Lately, we often hear the word detachment thrown around a great deal, especially in recovery circles. However, understanding what it really means can be confusing, and definitely, even more difficult to put into practice. In essence, detachment is one of the most powerful approaches any one of us can incorporate into our lives to not only help us specifically interact with the addicts we love, but it is also useful with all of our other relationships.
Detachment is usually referenced in conjunction with the actions of enabling. Enabling mainly refers to overprotective and/or controlling behaviors that are often used by family and friends to deal with an addict or alcoholic. We think that by calling in sick for them when they are too high or drunk to go to work, giving them money, finding them jobs, or doing “more” for them, that we are helping or protecting them. We think that by doing these things we are loving them and we hold onto the desperate hope that they will change and “get better”. But usually we find our efforts are wasted or in vain.
At the very root of why most of us try to control others is that we think we know what is best for them. We feel anxious and afraid when we see the people we love make mistakes that we think can only lead to pain and suffering. It is only natural for us to want to prevent that, to jump in to help and support those we care about. Yet, helping becomes a problem when we step in so much that their lives and ours become tangled together in a state of enmeshment; an emotional (often involving physical or financial matters) from which neither person is truly living or can grow to their full potential.
In order to really understand detachment, we must first understand that we are powerless to control any other person. Loving someone is not necessarily being responsible for them and that is a hard concept to swallow. We can threaten, force, cry, scream, beg and bend over backwards in the name of helping or loving…but ultimately, we cannot protect or change a person from doing what they want to do, even if it is going to kill them. By continuing to enable, we do not stop the addict or alcoholic from participating in their addictions, but rather we only help them avoid taking responsibility for his or her own life and therefore, facing the normal consequences of negative actions. Thus, the addict never has the opportunity to truly learn from his or her mistakes and eventually, accept they have a problem and want to make a change for themselves.
Instead of reacting to any situation, if we take the time to ask some deep questions of ourselves, such as, “what are our needs” and “how can we take care of ourselves” and “how do we live full productive lives even if they continue their addictions,” we shift the focus from what we cannot control to what we can—our own minds and bodies. We give ourselves the space, as well as the permission, to look at our lives independently and beyond that of revolving around the addict in our life. We start to make choices that are right for us and make us feel good about who we are and what we want for ourselves. We become responsible for own lives and happiness and thus, participate in our own self-care. But, most importantly, we operate from a place of careful consideration versus anxiety, reaction, guilt or shame.
At first, this feels very awkward or selfish and you may even feel guilt-ridden that you are not doing “more” or running to aid in the latest crisis. But in order to love someone truly, you must first love and respect yourself. The best way to think about it is as if you are on an airplane that needs to make an emergency landing — you must first put on your own oxygen mask before you can help another; otherwise, you both will be greatly affected. Actively practicing in detachment is saying you understand that you are limited in what you can do for someone who is unwilling to recognize his/ her problem and seek help. Untangling yourself does not mean you stop loving, but rather, it is the best way to love the person enough to give him or her a chance to choose their own path to recovery.
If you or a loved one has been dealing with an addiction of any nature or if you need help getting through to an addict, contact us today. We can provide you with quality treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Don’t wait. Call now.