Trying to Reach a Loved One Who Is an Addict
Attempting to communicate with a loved one who is dealing with an unacknowledged substance abuse problem is a little like trying to carry on a conversation with someone when you both speak entirely different languages. And in the case of addicts, the language they speak has a grammar and a structure that is so unique and so different from yours that finding any kind of common ground can at times seem next-to-impossible. Nothing you say ever seems to make any impact or any difference to them, and from your perspective the things they say and the rationalizations they make to explain their self-destructive behavior don’t seem to have any connection to reality as you understand it.
When family members and friends of drug addicts and alcoholics first reach out to their loved ones in order to get them to admit there is a problem, most understand that they are likely to meet a certain amount of resistance. When you have a lifetime loving connection with someone, however, the expectation is that after awhile you will be able to break through the walls of comprehension and that he or she will start listening and paying attention to what you have to say. But unfortunately, substance addiction is one of the most insidious opponents that any person will ever encounter, as it possesses the mind, body, and soul so thoroughly that it becomes extremely difficult to escape from its corrupting influence. Those in the grip of addiction become resistant to reason and logic, which can make them completely immune to the entreaties of those they love, even when their lives are collapsing all around them.
For family members and friends, being continually rebuffed by addicts in denial can be baffling and frustrating. When it is so clear to everyone else that there is a problem, why are addicts unable to see the incredible damage they are doing to themselves and to those they supposedly love? If you find yourself in this position, what you should know is that your loved one’s refusal to admit he or she needs help is based on two powerful factors – the defensiveness of an ego that feels itself under attack, and the strength of the physical addiction itself.
Paddling the Boat of Addiction Upstream on the River of Denial
People forced to face up to their substance abuse problems will frequently fall into a defensive posture because from their perspective it feels as if their self-image and sense of personal strength and dignity are under attack. Admitting weakness and the inability to control behavior is hard for anyone, and those in the throes of addiction can feel especially vulnerable and threatened when confronted with the truth. But even beyond this basic psychological reality, the physical addiction caused by drugs and alcohol interferes even more with the ability of substance abusers to separate truth from illusion. Addiction and denial have a dialectical, mutually reinforcing relationship, as the former makes the latter more formidable while the latter helps the former maintain its iron grip on its victim. Addiction and denial, together, represent a true axis of evil, and they are powerful obstacles for anyone to overcome.
If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Breaking through the walls that addicts set up may seem impossible, but in reality it is not impossible but merely difficult, and it is important that you recognize this crucial difference. Ultimately, it is up to the addict to get past the denial, and to overcome the powerful compulsion of the addiction, and all that anyone else can ever hope to do is to offer a little bit of guidance and moral support as their loved one attempts to find the way back to sobriety.
Patience, calm determination, good humor, and a consistently loving attitude are much more likely to have a positive influence in the long run than anger or frustration. And the best way to learn to make the shift in the way you have been reacting to the addict or alcoholic in your family is to stop taking what the addict says or does personally. When interacting with a substance abuser, you must remember that it is not the person you love who is talking, but their addiction, and you have to see through this screen to the fragile, scared human being that still lies beneath.
Essentially, you have to reinvent your relationship with your loved one based on the new reality, and to recreate this relationship in a successful way you must be prepared to be in it for the long haul. You must know going in that the time and effort you invest in trying to help your friend or family member recover from substance abuse may not reap benefits immediately; in fact, they may not even reap benefits any time soon. But when those walls of denial and addiction finally do come tumbling down, the benefits that come then will be substantial, and well worth the wait.