Back in January I wrote a few pieces regarding talking which came with some interesting feedback from some of my readers. That was encouraging in a few ways. First of all it has reminded me that I need to talk more. Perhaps that is not stating it correctly as there are those that probably wish I would talk less. I need to be more open regarding the various struggles I have and have had because that helps me keep on the path I like to be on. Secondly it motivates me to think about things and write them down.
One of the calls I received was from someone I got to know a number of years ago, and have always appreciated her wit and wisdom, concerning a family member that was dealing with significant addiction issues. As she talked I listened. I must admit that I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the conversation. Because of my own addiction experiences many of the things she shared resonated with me. It reminded me of what I have put loved ones through. It reminded me of the struggles I have had in overcoming addictions.
My initial reaction was that I would listen, normalize, and validate. What else could I do? When mental health issues meet addictions, or the other way around, the problems are significant. First of all for the addict. As much as one tries different means and tricks to overcome, the allure of a “high” is always present. Knowing that in some small way it will help in overcoming the inadequacies the addict feels. The problem is that when the high goes away the inadequacies come back with a vengeance. A slippery slope indeed. So what does one fight first, the addiction or the mental illness? Or is it possible to do both?
Secondly the people who love the addict and want something better have a struggle. They try their utmost to support and help. Some days there is hope only to have the hope dissipate the next. Sometimes they feel like they have gotten through only to have the addict lash back and continue on the path of destruction. It becomes a harsh and difficult journey for them, trying desperately to understand and to help and far too often feeling guilt for not providing a solution that can help.
It has become clear to me through my own journey and the journeys of others that there is a fine line between being supportive and actually being an enabler. Sound confusing? It can be. When a person is in the depth of their addiction they need support. They need help. But what should that support look like? If the wrong kind of support is provided the addict finds that as a way to continue with their addictive behaviors. Sometimes to be truly helpful one must draw a line in the sand. There must be a deeper understanding that as much as we want to see change, change will only happen when the addict understands that that change must be made because they have a problem, not others. Only that way will the addict truly come to an understanding that change needs to happen.
At the end of our conversation I suggested to my friend that she write a letter to her brother. I shared with her that in my darkest days I had received some notes from my kids that had been and still are helpful. It is quite easy, and often convenient, to forget difficult conversations. It is also easier and more beneficial to write down your thoughts as you can take the time to ensure the message is clear and concise.
A few days later I received an update. The letter had been written and her brother was going to seek treatment for his illness. I was relieved that the suggestion I had provided had been helpful because, quite frankly, I felt helpless as she shared her story. As you find yourself struggling with relationships, for whatever reason, put pen to paper. It will help you to clarify your own thoughts and send a clear message to the recipient. Make it a good one.
“Don’t tell someone to get over it. Help them get through it.” Sue Fitzmaurice