Tough Love and The Addict

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We’ve been using punishment to try to treat a condition that is defined by its resistance to punishment.-Maia Szalavitz

Due to the addiction that runs in my family, researching articles about alcoholism/addiction is a hobby of mine. I read an article recently that blew me away. I have included it at the bottom. Maia Szalavitz discusses why tough love doesn’t work when treating addiction. This was my personal take on it.

My mom knows that if she has another drink it is going to mean her family is going to hate her, she could lose her job, she could hurt herself, or she could hurt someone else. She knows these things and she continues to drink.

She’s lost jobs in the past, she’s lost friendships, she’s been arrested, and she hurts so many people every time she buys a bottle.

My mom sneaks alcohol before family events. My mom doesn’t come home after work some nights. My mom drives drunk. Obviously, none of these things have ever ended with a hug or a high five from a friend or family member.

People yell and curse at her. She is filled with shame and remorse. It doesn’t change.

She is aware of the consequences and knows they are coming. None of that has stopped her from drinking.

So why do I think me being mean…not talking to her…taking something from her…etc. is going to change anything?

What about me yelling is so different from any of the consequences she has already suffered and ignored by continuing to drink?

She has made it perfectly clear that consequences will not keep her from drinking.

Will anything?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know it is not the same for every person. I do know she needs a higher level of care to address this and I do know that we aren’t going to get anywhere if she doesn’t want to get herself sober.

Selfishly this article also made me think about myself. Where does this leave me? I can’t be angry now? I can’t yell when she drives drunk? I can’t ignore her messages after she publicly embarrasses the family? What do I do? Do I hold in my anger? Do I not give her any consequences? Isn’t that enabling? How do I handle my anger knowing that letting her “have it” isn’t helping? What do I physically do with all of this hateful energy inside?

I was getting really angry as I read this article because I felt like it was letting the person who had caused me so much pain off of the hook and then I read this line about treating addictions with empathy:

And that doesn’t mean there’s not any pain, but it means that we don’t inflict extra pain in order to try to help you, which is not a good thing to do.

Isn’t that a powerful statement? We can have pain. We can hurt. We can be angry. That doesn’t mean we have to inflict pain on our loved ones thinking it is going to help them.

That statement isn’t justifying the addict’s behavior or the pain they have caused but it is a simple guide in how to respond that will benefit the person and you.

I so often blow up at my mom to make her feel bad after she relapses thinking that it is going to help her get better. For some reason, against all my better judgement, I in the moment feel like she needs to be aware of her shame. Like she didn’t already know she messed up? I know, I’m brilliant.

I am going to get mad at my mom. I am going to put in boundaries to protect myself from future pain. I may have to separate myself from her when things are really hard. None of those things are inflicting pain. What I am not going to do is inflict extra pain on her when she relapses (or at least I am going to TRY not to do that). Because Maia Szalavitz is right, that isn’t tough love. That is just me not knowing how to handle my emotions.

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2 Replies to “Tough Love and The Addict”

  1. I honestly do my know what you can do for yourself in relation to your alcoholic mom. After trying to fix mine in the hundreds of ways we do I have distanced myself from the individual. Hands off. I stay in my lane. Sweep in front of my doorstep only. I accept I am not responsible for the person although I do love him. I moved out of his way. He alone can manage his life conecwhat May. He may or may not choose to change. He may die due to alcohol. I have no control and no longer want any control. I now live my life and rarely worry about his life. This after 15 years and suffering my health suffering due to worrying over him constantly. I love him but I’m done.

    1. It is amazing that you got to such a strong and freeing place. So many of us that watch our loved ones struggle stay in “the chaos” instead of pursuing our own happiness. Thank you for sharing!

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