“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” ~Ann Landers
I fell in love for better or worse. First came the better and then the worst.
My prince charming, over time, became a raging alcoholic. I watched an amazing man become, well less amazing.
There are endless books and information you can read about addiction, but I am going to break the rule, skip to the end of those books, and tell you the ending—the solution. Spoiler alert!
The most complex two words a person can say.
Odds are, the addictive (insert type of addiction here—can be drugs, sex, gambling; it’s all the same) personality type found you because you are a helper, better known in the addict world as an enabler.
When my alcoholic fell off the wagon, I read every book, attended AA and Al-Anon meetings, got several counselors, and was an active participant during one of his several trips to rehab. A star student.
With each fall, I designed and created a plan that would surely fix the problem. I was so well educated on the topic, I could have written a book myself, taught a class, or ran a meeting.
The problem was it was always my plan, not his.
When to let go?
When they are crossed, stick by the consequences you have predetermined. No more, “one more chance” scenarios. The boundaries need to be your boundaries. Some people will have a high level of tolerance, others will not. Set what you can live with and be happy.
For example, I had set a boundary of no legal issues. When that was crossed in the form of yet another DUI, it was time to file for divorce. Though it will not be easy, be prepared to follow through.
How do you let go?
Do the opposite of what comes naturally.
I was talking to my counselor and she said you are going to have to go against your gut to get this right.
I thought, you are crazy; I live and die by my gut feelings.
Then she the said words that would both sting and profoundly change my life. “You make the plans, you write the checks, you do all of it to make yourself feel better.”
She was right. I didn’t want to feel embarrassed, sick, or upset. I wanted the pain to go away and the healing to begin, and I wanted it to happen fast. Hadn’t we hit rock bottom?
Let them feel consequences of their actions.
Have a fine to pay? Pay it yourself.
You lose your driver’s license? Walk, ride a bus, or bike to where you need to go.
Need money for an attorney, or need to be bailed out of jail? Figure it out on your own.
Literally help them with nothing. Support, love, and encouragement are great, but stop there.
It is the most terrible and effective thing you, as a helper, can do—stop helping. If I had one regret it would be that I enabled him. I allowed him to not feel the consequences and robbed him of the opportunity to build his self-esteem through addressing his mistakes himself.
Even though you know the ending to the story and the secret has been revealed, there is a lot to be said about the journey.
I was in an Al-Anon meeting, and I listened as a beautiful, confident woman announced to the group she was going to go home and give her addict a piece of her mind, force him to stop, lay down the law. I thought, well that won’t work.
Then I realized, I was just like that woman. I had threatened, cried, yelled, and punished. It did not and would never work. I would learn more in those meetings than I ever believed possible.
So read the books, go to meeting, get that counselor, take the online course; it is worth the investment. One Ah-Ha moment can be life changing. I did the same for my children.
Build and use your circle of support.
I kept my addicts secret. I felt I owed it to him to protect and defend his honor. There was some truth to that, but I was also protecting me.
Once I opened up about the issue, love, support, and some judgment came flooding in. Take what you need and leave the rest. You live with your decisions. The person giving you the advice does not.
Find the new you.
My life, my future everything was built around this man and the beautiful children we had created. When I accepted my reality had changed, I embraced it!
I began to build a new life, and dusted off some old dreams until they were new and shiny. I learned where the sprinkler control box was, unclogged the garbage disposal, and bought a step stool so I could reach anything I wanted, whenever I wanted. (He is 6’6” and I am 5’4”.) I hired a handyman. I asked for help, it almost killed me but I did ask and it did help. Create a life you can love!
I have and will always have compassion for addicts. It is my personal belief that it is disease. I often switch the word addict for cancer. You would most likely not be mad that friend of loved one had cancer, but you can be upset that they have opted to not follow any of the doctors orders.
The addict gets one day at time. So should you. There will be days you go backward and there will be days you make amazing leaps forward. In the end you will prevail.