For starters, don’t assume they even want your help… 

“A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there, shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” — Alexander Pope ‘An Essay on Criticism’

Pope is right — a little knowledge can be dangerous — and annoying

We’ve read up on the issue. We’ve taken some courses, maybe home study or self-help books. Or we’ve experienced it in the behaviour of a friend or loved one. Maybe, we’ve lived with it in our families — grown up with it. But, whether our addict’s drug is cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, pharmaceuticals, recreational herbs, pornography, FaceBook — whatever the problem is… Coffee… just kidding — lighten up…

But you and I don’t really get it — will never really get it — unless we’ve been there ourselves, in some way. Walked a mile or two in those moccasins.

And yet, we come across like we know what we’re talking about. Instant experts. Like we’ve got the answer to the problems all wrapped up in a big red bow—yours for the asking.

And it’s only human nature. But, guess what? We don’t. And if we’re honest, we’ll tell you so.

It’s always easier to read a situation from the outside

For one thing, it’s always easier to see an issue more clearly from outside the problem — to read the personal dynamics, to see what’s missing or misused. Easier to see where each one is at fault or being manipulated. 

I love playing amateur psychologist — being an armchair detective. Analyzing people’s behaviour. Figuring out why we do and say some of the funny, or crazy, or mean, or hurtful things we sometimes do and say.

Yes, I have some theatre training in reading people, some undergrad psychology courses, and instincts honed by years of making mistakes about people in my personal life (a highly productive and fertile ground for mistake-making), and it gives me a slight edge in educated guesswork.

People watching is great fun. It helps my writing — especially it helps my fictional detectives to make astute guesses as to why folks do things. 

But real people are not characters in a novel where we (mostly) control the outcome.

And really, we all should have some knowledge and experience by the time we reach a certain maturity — if we’ve been paying attention.

However, just because we want to help, and may even have the tools to help, it doesn’t mean our addict is ready to be helped.

And, the sad truth of the matter is, you are probably the last person to whom they will turn for help. No matter how much you love them. No matter how much you want to help. No matter how much they may need your help.

That’s just the nature of addiction. Addicts so often turn away from those who love them.

Some addicts take a long time to hit what’s called “rock bottom” — to fall or sink so low, they finally realize they need help. Some never do — the addiction wins and they lose—permanently.

But, in the meantime, you need to help yourself

Like the lifeguard who can’t afford to drown while trying to save someone, you need to let your addict hit the rocks, not slam you into them first.

Photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash

If your addict, your personal Titanic is going down hard, find yourself a lifeboat. Get help to deal with the problems their addiction is causing you. 

Make them smoke outside. Uncouple your finances, limit social media, find a therapist, join a twelve-step group, whatever floats your boat. Pun intended… Stop frequenting Starbucks…kidding again.

Otherwise, they’ll take you down with them. 

Seriously. Remember, you are not the captain of their ship. It’s not your job to go down in their wreck. You’re a passenger. It’s your job to survive.

Though social media may not be perceived as being as harmful as drug dependency, it takes real time and connection away from the real people. Takes away from living life in real-time — being in the moment, living consciously and connected.

And whatever their addiction is, you’ve been affected by it too. Trust me, nobody gets out untouched.

My grannie once spoke about our teen-aged mom being chased around the kitchen by a knife-wielding uncle. ‘They had to come and take him away,’ we were told. 

Then there was our sweet, quiet, elderly great-uncle who, we discovered, used to beat his wife. Until our grandpa, her brother, clobbered Uncle severely, and threatened to kill him if he ever touched Auntie again.

Some of the ancient history my sister and I disinterred. A few family skeletons. But it was enough for us to realize our mother hadn’t known how to protect us from our “dear family friend” because she, too had been a victim.

Nobody gets out unscathed. We have to break the cycle — the chains that keep us locked in ignorance — the ties that bind us in silence.

It’s up to you to decide whether to stay or if you need to leave. Whether you can safely maintain contact or to cut all ties and get the hell out of Dodge.

No matter how much you love them, you need to be strong

They need you to be strong, even if they may not like it much. Even if they fight you like hell. Because being strong means you stop enabling. Stop accepting their B.S. — but you need to let them fall. 

And it may take a while because an addict won’t get help until they finally recognize they have nothing left and nowhere else to turn.

By all means, help them up, love them, be there for them. Urge them to get the help they need. Be ready with band-aids when they stumble and hurt themselves. But don’t try to be their keeper, their nanny, their protector, or their banker.

Then, seek help — professional help. Get counselling for both of you — for the whole freaking family if you can. Because you all need it. And if there are children involved, they need protection first and foremost.

It won’t be easy. And it sure won’t be appreciated. Not at first, maybe not ever. But, you will survive that, too. 

Just remember the lifeguard —you have to save yourself first. 

Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

Writer-songwriter-poet, educator, with thirty plus years directing and designing for the theatre, Elle recently completed her second novel and is working on a series of short stories. Visit Ellie at ElleFredine.com.
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Writer-songwriter-poet, educator, with thirty plus years directing and designing for the theatre, Elle recently completed her second novel and is working on a series of short stories. Visit Ellie at ElleFredine.com.

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