Friday, January 15, 2010

What is the difference between giving up and letting go?

Giving up signals hopelessness. When we give up without letting go, we are often embittered, angry and frustrated.

And that anger and frustration is understandable since, at times, loving a person who is abusing alcohol or other drugs can be exasperating. Just when you think things are getting better, it becomes clear that they aren't. Just when you think that your loved one is getting recovery, you find that they aren't.

After awhile, the ups and downs of the cycles of relapse and recovery can wear away even the most patient co-addict's nerves.

So, what's a person to do? Put up with it? Run away? Kick them out? Yell and scream?   For each person, the decision of how to deal with a loved one's repeated relapses is a personal one. Yet, some actions can be more effective than others...and so the key word is decision.

Many of us feel responsible for the addicts in our life, as if we should be able to make it all better for them. But, the fact is, another person's behavior is their responsibility, not ours, just as our own behavior is our own responsibility. And that is where letting go comes in.

The Serenity Prayer clarifies the importance and difficulty of letting go of others' behaviors. In it, we ask God for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

While it is almost impossible to change someone else, trying to do so feels more important (and is in some ways easier) than putting our focus on that which we can change, namely, ourselves. Yet, when we keep trying to do something we cannot do instead of doing that which we can do, we just get crazier and crazier often without making any headway at all.

Letting go is hopeful, yet realistic. In doing so, we admit our own powerlessness to change the addict, while putting faith in a Higher Power who can do so. Though we know there are no guarantees, in letting go we gain serenity and courage to put our change mechanism into place where it needs to be: on ourselves.

The phrase Let Go and Let God says it all. Yet, letting go and letting God is probably one of the most difficult things a co-addict can do. When we truly let go and let God, we put our loved ones in the hands of a Power that can help them, while relieving ourselves of the burden of having to singlehandedly change other people.

This does not mean we give up on the addict. It simply means we let go of the results of our efforts. We love our addict and give them our honest, loving feedback without needing them to listen to us or do what we say. We accept them exactly as they are and put outcomes in the hands of God as we understand God. Then, we work on ourselves.

When we do this, we  become models of recovery for the people we love. They get to look at themselves without our constantly guilting them, and their chances of recovery increase as they get the chance to see themselves without having our yelling or nagging (which we have stopped doing)  to blame for their problems.

For more information on how to help a co-addict get sober, sign up for my free e-book 'How Can I Get Them Sober? A Guide for Spouses and Friends of Addicts' on my website at or call me for a free consultation at 786 859 4050.

All the best,

Beverly A. Buncher, MA, CEC, CLPF
Family Recovery Coach

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