Is your heart breaking and do you feel helpless from watching a family member or someone you love struggle with active addiction? Are you struggling to cope with the negative consequences that their addiction had brought into your life and theirs?
If so, you are not alone.
Many experience this awful pain, worry, and desperation, witnessing a loved one’s loss of a livelihood, health, jobs, and relationships—all the things that suffer under the extreme weight of any addiction.
It’s possible we have exhausted our physical, emotional, and even financial energies trying to fix, manage, and control our loved one’s addictive lifestyle. But as weeks, months, and even years pass with no change we can become quite frustrated.
While it’s incredibly hard to admit this, we may eventually realize we have been contributing to the very problem we have been trying to resolve and that we must do what we can to end our enabling. Of course, this is but the beginning of a difficult and life-long practice in which we look within and to others who have discovered how to live successfully with a loved one struggling with addiction. And, most importantly, by trusting in and relying on the power of God.
If you are reading this then you are on the right track—you are seeking help and wisdom through fellow Christians on the road of recovery, whether they be former addicts themselves or those struggling with a loved one in addiction. I love to say continuing on this journey will be the hardest but the best thing you can ever do if you have a loved one struggling with addiction.
As someone in recovery who also has several loved ones in active addiction, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the best thing I can do for them is to be a walking, talking, and living example of someone who has received the free gift of recovery. I do my best to remember to look at them as someone who is sick—not bad. This is because I was once like them, hopeless, helpless, and stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction. It was only by the grace of God that I was finally able to surrender.
With the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I will sometimes ask my struggling loved ones if they have had enough as I continue to see the impact their long cycle of addiction has had in their lives. But the truth is—and this is so hard to accept!—no matter what I do or say their healing and recovery can only come when they are ultimately willing to be honest, open, and take responsibility for their own lives. No one can do this for them, no matter how hard we might try.
This means my job is to simply pray for them, have Masses said for them, and step aside and let God work His miracles. This can be hard because it means letting go of our desire to try and fix, control, manage, or change our loved ones. It means lovingly and healthily detaching in a way that allows us to offer them up to God while maintaining our own peace and boundaries in our own lives.
With time and practice, I have learned to set healthy boundaries in not allowing them to manipulate me into assisting with their addictive behaviors and patterns. Trust me—this is not easy. And it requires that I continually remind myself that, though I will do anything to help them achieve recovery, I refuse to help them continue on the path of destruction and misery.
More often than not they will hijack a conversation with emotional blackmail and guilt tactics or they will lash out in anger when they don’t get what they want from me (which, again, will only enable their addictive behaviors were I to give in). This is where I’m grateful for a sponsor and the Twelve Steps to help me check my motives and cry out to God for good direction. With each encounter with my loved one, it becomes easier to accept the outcome—good or bad—with peace. Thy will—not my own—be done.
I encourage you to find the support of the Catholic in Recovery community by attending weekly friends and family meetings where you and others can share your experiences, sorrows, and hopes—where you can learn how to live with peace and joy in spite of your loved one’s addiction. It is a difficult cross but it is not one you have to bear alone by any means. God’s grace, healing, and peace are available to you through those in Catholic in Recovery.
Our happiness and peace are not contingent on others but on our own spiritual condition. And we can only keep our spiritual condition in tip-top shape by frequenting the sacraments of the Church, praying regularly, and being part of a faithful community in Christ (such as those in Catholic in Recovery). Don’t forget to get rest, exercise, and take care of your physical needs as well. And set aside quiet time with Jesus as much as possible, ideally in Eucharistic adoration, to allow Him to fill you with His love, grace, and strength to carry this cross.
By doing these things, you will be able to love those who don’t know how to love themselves fully yet as they continue with their addiction. And you will be able to recall always that, with Christ, love conquers all!
Kathleen Ann, by God’s grace, has been clean and sober since June 1, 2006. She is an active member of AA, CIR, and works part-time as the Project Rachel Coordinator in the Life office at the Diocese of Rockford, where she helps gently and confidentially guide those wounded by abortion to hope and healing in Christ Jesus. On most days you can find her at daily Mass, the gym, or caring for the needs of her family, young and old alike.