Tough Love or No?

One of the hardest things about having a loved one addicted to something is how to draw boundaries.  The traditional method has been something called “tough love” which means you take drastic measure to not support the person in the hopes that they will hit rock bottom and wake up in a ditch wanting to change their life.  Maybe you kick them out of the house, maybe you cut off all communication because your doctor told you to do so – or maybe you cut them off of all money supply.  Because addiction is so complicated and can make us all feel helpless, we can often take too drastic a measure to manage a loved one who is addicted.  Knowledge is not always a helpful thing, but in this case it is, and many people who will tell you what to do don’t really know addiction.  So the best our collective knowledge in the community can muster is “cut them off, kick them out, or stop talking to them.”  This can often make things worse for someone who is addicted and feeling helpless themselves, lost in a fog of self-hate and/or irresponsibility.  When any of us are lost we at least need something to tether to and when we do not have that we can fall deeper into the abyss.

While it is very important to draw boundaries with addicted loved ones, cutting them off from your relationship is not the answer (sometimes it may be).  You do not have to swing the pendulum all the way to the other side to begin managing boundaries better.  We can easily get ourselves caught in enabling behaviors.  It becomes a gradual process intended to help and protect and then we fear if we don’t continue they will end up dead on the street.  This catastrophic fear is not helpful either.  It can keep you stuck in the cycle.  The key is to find boundaries, smaller ones, that communicate the loved one what you will tolerate and what you won’t.   When they use in the house or when they come around high, it makes you or the kids or whoever scared, uncomfortable and angry.  You do not want this happening anymore.  You might stop giving them money, but will feed them.  You may have begun to learn their manipulations and start calling them on that.  Allow yourself to care for yourself just as much as you care for your loved one who is addicted.

People in addiction are still people.  Instead of focusing on them stopping their use, focus on what you don’t like about what they do in the relationship.  Not much of what you will do or say will get them to stop using directly.  But you can draw boundaries that protect yourself emotionally and mentally around their behaviors.  This way, as you speak from your experience in the relationship, they will not feel like you are trying to change them.  They will lose interest in being in relationship with you if they feel like you need them to stop using.  Keep them close to you in relationship so that when there are moments to discuss using and stopping, they will feel open enough to speak with you.

This is love.  Love is not tough.  Further, Love is not meeting all their needs, or doing too much for them because of fear.  I mentioned to a group of moms one time that all their worrying and attempts to control their addicted children were not even doing anything.  It is an illusion that our worries and attempts at control are doing anything.

Lastly, this is not easy!  Living with or being in relationship with someone who is addicted can be maddening, confusing, and downright unfair!  You might not have the energy to help anymore, or their might be other reasons why you need to cut them off from your life.  Physical safety, emotional abuse, and constant boundary crossing on their part need to be addressed appropriately by you.  You must care for yourself and/or your children while the addiction is running rampant.  But doing so in the name of “tough love” is not actually helpful.  If you have the energy and want to help this person, find a balance between enabling and cutting off.  It is all about balance when we decide to do things differently.

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One response to “Tough Love or No?

  • bev

    Of all the material I have read about heroin addiction, yours was THE most profound for me. My husband is an addict. Of course he will not admit it. He was in prison or 20 months, clean and came home Sept. 6, 2010, high. I went through this with him before. He was in prison and came home and within 3 months was using. After 6 months, I panicked and left him. I was tired of hurting, watching him go down hill, not be able to LOVE him enough to quit, or save him or fix him and I was so ashamed of how he acted and looked. After 8 weeks, I found out he was back in prison and returned to our home state. I am back to square one it seems but this time, I want to stay and love him no matter what. There is no physical abuse but I deal with so much emotional issues. I am slowly learning to focus more on loving HIM the person and hating the addiction as before i was hating him because of the addiction. Your posts have really helped me. I am currently working towards my degree in psychology. I will have attained my associates Oct. 2011 and will contnue onward. I want to help others with addictions. I have many nephews and a few nieces with drug addictions and many who struggle with alcohol and food addictions. I myself used to drink like a fish and eat myself into oblivion. I suppose that is why I want to stay to help my husband and let him know I am here for him. No one was there for me during my dark years. Thanks so much and let me know if you have any books coming out or ARE out about families of addicts, would love to read them. Thanks so much for letting me vent.

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