Sometimes we don't want to accept that maybe that won't happen and it quite possibly isn't up to us to make it right. The Scripture says, "hate the sin, not the sinner". This can apply to all areas of our life.
Taking care of "self" is not selfish. Detaching from those you love in addiction is not mean. It's not leaving them to die. Loving with detachment means you are going to take care of self. Can you have one thought, one conversation or one day that doesn't tie you to your addict? Can you formulate a thought on paper or make a plan without dragging your appendage into it? Do you have adult appendages?
Look at your friendships. Hopefully those are healthy and you are not trying to control them. If you had a friend that called you night and day, begged for money and hurled filthy language and accusations your way, how would you handle that? You would end it or certainly do a cut off with a clear call out on what was acceptable and unacceptable. Why then, do we allow our adult addicts to behave like an overgrown two year old having tantrums? Are you throwing them pacifiers to quiet them down instead of letting them cry it out and feel their own pain? We must step back from the unhealthy behavior that so easily entangles us. Why do we think an active addict will behave like a healthy individual? They can't and they won't. Until they choose to get their addiction kicked, they will not change their behavior.
The "thing" that I needed to finally take hold of when Cliff was in his addiction was that, by trying to manage his addiction by controlling where he was, worrying why he wasn't where he promised to be, fretting over money he promised to pay back and would not, was not going to change until I learned to let him go and learned to take care of me.
So how can you love with detachment? Take your substance abuser out to eat once in a while. Get them a pair of shoes and socks if they need them. Don't give money, don't give gifts that can be returned for money, but spend a little time with them. Have some laughs with them! They are longing for you to see them beyond their junkie status. However, you call the shots. In love let them know what the rules are. Set the time and place and the amount of time you will give. And if they don't show up, don't take it personally (we'll talk more about that soon!) and move on. Always remember that your active addict is sick. They are incapable of keeping their word.