You do not know what to do. You have no idea how to help. Endlessly searching for an answer and sinking in all the advice. You are stuck in an endless cycle of love and hate: “I love you, I care about you and I only want to help” to “I hate you, why are you doing this, why are you ruining your life?” Family, friends, and strangers tell you there is a right way and wrong way to handle a person who has an addiction, but I am here to tell you that is a lie. When this person is a family member or close friend who is suffering from an addiction, you are just trying to survive one minute, one hour, and one day at a time.
You live in a constant state of apprehension and anger. The addict in your life is like a poison – your views on life, your thoughts, and your nightmares. You worry all the time if this is your last moment with them? Will they be home for dinner? Will they come home at all? Will you find them dead in a ditch? The echoes of a phone or the chime of a doorbell sends a shock through your body. You are burdened knowing that you should try one more time to help them because you love them and they are family – if you will not help them, who will? There is tension in your home or workplace and you tread with unease hoping that whenever you have contact with them, you are not making it worse; you are not pushing them towards the addiction instead of away.
As someone who has an addict in their life and lived through these same scenarios, I have come to understand there are two types of addicts: the one who suffers from trauma and the one who does it for the “high.”
For the one suffering from trauma. I am so sorry for what has happened and I wish I could help manage your pain since you aren’t strong enough to process it yet, but I need you to stop. Whatever you are addicted to is not helping, you know this deep down and so does everyone you are affecting. How do we know your addiction is not helping you? Simple, you keep doing it. It only dulls for a fleeting time and eventually the pain returns, so you do a little bit, and then some more, until that is all you do to keep the pain at bay. This is how we know because if it were a cure you would not have to keep drowning over and over again. Therefore, I ask again, please stop and realize there are other ways to manage the pain.
For the one who does it for a “high” because you like the feelings it evokes, the illusions it brings. Yours hurts the worst, because you have no excuse. You enthusiastically embraced this addiction and you enjoy it. You willingly push your loved ones away because your addiction is more important.
At some point, you must stop living your life for the addict. I am not saying stop caring or trying to help when you can but you have to put yourself first. Your physical and emotional wellbeing must be your priority. You need to say your peace, hope that they comprehend your message, and move on with your life. Regardless of the reason they are an addict, you need to let go. This statement is from my experience:
‘I get it. You have an addiction. Nevertheless, I want you to know that you are making an active choice to not be a part of my life and build a lasting relationship. When the time comes and I look back on my life, you will not be a regret but I will be yours. I cannot live my life with this hanging over me. I will no longer let it determine my decisions or my attitude. You are an adult, therefore, you can make your own choices and this is mine. I do not want you to be a part of my life until you are clean and healthy.’
Feel the weight lift from your shoulders and know that you are not responsible for the choices of others. Take a stand. Have you ever heard the saying, “You cannot help someone who does not want to be helped?” This is fact. Addicts must choose to change, we cannot force or persuade them. Some hit rock bottom before they act. Others find a reason, whether it be something or someone that makes them see the light to know they can reach it. To the addicts out there, I want you to know we will never stop worrying or wondering about you. We will always be there but you need to know it is time to make a change; you can manage your life and be better for it.
Now to you, the one looking in — I understand you. I know where you are in this process and I want to let you know you are amazing. You, who has agonized about the welfare of this addict, the one who had trouble sleeping and cancelled those plans you were so excited about. You. You are stronger than you think you are. I know you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it is there. The view is just blocked but you can make through it. I know you can. We are survivors, all of us. I say this because addicts forgot one simple thing; there addiction affects us too.
Mistie Maskil works full time, is currently finishing her Master’s degree, and resides in Arlington, TX. She loves to plan events, coordinate two book clubs, and travel. Follow Mistie on Instagram and Twitter @mist_with_an_ie