Ancient Wisdom Can Help Loved Ones Deal With Addiction

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny”. Lao-Tze

Watch your thoughts; they become words. You’re angry. You’re frustrated. You’re pissed off. Your loved one has disappointed you again. He has lied and denied. You’d like to give him a piece of your mind. You’d like to tell him how much he has hurt you. You’d like to shout, “God damn it. I am so tired of this. Please get some help.” It's taken me a long time but I’ve learned not to engage until I calm down. Sometimes, I count to 30, or repeat the Serenity Prayer, or walk my dog. The trick is to interrupt my angry response.

Watch your words; they become actions. One of my biggest challenges has been curbing negative thoughts that run riot like a runaway train, especially in the midst of a crisis. We can’t predict the future; yet, we often succumb to self-talk with a litany of “what if’s.” “What if he keeps abusing alcohol and drugs?” “What if she loses her job?” “What if he drives while intoxicated?” “What if he can’t pay the rent?” Alarmist thinking fuels enabling. Enabling powers the co-dependency dance. Both partners lose.

Watch your actions; they become habits. My adult son has been in and out of recovery from substance abuse for many years. During that time, I developed the habit of making too many “suggestions” and offering too much “advice.” (Even though it usually fell on deaf ears.) I believed my actions were well-meaning. Even helpful. Now I recognize that my advice is another form of control and manipulation. Although I’m not always successful, I work hard to “mind my own business.”

Watch your habits; they become character. Self-deception. Self-justification. Self-searching. In a twelve-step program this involves “making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” No easy task. Whether or not you buy into this approach, it’s helpful to take a hard look at the negative habits you’ve formed in your relationship with your loved one. Do you nag, manipulate, argue, control, accuse, overreact or minimize? And if so, why so? Be brave. Be fearless. Examine your motives. And above all don’t take anyone’s inventory except your own.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. Loved ones would like to feel courageous, strong, and resilient. However, we often feel weak, helpless and despondent in face of addiction. Weak because we don’t stick to our boundaries, wallow in self-pity, or blow up with temper tantrums. Helpless because we can’t fix our loved one. Despondent because we lose hope that our loved one will ever embrace recovery. These character traits need not become our destiny. Rather, we need the courage to change in order to make better choices for both ourselves and for our family members and friends who abuse alcohol and drugs. Help is available (link).


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