To keep your sanity, it is important to keep reminding yourself of the three Cs:
- You did not CAUSE it
- You cannot CONTROL it
- You will not CURE it
As a family member or friend of an alcoholic or addict, you might wobble on what you should do.
- Your mind wonders if you should help them or not help them?
- Do you try to get in their way or just stay out of it?
- Could you somehow intervene or at least provide support?
- Is there a benefit or even way to cover this addiction up?
- Are you allowed to be angry?
- Can you just ignore it?
- Should you be more compassionate towards the situation or act more firmly?
- How can you even fathom maintaining sanity amongst all the chaos?
After years of countless painful experiences, we have learned that no matter the number and variations of methods we employ, our attempts of being helpful are often futile. Nothing we do seems to stick long enough to make a lasting improvement, and when we attempt to give unsolicited advice we end up being ignored. Although we try our best, we not only find that our best is insufficient, in some instances it just makes things worse. Some of our can actions even lead us into the role of “enabler”.
So how do you handle a loved one’s addiction and maintain your own sanity? To answer, I recall what I once heard my niece tell my sister, who was frantically trying to help her solve a problem. After having enough, my niece – who was in preschool at the time – said to her mother, “Mommy it’s not your problem, it’s my problem.” It was simple, transparent, and the timing could not have been more perfect. That is the exact mindset to have about your role in someone else’s alcoholism or addiction. It is NOT your problem.
Keep your sanity by taking a tame approach to adopting this mindset. To start, put the focus on what you’re not going to do rather than trying to figure out what you can do. Think of it like a plane ride: what are we always advised to do in the event of an emergency? We “secure our own oxygen mask first” before assisting others. Now is the time to “put YOUR mask on first”. Control your OWN actions and determined your OWN attitude. It’s human to want to help, and you can still do so by educating yourself on the disease and adopting constructive ways to deal with it.
Pause and reflect:
Take a deep breath and pause to avoid reacting in anger, frustration, or despair. It never ends well when you make statements out of anger. It’s also very counterproductive to force your opinion onto someone who asked did not ask for it.
Avoid denial and accept that there is a problem. Find ways to overcome any negative stigma or sense of embarrassment. This acknowledgment and acceptance will help restore your sanity.
Learn about the disease and understand what the addicted person is going through. When someone is grappling with addiction they can be also suffering emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.
Recognize that addiction is a family disease. It’s worth noting anyone with close ties to an alcoholic or addict can suffer in those same areas listed above (sometimes even more than the addict).
Attend an Al-Anon meeting, a support group for people who have someone with a drinking problem in their life, or one of a similar nature. You may learn that it isn’t just the addict that has a “problem”, but also the household as a whole. By listening to the experiences of others you will be able to analyze your own situation more objectively.
Give yourself permission to have a decent life:
Be aware only YOU hold the power and have the right to change yourself. You cannot force change in others.
Remember that YOU have control over your own emotions and the ability to choose actions that can protect us AND bring positive outcomes.
Know the importance of learning about yourself. Just because others are lost or struggling does not mean YOU should compromise your sanity and struggle as well. By learning about yourself you can grow despite the chaos that’s around you.
Accept that it is imperative to focus on you and that is NOT selfish. When you spend more time focusing on someone else than yourself you risk becoming codependent, i.e. obsessed with your loved one’s addictive behavior. Don’t lose focus of your own needs and desires.
Understand that both alcoholism and addiction are diseases. A person does not choose to be diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. The same is true for a person that has a substance dependency: they do not choose to be an alcoholic or addict.
You cannot blame the disease of addiction on a lack of willpower; it’s a chronic illness that’s rooted in genetic and environmental causes.
Take advantage of the many resources that are available specifically for the loved ones of addicts. Group therapy, the many free support groups, and one-on-one counseling can all do wonders in restoring your sanity.
Support your children:
If you are a parent or co-parent to an alcoholic or addicted person, take the time to explain the situation to your children. Although a sensitive and difficult topic to face, and even though it may seem easier to just shield your children from it, addiction is a family disease.
Do not pretend there is not a problem. Your child could be an infant, toddler, pre-teen, teen or even an adult child, and they will still feel the actions of the alcoholic or addict. More importantly, they will feel your reactions, as will the rest of your family.
Keep the lines of communication open.
Be honest and supportive to your children. By educating a child early on it may also curtail them from being a victim to alcoholism and other addictions. An atmosphere stationed in honesty will help you and your children remain sane, as opposed to living with an “elephant in the room”.
According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, 18% of American adults grew up with an alcoholic in their home while 43% have dealt with an alcoholic in the family. Alcoholism is four times more likely to develop in children that have alcoholic parents than in other families.
Seek help for yourself:
Do not think that the addict or alcoholic is the only one who should change. This may come as a shock but the loved ones that are affected by their disease also need to change. This includes spouses, siblings, parents, relatives, friends and co-workers of the alcoholic or addict.
Realize that it’s perfectly normal AND necessary to seek the help you need. Don’t wait until you have lost your sanity due to countless failed attempts to “fix” the alcoholic or addict in your life. Find the type of support that works best for you or explore multiple options. You may decide you get the most out of meetings like Al-anon or Nar-anon. You should also seek professional therapy to learn how to “detach” and pursue your own happiness. All of these resources will help you realize you are not alone.
Find comfort in the “Serenity Prayer”:
When your sanity feels in jeopardy, take comfort by the words of the “Serenity Prayer”. It has helped many of us, people who are just like you, and we may even say it countless times over. Regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs, we encourage you to just try it. You may be pleasantly surprised by its ability to bring some peace to your life.