When someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, it can seem as if you are all alone. You don’t know how to help, or what to say, or how to encourage your loved one to get the help they clearly need.
Three Stories – Three Perspectives
Several years ago, we talked with three individuals about how their loved ones’ substance use disorders impacted their lives. These three stories–their individual perspectives–are worth revisiting as a reminder that your difficulties are not yours alone.
The Importance of Being There
Among the stories and perspectives we shared was that of a young man whose brother developed a substance use disorder. He had this to say about approaching the situation in a caring and useful way—while also understanding that you cannot solve the problem on your own:
[N]o matter what you say or do to your sibling, you’ll never have the power to change them yourself. Instead of feeling like there’s nothing you can do, just take every opportunity you can to be there with them, to listen and share advice if they want it. And then pray, if that’s your kind of thing, because it will feel so out of your control.
He also emphasized the importance of kind words of support, offering some suggestions for how to talk to a loved one who is struggling:
I have no clue what you’re going through, and I can’t tell you that I know the struggles that you have. But I am here for you and you know that when your temptations come, you can reach out to me in good or bad times. I have my failures and temptations as well, although they might not be the same as yours, so I understand what it’s like to go through life and to have those ups and downs. Don’t feel shameful or guilty for what you’re going through. You’re no different than me or anyone else in our family.
The Importance of Knowing When to Let Go
While our first story was about finding ways to support a loved one, the second in the series focused on recognizing when you have to step away in order to protect your own well-being. You can’t force someone to make a change they are unwilling to make:
Once I really understood that nothing I ever did would change him, and that he had to be the one to make this choice, it still took me a few months to let go. Part of this was me hoping that I could prove it wrong, and the other part was me trying to remember what my life was like before I had compulsively enveloped all of my thoughts around him.
A person who suffers from a substance use disorder is often in denial—but it is important for the people in that person’s life not to be in denial as well:
I still find myself justifying the ways that I was hurt by reasoning that he was not in his right mind—because of the drugs and the mental illnesses I diagnosed him with. But what I want to tell everyone who has been in or is in a similar situation, is that addiction’s possessive control is not an excuse to hurt loved ones.
Do not join in their denial by pushing under the carpet all of the pain caused by their addiction. Not only is it essential for your own health and sanity but, because many people who are addicted have lost a lot of self-respect, it might be the only piece of evidence that can bring your loved one to the reality of their substance abuse.
The Challenges of Children with Addicted Parents
The other entry in the series about perspectives of addiction focused on a man who had been a child when his mother developed a substance use disorder centered on alcohol. As a child, he and his siblings had tried to nudge their mom toward getting the help she needed:
I remember being forced to confront her. Sitting across from her at the counter, telling her that ‘we know her drinking is a problem and that she has to stop for the sake of the family.’ She looked back at me, not saying anything, just crying and nodding like ‘yes, I know.’
But of course, a child is not well positioned to help a parent—and that can have lasting impacts. Decades later, the man was not sure his mom had come to terms with her substance use disorder.
I don’t see her as much as I used to and she’s still very secret[ive], so I’m not sure how much it’s affecting her everyday life. It’s not to the degree that it was growing up, but it definitely still hinders her from being free and from being the person that she would like to be.
He also made a key observation about what might hold a person back from getting help:
I understand that struggling with an addiction can also mean struggling with a debilitating shame.
We Can Help You Help a Loved One
At The Aviary Recovery Center near St. Louis, MO, we blend expertise and compassion to offer up personalized treatment programs that can help your loved one get on the road to recovery. Reach out if someone you love is struggling, because we are here to help.