Just like most of us these days, I’ve been getting email after email – from all the lists I’ve ever been a part of and from many I never signed up for – all about the corona virus – complete with reminders to wash our hands and maintain social distancing. This article will not tell you to wash your hands – because you already know that. It will not tell you to self-isolate or to stay 6’ from each other – because you know that too.
What I do want to talk about today is what it’s like to have an addicted loved one – specifically, one who is still in active addiction – in this period of such uncertainty. Struggling with addiction in your family is heartbreaking enough. But now, with everything that’s happening out there – the stakes have become much higher.
And, it seems, this won’t be over any time soon. I so wish I had better news – for you, for me – for all of us.
COVID-19 IS IMPACTING ADDICTION
Many of us have been hearing about the recent spike in addiction, especially with drugs and alcohol. There are several ways that all things Covid-19 are affecting families dealing with addiction. One is that you might not be in contact with the addict in your life – you may not even know where they are, how they’re doing. Are they sick? Will they contact you? What if they do contact you – and what if they don’t?
Or you may know where they are, but you can’t be with them. They may live in a different city or country – or just down the block. But you don’t know whether they’re practicing self-isolation or out there using, so it’s dicey to have them come to your home. Maybe you can be in touch online sporadically, when they occasionally reply to your phone calls, texts or emails. And even if they are abusive and disrespectful when you’re able to communicate, you find yourself continually hungry for more contact.
Some families live under the same roof with their addicts – and the self-isolation is making everyone and everything more chaotic than usual. Is your addict behaving in abusive or aggressive ways? Are they abusing substances (or playing video games or gambling online, etc.) each and every day, sometimes all throughout the day and night? Have you been able to set any boundaries, and if so – how are you doing with maintaining those? Maybe you’re already getting to the end of your rope – and we’re really only a few weeks into what could last a much longer time.
WHAT DO YOU DO – HOW DO YOU COPE?
I wish I had a magic answer for all of these issues. I wish I could say to you “If you just do this, all will be well.” But the reality is that things are likely not going to get better for a while, as we all figure out our own ways to deal with our new normal.
There are, however, some things I do know – and I thought I would share those with you today. The first thing I absolutely know is that you are not alone – even though it can totally feel like you are. There are millions of families just like yours, for whom this coronavirus is bringing its own share of unique and problematic issues to deal with.
Some families have become used to not knowing where their addicts are. Some addicts have moved away from home and are choosing to not be in touch on any regular basis. Others have been on the street for a while – sometimes because they haven’t liked the healthy, respectful boundaries their families have set for them. They may have developed a new community of people they’ve come to see as their family – which can feel quite hurtful to their actual family members.
If you don’t know where your addicted loved one is, you may have a few options. One might be to go out and look for them, driving through streets where they may be living, asking people if they’ve seen them – trying to seek them out. But once you find them – IF you find them – then what? Will you ask them to come back home, hoping that things can be different this time – even though the problems that led them away haven’t yet been resolved? And if you can’t find them, will you be able to go on with your own lives without resorting to the familiar obsessive thinking about them – in essence, going into a ‘relapse’ of your own?
Such a difficult situation.
Maybe you’re all too aware of where the addict in your life is – especially now, in this reality of “self-isolation” – because they are living with you and creating problems as a result of being underfoot 24-7. When people who are in active addiction begin to have feelings they don’t want to deal with (such as fear of becoming ill or dying from a virus), they invariably begin to use their addiction even more. As time goes on – with people not being able to get away from each other – it is very likely that addictive behaviours will start to skyrocket.
As terrible as this all can be, there actually is hope. I know you probably can’t see it at this moment – but stay with me, and we’ll get there.
This is the usual scenario in most families dealing with addiction: You love the addict – to the point where it hurts both yourself and them. And because you’re not sure what else to do, you do your best to avoid whatever conflict you can. Any boundaries you’ve set are allowed to be trampled upon. Any self-care you’ve been practicing flies out the window as you just try – to the best of your ability – to keep those turbulent waters calm. As a result, the addict begins to understand that they call the shots and their sense of entitlement goes off the rails.
LOVE VS. ENABLING
When we allow this to happen, we find ourselves in the cycle of enabling. And when we give in to enabling our addicted loved ones, we inadvertently lead ourselves right into codependency and self-abandonment. You obsess about them incessantly, you’re so worried about them – you love them so much – that you abandon yourself in the process.
But we have to ask ourselves, is that REALLY love? Does love really hurt that much? How can we love others and stay healthy ourselves?
One thing that codependent people are very good at is remaining loyal to the point of lunacy. We can go for long periods of time truly believing that “My love can save them” – so we try and try and try and try to do just that. But the truth is that it is only when an addict chooses to stop using and to recover, that they can be saved from addiction. That is not a decision any of us can make for them.
And we know today that an enabled addict does not recover, because if all their needs are met – why should they even try?
When we’re loyal to that point of lunacy, we’re not looking after ourselves. We are, in fact, giving our personal power away to somebody else – usually to a person who will abuse that power. In order to love an addict and stay healthy, we need to learn how to take care of ourselves – holistically – from many different angles.
Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to be as gentle with yourself as you can be during this difficult time. Maybe you can write a list of ‘gifts’ you can give yourself so you can begin to feel even a little better. And if you’d like to share that with us, my team and I would love to hear your list of self-offerings.
If you subscribe by following the link below, you will receive additional articles in this series. In my next article, we’ll explore 5 ways you can begin – or continue – to actively love and care for yourself. You’ll learn how important this is for your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health – as well as learn some wonderful strategies for kick-starting your own personal self-care.
I hope you’ll join me!