Part of the holiday tradition is our New Year's resolutions. The list usually has the same ones we tried so desperately to incorporate last year: losing weight, an exercise routine or no more junk food, as well as the warm and fuzzy kind as we vow to be nicer to our family or get into volunteer work. But if there is a loved one in your life with a substance-abuse issue, this may be a good time to reinforce or incorporate a few new resolutions regarding your involvement in their life.
When reading these four New Year's resolutions, please keep in mind that these are meant for you, not the alcoholic/addict as they have their own New Year's resolutions to make for themselves.
Having dealt with my own family's substance abuse issues for years, I respect that they are easier said than done, but success is obtainable. As with all resolutions, we jump in with both feet, arms flapping, hell-bent on following through with every declaration. Unfortunately, although our intentions are very honorable, time seems to erode our fiber of due diligence and we all too often slip into our old ways. Hey, maybe that ought to be New Year's Resolution #5 -- "I will not backslide into old habits."
In reading this list, take a second to reflect and see whether you have tried to stay strong in implementing some of these concepts or whether they flew out the window with the first conflict, hiccup or uncomfortable situation. Or, maybe these concepts are new to you, and since you've tried everything else to deal with your loved one's substance abuse issues, you realize it's time to try something different.
- Stay Neutral
A car that is in neutral doesn't go anywhere, neither forward nor backward. Staying neutral with your loved one means offering no opinion one way or the other. It means finding a middle ground that neither validates nor challenges what he or she is communicating to you.
Staying neutral is safe. No one can come back and blame you for saying this or that. No one will attack you for encouraging an action or specific behavior. When you stay neutral, you turn decisions over to the alcoholic/addict to make independently; you are empowering this person with the capacity to make choices, and at the same time, you are empowering yourself with a commitment to neutrality. Your loved one will be afforded the opportunity to learn from their own decision, not yours. That decision may or may not garner positive results, but either way, the alcoholic/addict will be in charge of the outcome, not you.
To engage means to participate. Oftentimes, engaging with the alcoholic/addict means paying attention to him or her and possibly responding with frustration, anger or negativity. Your loved one has probably gotten used to your engagement. Even when you are screaming at the top of your lungs with no acknowledgment from them, you are engaging, thus offering attention. Fundamentally, a person with addiction issues would prefer negative attention to no attention at all.
Keep in mind, those who have addiction issues rarely listen past the first sentence, especially if what you are saying is something they don't want to hear. The person will tune you out, walk away or pretend to oblige just to shut you up. Alcoholics/addicts truly can be masters of selective hearing.
Whether your loved one is immersed in addiction or is in recovery, a well-meaning, simple discussion sometimes can turn hostile. Too often, you can't help but get sucked into a conversation that becomes heated and escalates into a full-blown screaming match. When it gets to that level, no one is listening, and no one can respond with any clear thoughts or act on good intentions. Nothing is accomplished except the building of resentment and anger.
When you calmly disengage from that pattern, be aware that your loved one may fear losing you and wonder, "What happened to my sparring partner?" Ultimately, your loved one may come to realize that there is no satisfaction in arguing with someone who doesn't argue back. By not engaging, you are in control of your own actions and reactions.
One of the keys to a strong and long-lasting recovery is allowing the alcoholic/addict to be responsible for their own actions and intentions. Whether the individual's concerns are about recovery, housing, employment or social life, the more a person comes up with their own game plan, the more progress will be made in life generally and in addiction recovery specifically. The alcoholic/addict needs to rely on themselves for planning and developing this road map toward their goals.
They might ask for help, but try not to approach your loved one first or give them too much advice or direction. I have worked with too many parents who want to "fix" their children's self-esteem issues by strongly recommending that their children read certain books or attend motivational seminars. These well-meaning parents think their children have suffered enough, and they want to promote the rebuilding of their children's lives. As a result, parents sometimes push their children's recoveries faster than is healthy, or faster than they are meant to unfold.
In letting the alcoholic/addict rebuild their life, you are giving them the opportunity to take on responsibility. In turn, they can't blame anyone else or use others as an excuse for relapse.
Don't be a crutch for another. Be mindful that in your zest and quest for being front and center and being available to help your loved one embrace a clean and sober lifestyle, you are robbing them of the chance to do some of the heavy lifting.
As loving and supportive family members and friends, our first inclination might be to roll up our sleeves and immerse ourselves in their recovery program. Although it is difficult to step back, family members and friends must do so, as this is their personal recovery program -- not yours. Whether they fail or succeed, they need to map out their plans their way, not your way. Anyway, unless you are with the alcoholic/addict 24/7, you have no way of knowing how their recovery is going, or the honest effort they may or may not be putting into it. Family members and friends must be in the cheering section in the bleachers, not the coaches running the playbooks on the field.
I chose these four areas versus enabling, rescuing, boundaries and communication for a few reasons. One, I have written previous blogs about the importance of those areas; and two, I felt that these concepts are doable and easily obtainable New Year's Resolutions. Even if you only do one, do it to as close to perfection as you can. The goal is to feel good about what you can do; little victories along the way will pave the way for more challenging year-round resolutions, and not just ones that are pinned to a holiday tradition.
I wish you a wonderful new decade full of personal accomplishment laced with self-respect and dignity, which you deserve 365 days a year!