What do we do when someone we love is on the brink?
A personal perspective. Addiction and mental illness has meandered through my family taking quite a few casualties, directly, and indirectly. My father, my sister, my husband, my daughter, my son. I have spent many years trying to control the outcome. I would micromanage people’s lives. Arguing with them, reasoning with them. Giving them money, holding back money. Overindulging them, ignoring them. We would open our hearts and cry with honesty and pain. Then go back to lies and denial.
How many of you have a loved one, friend or colleague engaging in dangerous and self destructive behaviour? Have you exhausted all of the options you can think of – and still they persist? Are offers of money, accomodation and resources met with indifference or defensive aggression? Does covering for their actions only lead to more of the same – not the remorse and the change you hoped for.
Meanwhile, are you left with fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, sadness and desperation? Let’s not beat around the bush, people die from self destructive behaviour, and you’ll do whatever it takes to keep someone you love alive. Drug overdose, loan sharks, illegal activity, risky and delusional behaviour, suicide attempts.They leave a dark haze that permeates every area of life. The reality is that you cannot save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. If you could change people there would be no addiction, mental illness, crime or suicide. The people you love who are engaging in this behaviour would change and heal. So what can you do? Boundaries – it’s not easy with someone you care about. There is often fear that if you say ‘no’ they will leave or hurt themselves. Go to prison. Or die.
Held to ransom by the worst possible scenarios. Betrayed again and again, always hoping this time will be different. I’m a slow learner. I would put boundaries in place, only to relinquish them as soon as they were challenged. I would swear black and blue that there would be no more money. Then I would pay speeding and parking fines which escalated to $1000s because there was no responsibility around car ownership. I didn’t want the car seized, I didn’t want someone I loved to have a record for unpaid fines. I paid debts. I didn’t want someone I loved to be hurt. I was in protection mode.
Nothing ever got better. I suffered betrayal and hurt again and again. I eventually realised that nothing would change until something changed. Now there are firm boundaries around money. I won’t give it away to pay for loans, fines, lifestyle. I will buy food if that is what is needed. I make sure my bank account is secure, there was a time it was cleaned out. Emotional disconnection – Ha! so easy to say. I was dragged on to an emotional rollercoaster (actually rollercoaster suggests there were ‘up’ times – there weren’t) I felt I needed to be fully engaged and involved so I could ward off disaster. I left myself open to emotional manipulation.
I would spend sleepless nights crying with fear and desperation. Then need to get up and function the next day. I would explode with rage. There was nothing I could do yet somehow I felt the responsibility of everything rested with me. Physical disconnection – I spend very little time in their company. There was a time when I felt I needed to be very hands on. Somehow, if I was there, nothing bad would happen. I could control the outcome. I took control of meals, chores, spent hours and hours in their company. I was being played. I was allowed to do all of the work, I would be told what I wanted to hear.
Then as soon as my back was turned, the addiction would be fed. It broke my heart, someone I love was damaging themselves and sinking lower and lower into the abyss. I was not controlling anything. I was not helping. I was enabling. Support network – Did I just cut this person off and leave them completely isolated? Of course not. Contingency plans were put in place. People were regularly checking in. Have there been interventions? Of course. Have they helped? Not yet. What did I do? In order to change, I needed to ask myself some really challenging questions.
Am I actually helping?
Is anything changing?
When the answers were ‘no’, I needed to try something different. I started with myself. I needed be emotionally strong. I cleared anger, guilt, shame, frustration and fear. It’s an ongoing process, new lows mean I can slip back into a dark place. I know that if I stay there, I hurt myself, I hurt the people I care about, I cannot be of service to anyone.
I can say, hand on heart, that I am happy 95% of the time. It’s a much better way to live. Being trapped in the quagmire of pain did not help or solve anything. I have learnt it is possible to still care about someone, wish the best for them and look out for them without taking on their emotional turmoil.
I understand their journey is made of choices they have made and will continue to make. My journey is the same. I want to be happy. I want to live a life where I can follow my passions. Make a difference. Be of service in an effective way. This is an ongoing story. There is no happy ending. Yet.
I know I need to be in control of my life. I speak to a lot of people who are dealing with self destructive loved ones. The negative effects of addiction and mental illness ripple out and have long lasting consequences. I would really like to hear your stories about what you did when you got to the ‘ENOUGH’ stage.
What worked and what didn’t.
The more information we share, the stronger we become.
Positive action also has a ripple effect with long lasting consequences.