When you love someone with addiction, people LOVE to give you their unsolicited advice. They’ve seen the movies depicting addiction, they’ve read the news articles about drug use, and they have their own personal opinions on substances so why shouldn’t they? Because they’re freaking stupid. That’s why.
How fun is it when someone comes up to you with no knowledge of your personal life, your strengths, your weaknesses, or your skills and they offer you some “solutions”. Well thank you stranger with no idea what I have been through or what I need to do for giving me advice on a subject you know nothing about. I appreciate you sticking your nose in my business, offending me, and making an ass out of yourself. Have a wonderful day!
Maybe I am being too harsh. A lot of people are offering solutions because they want to help. They don’t know any better. They just want you to stop hurting. I can appreciate that. I can handle those suggestions. What I can’t handle is those who are also passing judgment on what you have done and what you are willing to do. This judgment even comes from those who DO know what it is like to live with or love an addict. Something worked for them or their family member so if you don’t try it, you must be stupid.
This is one of the most infuriating parts of loving an addict for me. I have always felt more traumatized by how people react to learning that my mom is an alcoholic than by my mom’s actual alcoholism. The judgment, the discomfort, and the “helpful advice” can be more hurtful because it’s often from people you trust and love.
For example, my mother’s family lives far away. We see them maybe once a year. We don’t really get them involved in my mom’s alcoholism because there’s nothing they can really do. Her parents are older and living in a retirement community. Knowing the truth would just hurt them. If they ever asked, I would be honest with them but they never do ask me. They only ask my mom how she is doing. Of course she always says she is doing great and has been sober for years. She has never been sober for years but they take her at her word for it.
She was planning a trip to go visit them during a time when her license had been taken for a DWI. I overheard her talking to my aunt about borrowing my aunt’s car and visiting an old friend a few hours away when she came out for her visit. Clearly, a terrible idea. I thought about what to do and decided to tell my aunt the truth. If I was in my aunt’s position and something had happened to my car, I would be upset with the family for not warning me. So I called my aunt and updated her on what had been going on and she was in SHOCK. She thought my mom was “no longer an alcoholic” (Don’t get me started on that). She was devastated. She kept asking me what my family was going to do about it….
Um? What? There is NOTHING and I mean nothing that you can do to make someone recover. They have to do that. You can encourage them, support them, take them to AA, find them a counselor, offer them information on rehabilitation facilities, hide the alcohol, cry with them, yell at them, threaten them, leave them, etc… In the end, it is their hard work, their determination, and their willingness to recover that will get them sober. If I could get my mom sober, she would be sober. We have tried everything I listed above. We can’t do it for her though.
I kindly explained this to my aunt and she didn’t seem to agree. That’s fine. She was hurt and in shock in learning this information. She thought the family could do more to help my mom be successful. That is a valid argument. She didn’t know that we had done everything we could. Unfortunately, she then shared this information with my grandparents. They were heartbroken. They were so upset with us…not my mom…the rest of the family. They were upset we had not been updating them and letting them know what had been going on. I can understand that. It’s their daughter. I also respected my dad’s wishes to keep it away from them though because in simple terms, they were just so damn old and far away. It would just hurt them. Isn’t it convenient that people are ready to blame anyone but the addict?
So while I am on the phone with my crying grandparents, they keep asking what we are going to do differently to get my mom better. They started offering suggestions on what we could do in the home not to trigger her. I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it. I apologized to them for seeming insensitive and explained again what I had told my aunt. I said we had tried to tiptoe around my mom, threaten her, support her, force her to get sober, and none of it worked. We can’t make her get sober and neither could they.
My grandparents handled my response well. They respected my answer because they knew I was more aware of what was going on than they did. People don’t always react that way though. I had friends that would make comments like “So you’re just gunna sit there and let her kill herself slowly?” and my response is usually, “I hope that doesn’t happen”. I don’t want my mom to kill herself but I also can’t spend my entire life trying to wrap her in a bubble to protect herself and others. That’s no way to live. That’s also not helping her. That’s us getting her sober and not her getting herself sober. She needs the motivation to do it herself or it will never last. It is not my responsibility and it is not your responsibility to cure them of their addiction.
Even just typing that now, I feel a sense of relief. We cannot make someone get sober. We are not responsible for “fixing” them. I am often suggested to drop her off at a rehab facility. People tell me I need to be going to AA with her everyday. People suggest that we take away her wallet and dictate all of her spending. If loving the alcoholism out of a person was possible, my mom would be clean. If threatening the addiction out of someone was real, she would be ten years sober. If cutting off “all” access to alcohol would stop cravings, she’d have her license right now. It just doesn’t work that way.
People might say you’re selfish. They might tell you that you are putting others at risk. They might say you’re being a bad daughter. I have heard it all before but I am completely at peace with how I handle my mom’s addiction. I would be devastated if anything ever happened to her. I am sure there would be some guilt if she hurt herself or someone else but deep down I know that am not enabling her and I am not hurting her. She is doing this to herself and she is the only one to blame if someone got hurt. I pray for her daily but that is the extent of my help.
I hope this post helps you find some relief. I know we want to help them and we want to save them but we can’t. Accepting that has been an incredible turning point in my relationship with my family. Screw people’s suggestions and judgments. They shouldn’t be asking you what you are going to do and telling you how to do things. That takes the responsibility off of the addict. If they have no professional, personal, or educational experience, they should be asking how to help support you and that’s it. That’s my unsolicited advice to you and to them. How ironic.
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