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When Helping is Harmful

If you have ever loved an addict, it’s likely you’ve heard the word “enabling” before. Maybe friends, family, or even professionals have criticized you for doing what feels like the most natural thing for a loving parent, spouse, or sibling to do when someone you care about is struggling. This compassion and desire to see one-another succeed is a beautiful thing; it’s what makes us fully human. But, when someone you love is suffering with addiction, our natural reactions as compassionate human beings may actually be hurting those we are trying so desperately to help. The good news is you actually don’t have to change them at all. The scarier news is that you are going to have to change yourself.

Now, I will never tell a family member that they need to turn their backs on their loved one because it just simply isn’t necessary.

What a relief…

What is necessary is a fundamental shift in how love is understood and expressed in our relationship to self and with those suffering from addiction. Traditional forms of “enabling”—including paying debts, allowing addiction into your home, or the myriad of other ways you’ve behaved that were completely out of your comfort zone—are not actually expressions of love, but rather expressions of control fueled by fear and guilt.

Sound familiar?

Even though we are constantly told that this type of “helping” is actually harmful and, even though our addict’s behaviour seems to only get more destructive, we continue to use these same old strategies on repeat.

Everyone’s heard the definition of insanity right?

Which brings me back to the scary part, when we are in the center of the chaos of addiction everything we have ever been taught about love needs to be reevaluated. To truly support our loved ones in this disease we need to reimagine everything we thought we knew about love and then love fiercely.

To love an addict is to take a most intimate journey into the self. And although this is not a journey that we have asked to go on, this part is no longer a choice. The choice now becomes whether we decide to get started embracing change or whether we keep doing the same things on repeat with the expectation of a different result.

Below, I have outlined seven examples of what it means to reimagine love, and if you’re ready, you can start today.

  1. Love is letting go. Because the impact of avoiding consequences, is harsher consequences.
  2. Love is understanding that your loved one is sick and that you are not a doctor. This might mean helping them find appropriate support, but knowing that you are not it.
  3. Love is finding a group of people who understand what it feels like to love someone that’s sick and communicating your feelings to these people as often as necessary. This could be multiple time a day at first.
  4. Love is working with professionals to learn different coping strategies for your emotional state that don’t involve attempts to micromanage another person’s behaviour.
  5. Love is taking responsibility for your own mental health by nurturing your spirit and getting back to what used to make your heart sing.
  6. Love is giving only what is in your means to give emotionally, physically, financially or otherwise.
  7. Love is finding that same compassion for yourself that you so freely give to others. Remind yourself that this is hard, and that you are doing the best you can.

As a Registered Social Worker, Interventionist, and founder of True North Interventions, Sonja Maibach works with individuals and families suffering from addiction through one on one counselling, family care, and invitational intervention. When addiction is present in the family, loved ones find themselves feeling afraid, alone and unsure of their decisions. Sonja provides services designed to provide peace of mind by creating a partnership that allows you to feel confident in the decisions being made about the health and wellness of you and your family.

Our Residential Addiction Treatment Centre

Specializing in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction, Cedars at Cobble Hill also provide treatment for other process addictions including eating disorders and gambling.