Don't Let a Loved One Steal Your Joy
“You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.” When I first heard that sentence at a loved one’s meeting, I felt relieved. I didn’t have to blame myself for my son’s addiction, I didn’t have to try to fix him, and I didn’t have to restore his health (only he could do that). I won’t pretend that it’s been easy to put these three C's into practice. Even after many years in my own recovery program, I backtrack, especially when it comes to control. But, these days, I berate myself less and focus more on progress, not perfection. Faced with the complexity of the disease of addiction, family and friends often falter in their determination to detach, to stop managing, and to mind their own business. Easier said than done.
One way to free ourselves from the burden of a loved one’s addition is to consider two additional C's: Change and Choice. Change occurs when we recognize that our lives had become unmanageable and decide to break the chains of co-dependency. It occurs when we take that first step and attend a loved one’s group, meet with a therapist, and educate ourselves about the disease of addiction and its effect on family and friends. It occurs when we learn how to let go of control, how to stop arguing, manipulating, and nagging, how to set and keep boundaries, and how to take care of ourselves. Change involves making healthy choices to help us better manage this family disease.
At a loved one’s meeting, the mother of three teenagers shared that she had expected her ex-husband to remain in town after their recent divorce. However, he decided to leave. As a result, she was faced with the sole responsibility of parenting. She worked two jobs and ran herself ragged chauffeuring the kids to soccer games and other after-school activities. She broke down and cried. Clearly, she was exhausted.
A few weeks later her attitude changed. “I realized that I had a choice. I could either accept what is or stew over what isn’t. Most likely, my ex isn’t going to change. He’s out of the picture. Maybe permanently. So I have to step up and take care of myself and my kids. I have a choice: Either accept my situation and deal with it or wallow in resentment and anger. I refuse to let him rob me of my joy.”
This reminded me of another bit of wisdom I heard at a meeting: “No expectation, no resentment.” When faced with the disease of addiction, it’s easy to fall into the “poor me, ain't it awful” trap. “My life didn’t turn out like it was supposed to.” This thinking leads to the envy of other families who presumably have it a whole lot better than us (and yes, some do) and self-pity which eats away at our self-esteem. It doesn’t endear us to others either. Like my friend who refuses to let her ex steal her joy, we have choices.
Although we can provide love and support for our loved ones, we can’t control their behavior. If addiction is taking a toll on our lives, we can make positive changes and aim for healthier choices. It may not be easy but it will be worth it.