Setting healthy boundaries can be a challenge in any family, but in the case of addiction, it can be very difficult. You want the best for your children and your spouse, but it helps nobody to attempt to rescue or control their behavior related to substance abuse or other addictive behaviors.
When you are in a close relationship with an addict, you may feel that you are either partially to blame for their condition (“If I only…”) or that you are responsible for helping him or her recover. Yet neither is true. There are countless psychological, biochemical, emotional, and societal reasons for addiction, and none can be addressed by rescuing the addict from the consequences of his or her actions – this is enabling.
Relationship dynamics become further entangled with the codependency that usually accompanies being in a relationship with an addict. With codependency, your identity, emotions and behaviors are determined by the other person, rather than from your own soul wisdom. You may tolerate inappropriate behavior of an addict to win and maintain their love and approval. The focus of your life becomes the addict and their behavior, and the one who suffers most from this codependency is you.
Many family members hope for the proverbial “rock bottom,” expecting that the addict will then be able to begin to recover, yet in the meantime, your life is in turmoil. You may turn to substances yourself in order to ease the pain of loving an addict.
When you learn to let go and turn the focus away from the addicted family member, you do not love or care any less. Instead, you learn that you must love yourself first and say “no” to inappropriate behaviors. Letting go means that you set firm boundaries regarding what you are willing to do to support (or not support) the addict. You offer appropriate aid rather than enabling. It means that you choose to let go of fear and stop permitting his or her behavior to control your life.
A key to success in letting go of anyone lost in addiction is to get help yourself – 12-Step groups, support groups, therapy, whatever it takes. Learn all you can about addiction and those who suffer from it, and in the process, learn all you can about your own behavior and beliefs. How can you make your life better for yourself? What could you change to benefit yourself?
Learn to be mindful and focus on activities and relationships that are healthy and that you enjoy. Let that be your focal point for letting go.