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Stop Living in Shame Because of the Addict in Your Life!

Do you know that, each year in many places in the world, September is now Recovery Month? I think it’s amazing that a whole month has been set aside as a time to honor recovery from addiction – this shows that the times definitely are a-changin’ and that a great many more people are getting the message that recovery truly is possible.

This is great for those who are struggling with addictive behaviors – from alcohol and drugs to gambling, to compulsive over-spending, to sex addiction, to Internet addiction, to eating disorders – and everything in between. I’m so happy that the stigma associated with addiction is being lifted in this way and we’re finally talking about it!

But what about the loved ones of those who are addicted? These people suffer and struggle right alongside the addicts in their lives. They live in fear 24/7, with frustration, resentment, and confusion. They practice their own addictive behaviors too, such as enabling, codependency and people-pleasing, often with a severe lack of personal boundaries.

Are we talking enough about them yet?

Are the loved ones talking to each other?

Finding Your Way Out of Shame

As an Addictions Therapist in private practice in Vancouver, Canada, I specialize primarily in helping people who are caught in this struggle with addicted loved ones. Although there are now a few more resources popping up for them, there is still unfortunately very little help out there for those who are faced with this situation.

For several years, I’ve been hosting a Facebook page called Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself. When this first started, there were relatively few people there and only a handful of likes. But now, as of this writing, there are more than 5000 likes and counting of this page. A true community has developed – it’s become a place where we can gather and support each other with compassion, understanding, and patience. We no longer have to feel so isolated, alone, and misunderstood.

It’s definitely time for those of us who are loved ones of addicts to come out of the shame closet we’ve been stuck in for such a long time – shame that results from believing we’ve somehow caused our addict’s addiction and are responsible for making it stop.

That is simply not true – and I’m on a mission to help loved ones understand this.

The Truth About Addiction – And Choice

The real truth is that the addicts in our lives are making their own choices. Now, I’m not saying that people choose to become addicted – I don’t believe for a moment that anyone consciously makes that decision. I certainly didn’t, when I was in the initial throes of active addiction myself. In fact, most people who do become addicted believe that this will never happen to them. The other guy will get hooked, but not them! In their denial, they firmly believe they can handle the great harm they’re causing themselves. In the addiction field, we call this “terminal uniqueness” – when addicts believe that they’re so special and unique that it could actually kill them.

The irony about addiction is that it begins as a form of self-care: people just want to feel better. Unfortunately, addiction becomes a twisted form of self-care that only ends up hurting everyone it touches.

And the truth is that there is always another way to deal with a problematic situation or emotion.

Today, what I know to be true is that remaining in active addiction is indeed a choice. Whether or not addiction is seen as a disease, whether there’s a genetic predisposition or a learned behavior from our families of origin, and even though there is definitely brain involvement in addiction – underneath all of that, continuing to use an addictive behavior is ultimately a decision addicts make – and the loved ones are NOT responsible for that choice.

What Can Loved Ones Do Differently?

There are a multitude of services and resources available to help addicts who are ready to change their lives. There are detoxes, residential and day treatment programs, recovery homes, mental health centers that also deal with addiction (dual diagnosis), 12-Step groups – online and in person – for nearly any addiction you can imagine. As well, there are many viable alternatives for those who don’t wish to follow those paths. There is no excuse anymore for any person to stay entrenched in addiction.

No such luck for the loved ones of those addicts, however. The services for them are few and far between, so a great many friends and family members continue to do the wrong things when trying to help – simply because no one has ever suggested there might be another way.

And the good news is that there is another way.

In order to change what they can (themselves), loved ones need to understand that even though they did not cause the addiction, they have most likely contributed to it by enabling the addict in some way. Most of you know that you’ve done things you shouldn’t have done – such as giving money to the addict you love, or allowing him/her to live in your home rent-free with no consequences for negative behaviors.  If you’ve been doing anything like that, please understand that this is not a loving act toward your addict, and it’s definitely not self-respectful toward yourself. Please consider changing these actions into much healthier helping behaviors – ones that often stop addiction right in its tracks.

No More Shame!

Your job as the loved one of an addict is to practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness, and to do the inner work it takes to more deeply understand why you’ve been enabling in the first place.

Your job as the loved one of an addict is to practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness, and to do the inner work it takes to more deeply understand why you’ve been enabling in the first place.-Candace PlattorYour work is to love your addict enough to do the next right thing, over and over again, so that the addiction can actually stop.

You must not take on responsibility that isn’t yours. Stop believing that you’ve somehow caused the addiction or that you can somehow force the addict to quit if you just try hard enough. Stop believing that you are somehow defective because someone you love is making negative choices – and stop living in shame because of it.

Let’s hear each other’s feelings and stories. Let’s continue to come together in places like my Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself Facebook page. Let’s learn how to transform our own lives – which is what we can and do control – and start feeling deep and healthy pride for the positive changes we’re choosing to make in ourselves.

Let’s continue to come out of that closet of shame and live our own best lives. The ripple effect may well be that, as the addict you love sees you role model this new behavior, they will also choose to make healthier, positive changes in their own lives.


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