When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it doesn’t just affect them. The fallout of substance use spreads to everyone within their social circle – parents, siblings, children, friends, and coworkers. As someone who loves a person struggling with addiction, you are probably feeling the strain of constant anxiety, the stress of making excuses for them, and the exhaustion of trying to fix things. Today, we’d like to discuss an important technique for preserving your own emotional and mental health: learning to detach with love.
How Their Addiction Affects You
Addiction is a key cause of codependency, enabling behavior, and other unhealthy relationship dynamics. When someone you care about begins to misuse drugs or alcohol, you will probably try to step in and help them. At first, this may look like keeping secrets, calling out of work or school for them, or worrying about their behavior. As their substance use disorder worsens, you may begin making empty threats, trying to control their drinking or drug use, giving them money, or even accommodating their substance use.
These behaviors aren’t healthy for you or your loved one. In fact, protecting someone from the consequences of their actions can prolong a substance use disorder while also destroying your own mental health. This is why it’s crucial to detach with love.
What Does It Mean to Detach with Love?
Al-Anon and its related programs define loving detachment as continuing to care for someone while separating yourself from their problems. The literature says:
“Detachment is neither kind nor unkind. It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching… In Al-Anon, we learn nothing we say or do can cause or stop someone’s drinking. We are not responsible for another person’s disease or recovery from it. Detachment allows us to let go of our obsession with another’s behavior and begin to lead happier and more manageable lives.”
If you’re a naturally empathetic person, detachment may seem cruel or unnatural. You’re used to shouldering other peoples’ burdens, offering support, and putting your own needs aside for your loved ones. However, this pattern is unsustainable and will inevitably wear you down. In order to truly show up for someone you care about, it is important to focus on your own well-being.
Myths About Detachment
When you detach with love, you’re not necessarily moving out, blocking your loved one’s number, or ignoring them. Detachment also isn’t the same as becoming aloof or refusing to associate with them. Instead, this choice involves setting aside your expectations for your loved one and your disproportionate investment in their choices, problems, and difficulties. You will learn to feel your concerns and channel them in a healthy way.
Put simply, detachment does not necessarily mean:
- Creating physical distance
- Ending a relationship
- Emotionally shutting them out
- Ignoring them
Detachment does mean:
- Setting healthy boundaries
- Accepting that you cannot control their behavior
- Focusing on the present
- Taking responsibility only for your feelings and needs
Is It Time to Detach with Love?
Codependency is a sign that the lines between yourself and another person are blurred; this may take the form of unsolicited advice, prolonged anxiety, and a near-constant preoccupation with their choices. When you’re worried about another person, it’s a sign that you care about them. If you’re frustrated with them, it’s a sign that their behaviors are not aligning with what you want them to be doing.
We invite you to consider the questions below to determine whether it is time to detach.
- Does your happiness depend on another person?
- Do you spend a lot of time analyzing their feelings, choices, or motives?
- Do you experience a strong reaction to their behavior or opinions?
- Do you spend a lot of time worrying about another person’s problems?
- Are you anxious about doing things by yourself?
- Do you abandon activities if someone else disapproves?
- Do you think a lot about what they are doing, thinking, or feeling?
- Do you neglect your own mental health, career, friends, or hobbies due to a relationship?
- Do you constantly seek to please others due to a fear of rejection?
If the above list resonates with you, it could indicate enmeshment with another person. Controlling their actions, feelings, and opinions can seem like a path to getting what you need from them: certainty, support, and safety. However, the only way to truly help yourself and your loved one is to create some boundaries between the two of you.
How Detaching Benefits Both Parties
Al-Anon asks us to remember the 3 C’s: we didn’t cause it, we can’t control it, and we can’t cure it. Our loved one’s choices are their own, and while we can encourage them and assist them in little ways, it’s important to find our own peace of mind in the meantime. Relying on someone else for your happiness is a sure recipe for stress, anxiety, and burnout. When you release your obsession with another’s well-being and focus on your own, you’ll find a clearer path to happiness. You’ll also maintain a caring (and much healthier relationship.
Additionally, loving detachment can help your spouse, child, sibling, or parent to seek help. By refusing to protect them from the consequences of their addiction, it is possible that they will understand the real burden that their choices have created. This responsibility provides them with the knowledge that they alone are responsible for their substance misuse, addiction, and eventual recovery. While choosing to detach with love may be intimidating, it can provide the foundation needed for lasting sobriety.
Help for Families of Addicted Loved Ones
At Lakeside-Milam, we understand that addiction is a family disease. That’s why we have created a program specifically designed to educate and empower the loved ones of our residents. If you know someone who is struggling with a substance use disorder, help is available. Contact Lakeside-Milam today for information and resources.