One common misconception by families and friends of addicts is the notion that it is their job to protect the addict. They try to control the addict’s behavior and attempt to change the addict’s thinking and attitude. Instead, families and friends benefit themselves and the addict by detaching with love. This does not mean abandoning the addict, nor does it mean losing compassion. On the contrary, detaching with love means to refrain from doing for addicts what they can do for themselves.
Distinguish behavior from person
Detaching with love has to do with behavior, not with the addicts themselves. Learning to maintain compassion for addicts while avoiding actions that prevent them from the consequences of their behavior can be painful. Watching someone you love destroy their health, employment and relationships is agonizing. Maintaining emotional distance, however, is vital to an addict’s recovery. Detachment helps family members because they grow in the awareness that they cannot control another person’s behavior. It helps the addict because they begin to realize they alone must face the repercussions of substance abuse.
Break the cycle
Alcoholism and drug addiction create cycles of behavior with a triangle of blamer, rescuer and victim. Detaching with love means stepping out of the triangle – no more blaming others for your choices, no more rescuing, no more playing the victim. An attitude of detachment allows family members the freedom to share their feelings without fear and to protect themselves from harm. It may mean refusing to make excuses for the addict, and it may mean actually physically leaving an abusive or dangerous situation. Detaching gives family members permission to take care of themselves while still being kind and loving to the addict.
New attitudes and new behaviors bring new possibilities. When those who love an addict realize they did not cause the problem, nor can they control or cure it, then they can begin to detach with love. When family members work through their own feelings and gain new perspective on their own behaviors, recovery is taking place.