In my previous blog, I addressed how you should avoid enabling an addict. In a three-part series of posts, I will discuss things that you can do to help an addict/alcoholic.
I will make this very simple; the only way you can help an addict is through communication. Wait! There must be more, that is just too simple! Nope. Think about it; there is a human in your life, that you love and care for, and you want to help them. Do you have a magic wand? Are you able to touch them like ET and somehow change them? No. We are humans; we have no magical powers. We can’t reach into someone’s mind to change the way they think. What we do have, as humans are the ability to communicate. Our ability to communicate with each other is the most powerful thing we embody.
Now some would argue that love is the most important thing we do as humans. But, how do you show someone the emotion of love? Communication.
As humans, we are all different. There is no other human exactly like us ever; we are one of a kind. It is imperative for us to communicate with each other, so we don’t feel alone. If we didn’t, we couldn’t have survived on earth until now. We learn by communicating with each other. We invent, create, teach and love each other through communication.
We develop basic ways of communication that serve our purposes and stop learning. Then we find ourselves in a place where we can’t reach someone we love. We desperately want to help them because they are in trouble, but our initial communication fails us. It is at this point that we have to find the courage to change ourselves to help our loved one who is in desperate need.
So This Helps Addicts How?
At this point, if you are saying to yourself, I have tried communicating, and nothing worked, then please keep reading. I totally understand how you feel. I have been on both sides of this equation. I was an alcoholic/addict, and later I have tried to help addicts/alcoholics. I learned what I am going to suggest to you from my time as a manager of a Sober Living Home.
One of the things I observed as a house manager was the dynamic between addicts/alcoholics and people who were trying to help them. This dynamic varied from completely dysfunctional to moderately dysfunctional. On rare occasions, I would see a relatively healthy relationship with good communication. It became apparent to me that the more tumultuous the communication, the further the divide between the addict and the loved one.
First, you have to consider some things about your relationship with the addict. If you are a parent, spouse, loved on or friend, what is the state of your relationship with them? Are you angry at them? Is your relationship contentious? Are you mistrusting of them due to their past behaviors? My guess is that it’s probably a little of all of these. Knowing where the relationship stands currently is important. Why? If you are angry with them and suddenly change your demeanor because you think this is the right thing to do, you would be wrong. Recognizing your starting point of communication is vital. If you are hiding your true feelings and acting out of character, you will only confuse the both of you.
When to Begin
Well, just about any time you choose. There is no good time or bad time to start this process of communication. Ok. I have done this a million times, and we just argue, or they lie to me. Yes, they are addicts, that’s what they do when cornered or put under scrutiny.
What’s important to understand is that the person you are concerned about has receded from you and just about anybody else in life. Their world has become minuscule, and they only socialize with guys like themselves. To help them, you have to coax them back into the world that they are desperately trying to escape. You need to establish a line of communication that is not threatening to them.
Think of it this way: You live in an acceptable world by social standards, while they reside in a world that is not. You can’t physically pull them out of this place, nor can you berate or shame them into leaving. What you can do is use our most powerful tool available to us: communication.
You have to think long-term here. If an addict has been unattached from society for, let’s say, five years, you can’t expect them just to get sober and be fine. Rehabs are great, but it’s over in 30 days or less. More time is needed to re-acclimate back to a normal life. If it took an addict years to pull away from society, it will take months and maybe years to fully recover. So be patient.
How do I do This?
Start and think small. Don’t believe that you can accomplish anything in a day or a week. Arrange a time to meet in person or talk on the phone. Texting is not optimal but do so if it is your only choice. At this stage, you just want to communicate with them in an entirely non-biased way.
I think the best thing to do is open the communication on neutral ground. Don’t start by talking about addiction; rather, just talk. Have no agenda, just two humans talking to each other. They don’t need to hear from the disappointed, heartbroken person they hurt.
This first communication is the most vital step. So, prepare yourself for this first talk because it is going to set the tone for further talks. Don’t have any expectations early on with these discussions. Don’t judge them on their validity or how well they went according to your expectations or their’s. Simply relax and know you have started the first step in a long road.
What do I Talk to Them About?
Talk about the weather; talk about a new song you heard on the radio; talk about sports; talk about your hobby; talk about whatever. Just make sure everything is benign. Talking about family and friends is a big mistake. These can be immediate triggers for sadness and shame. Talking about yourself and family can lead to a contentious dialog as well. A simple statement like, “your sister misses you” is not helpful. They already know people miss them, and this bothers them deeply. If you make them sad, what do you think they will do as soon as you leave or hang up?
Try talking to them as someone you just met. You don’t talk to strangers about family or friends; you talk about everyday things. I realize this is hard to do, and it will go against everything that makes sense to you. You have to remember you are starting over with them at ground zero. For now, all you want is to have a nice chat with absolutely no connotations. Subsequent talks can get more intimate, but, for now, practice restraint and employ patience. Have faith that you are going in the right direction because you are.
Once you have had several talks where no one has become angry or aggressive, you can ease into some more personal things, such as how they are doing. Don’t rush this part and break with your plan. Be comforted that you have a plan and some control that will hopefully bring your loved one back into your life willingly.
Now, at any time in these early talks should the conversation become cynical, take control and diffuse the situation as best you can. You can’t control anyone else, but you can control yourself!
Things Not to do
There is a high likelihood that their addicted mind will try to take advantage of you. You will be talking to two different people at first, your loved one and their addicted mind. Know the difference and don’t become angry when they start wooing you for money or favor. Don’t become rattled if that same addicted mind tells you some horrible hardship that desperately needs your assistance. Remember what I said in my blog about enabling the Addict. Enabling the Addict Be firm and prepared for this. Do not become angry and lash out. Instead, be firm and resolute, while remaining respectful.
Here is a list of things NOT to ask during the first conversations:
• Are you still going to meetings?
• Did you find a sponsor like you promised?
• Have you talked to your sister/brother/father/mother?
• Are you still hanging around with so-and-so?
• Do you still have the same girlfriend/boyfriend?
These questions and others like them can lead to lying to you out of guilt or self-preservation. Once they start lying to you, this new communication will become worthless. When you start a discussion based on complete honesty, both of you will feel obliged to comply with the new rules. If you bait them with loaded questions that they won’t or can’t answer honestly, you will be back to where you started.
In stage one, success leads to the desire to talk further. Making this happen without letting your emotions trip things up is not easy.
We all want a miracle fix when someone we love has become addicted to drugs or alcohol. We so desperately want to have that person back with us so we can feel safe knowing they are well.
The truth is, individuals who have become addicted are fractured, with parts of them scattered everywhere. To help, we have to get them back one piece at a time. You can’t rush this process. It takes time and patience. Here is where the greatest human capability comes to the rescue: communication. Stage one is where you can get the first piece of your loved one back.
Part two of this series will examine the mid-point of this process of communication.