Saturday, October 17, 2009

Threats Don't Work! Try this instead... - Part One

Has the addict in your life ever done something over the top? Something that has led you to feel worse than before about his or her using, to feel less able to to go on with things as they have been?

If so, what was your next reaction? A threat? An ultimatum? And then what? Did you follow through? Did you move out or get them to?

Or, did they threaten back and intimidate you? Did you  back down, doubt your own interpretation of reality and let things go back to the way they were?

Living with and/or loving a person in active addiction can be one of life's greatest challenges. The person you once knew is now being run by a compulsion to use or act in ways that supersede their desire to please you, to be with you, to love you. And that shows up in how they put their pill, fix, drink, food, or behavior first, before you..almost all the time.

It can happen slowly or quickly, but either way, the growth of addiction in a loved one takes a great toll on the people in the addict's life. After awhile, being treated like second best grates on you; being disregarded, disrespected, taken for granted, and as time goes on, being stolen from, lied to, abused and often ignored, can even become unbearable.

So that takes us back to the question: When things get unbearable for you, how do you react? Do you threaten to leave? And if so, do you follow through?

There is nothing wrong with being fed up or wanting out of a difficult situation. In fact, that sounds pretty normal. Being abused or neglected due to someone's addiction can be unbearable.

But, what is your goal? Is it to get out or to make things better? And most importantly, what are you REALLY willing to do about it (not what do you fantasize about doing, but what are you totally committed to doing about it to make things better for yourself and/or your family)?

It's important to explore your real intentions and your degree of inner strength to follow through at this point because if you don't, you may find yourself making empty threats over and over again while things at home go from bad to worse.

And 'there's nothing wrong with that', to coin a Seinfeld phrase, unless, of course, you want things to get better...

If you do want things to get better, consider ending the constant stream of threats. Instead, here is part one of  a few tips you might try instead:

1. Take out a pad of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle.
  • On the left side, write everything you love about your addict. All of the wonderful things you know about him or her, even if you hardly ever see those things showing up in his or her life anymore. Don't hold back, even if you are angry now. Scour your memory banks. Find the funny little smile, the random acts of kindness, the brilliance emerging before the drug or fix took over... list as many traits, memories, characteristics as you can remember. Try not to leave anything out! This exercise will help you remember why you really love the person behind the addiction, what brought you here in the first place either as parent, lover, spouse, or friend.
  • Then, on the other side, list everything the addict has said or done that has made you forget their wonderful traits; every lie, every unkindness, every inconsistency, every abusive behavior, every missing dollar, every broken appointment, every tear they caused. List the ways in which they neglected you and your family, the people they let down, the strange things they said to cover up the inconsistent behaviors, the objects you found in your home that didn't belong there, the people you ran into who told you strange stories, etc. Try to remember everything - every hurt, every pain, every double-take. What you are doing right now is putting a sword through the denial that has allowed you to live in this alternate reality of active addiction without completely going mad. The irony of denial is that all of us reach a certain point where, if we don't break through the denial, it will drive us mad...So, this exercise helps us break through and face what is really going on in our lives, consciously. It will be painful, but also cathartic, and potentially very helpful in making things better. So, go for it.
2. Once you have your lists, look them over and decide which reality, which person, so to speak, you would rather live with, which person you want in your life.(Don't use the answer 'obvious' to keep you from making the actual lists. If you haven't done that yet, go back and do them. It's crucial to your recovery and to the addict's chances of getting well, too.)  Then, make a decision as to whether or not you want that person enough to fight for them, for their healing, for your relationship.

3. If the answer is yes, it's time to start figuring out what you are going to do to attempt to get the husband, wife, son, daughter, significant other, or friend who you remember, the one you knew before their addiction took over, back into your life.

This process is a delicate one, and truth be told, there are no promises that whatever you do will give you the results you want. But, making a list is a start. It lets you know what you are missing, breaks through the denial that has the family in its bind, and, if nothing else, advances your own recovery from the family disease of addiction.

In our next issue of Focus on You, we will talk about what you can do next to help your family recover from this family disease. In the meantime, have you considered trying one of the family support group meetings? Alanon (, Naranon ( S-anon ( Each of these groups is filled with people like you, working through the challenges of living, loving, and/or working with a person addicted to something that is destroying the fabric of their life and that of their family and friends.

Alanon is for familis of alcoholics (but many people go whose addicts are addicted to all kinds of things, from food, to gambling, to drugs)
Naranon is for families of drug addicts (alcohol is included as a drug)
S-anon is for families of sex and love addicts.

Coaching can help a great deal as well as you try to sort out the feelings, lies, and realities of the disease. To learn more about how coaching might help you cope with the addiction of someone you love, go to

See you next time  when we Focus on You will focus on next steps that you can take instead of the empty threats that haven't gotten the addict to stop so far!
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