Archive | Addiction

5 Ways to Love the Alcoholic & Yourself

September 2015

  1.  Face the facts.
    If you think that things will somehow get better – you are likely wrong. Facing the facts means grasping a new realization that your loved one is in the grips of a physical and emotional addiction. Their addiction has shifted their thought patterns and behaviors. The realty is that you have no control over what they do. You may experience constant worry — feel powerless — try to run after them with a safety net — tell lies for them — minimize their behavior – blast them with anger.
  1.  Disconnect with Love.
    This is a very common theme in Al-Anon yet one that is not easy to implement.   Learning how to set limits is a very important skill. Limits are healthy boundaries — they are not ultimatums which come from desperation. Detachment with love is letting your loved one fall and hit their bottom.  You might cringe as you read this but it’s true.  If you were to attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous — you would alcoholics say, “I needed to hit my bottom before I stopped digging.”  You will never hear the addict say, “I quit because my wife told me to.”  You cannot force them to stop — so stop demanding.
  1.  Let Go and Let God.
    As you clearly face their addiction — look closely at your own actions that involve — fixing, protecting, minimizing, enabling, controlling, shielding, manipulating, blasting or lying — in an attempt to protect or expose the addict. If you realize you’re trying to change them — accept that as your problem — which you can change. The Serenity Prayer can provide a fresh perspective as you contemplate your own behaviors and what you can change.

God, Grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

  1. Get Unstuck.
    When an alcoholic drinks – they fall into a pattern of thinking and behavior that focuses on their addiction.   The pleasure center of the brain is impacted and their ability to grasp long-term consequences of their actions is difficult.  As you watch your loved one go through this — it’s exceptionally painful – especially if have no support.  The most important thing you can do is to care of yourself. Get yourself help — join a support group such as Al-Anon.  Learn about addiction as well as co-dependence and enabling behaviors.
  1. Embrace the difference: “Helping” versus “Enabling.”
    Ask yourself one question:  “Whose responsibility is it for them to stop drinking?”  The correct answer is — theirs.  Alcoholics don’t consider risks or consequences.  If you keep taking on a responsibility which doesn’t belong to you — the alcoholic will never take it on themselves.  Enabling behaviors might look like this:
  • Giving ultimatums in anger — and later retracting them
  • Running after them with a safety net so they don’t hurt themselves
  • Lying and holding secrets
  • Giving them money
  • Sweeping things under the rug
  • Retracting limits/boundaries — over and over again
  • Picking them up after a night of drinking (again!)
  • Suffering in silence while hoping it goes away

The alcoholic has plenty of options/choices for help, including a counselor, priest/pastor, spiritual advisor and/or a 12-step program for any addiction, including:

  • AA (Alcoholics Anonymous); NA (Narcotics Anonymous); GA (Gamblers Anonymous); DA (Debters Anonymous); SA (Sexaholics Anonymous); CGAA (Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous)

The family has support groups too (Al-Anon for alcohol, Gam-Anon for gambling, ACoA for adult children of alcoholics, etc).

DETACHDon’t. Even. Think. About. Changing. Him/Her.
~~ Al Anon
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Can You Stay Sane While They Still Drink?

April 2015

When I work family members that have loved ones who struggle with addiction – the most frequent question I hear is, “How can I make them stop drinking (or using drugs or gambling or cheating or etc.)?”

You might ask yourself,  “What’s the magical thing that I need to say to them – what threat, what ultimatum?  Should I be mean – should I be nice – do I sweep it under the rug – do I get in their face?”  Perhaps you’ve even done all those things – and none of them work in the long-run.

If you have an alcoholic in your life, you likely understand that life with a practicing addict is generally quite chaotic at times, which might also be tempered with really good times.

What can you do to get off the roller coaster?  Accept you are powerless over the addicted person and detach from them.  You cannot control people, places or things.

Detachment with love means caring enough about others to allow them to learn from their mistakes. It also means being responsible for your own welfare and making decisions without ulterior motives, such as the desire to control the alcoholic.
Detachment with love plants the seeds of recovery. When you refuse to take responsibility for other people’s alcohol or drug use, you allow them to face the natural consequences of their behavior. If a child asks why daddy missed the school play, you do not have to lie. Instead, you can say, “That’s a good question. You’ll have to ask him.”

Detachment means giving up outcomes. Your job is the effort, not the outcome. Leave the outcome to God. Do your part and let go of the rest. You will begin to experience peace.

Detachment with love is not selfish.  It is freeing — and it is love.

Detachment is a choice.
Unconditional love is a choice.
Giving up control is a choice.
Being afraid is a choice.
Choosing to be peaceful is a choice.
Choosing to act, and not react, is a choice.
Trusting your loved ones to live their own lives is a choice.
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The Gift of Saying “No”: Moving out of Co-Dependence

December 2014

Is someone else’s problem your problem? Are you overly responsible for a friend or loved one – their problems – their behavior? If you’ve lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to someone else’s, you may be codependent.

Signs of Codependency

•    Have difficulty saying “no”.
•    Inability to set and enforce boundaries with people.
•    Try to please people and resent it later.
•    Have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for another.
•    Experience hypervigilance around other people’s emotions.
•    Wonder why people don’t do for you what you do for them.
•    Feel like a martyr, victim or benefactor to your partner.
•    Feel worthy and valued when you are in a crisis.
•    Get angry when somebody doesn’t take your advice.
•    Focus on others with unawareness of what you want/need.
•    Mistake codependency as love and caring.

Your codependent behavior likely started out as self-protection.  You might have come from a background where things were out of control.  As a child, perhaps the only defense you had was keeping an eye out for trouble, becoming invisible, or becoming the “little helper.”

Breaking the Cycle

  1. Say No To Being Overly Responsible: The first step is to accept the reality of the problem and take responsibility for your part in the dynamic. Muster up your courage and say “no” to being responsible for another adult.  It’s not your job to run around with a safety net to rescue them.
  2. Say No To Obsessing about Other People’s Problems: It means trusting that the other person has the ability to take care of their own life.  “Guilt” is not your badge of honor to wear when someone does not take responsibility for getting help for their problems.  Speak honestly about how their problem is impacting you — then walk away. Let them fix it.
  3. Say No to Being Attached to Other’s Harmful Behaviors:  Develop a support system through healthy relationships with others and a God of your understanding (or higher power) – to detach from others’ harmful behaviors.  You can still love the person without liking or enabling their behavior.
  4. Say No to Letting Others Cross Your Boundaries:  Practice finding a place of calm inside of you when your loved one gets angry or protests after you set a boundary with them. Boundaries are a loving hug.  Children need boundaries and so do adults whose behavior is negatively impacting you.

Saying no is a muscle that can be exercised and strengthened over time.  Keep practicing and you will find it easier.

Feel like you need more support? Al-Anon is a great place to start.

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Has Someone Hijacked Your Brain? Addiction.

November 2014

The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.” Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction—or has tried to help someone else to do so—understands why.

Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over it and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.

For many years, experts believed that only alcohol, prescription medications and illegal drugs could cause addiction. Neuroimaging technologies and more recent research, however, have shown that many activities can also take over the brain and become an addiction, including:
•    Gambling
•    Shopping
•    Emotional eating
•    Pornography
•    Relationships
•    Smoking
•    Sex
•    Work

Do I have addiction?
Determining whether you have addiction isn’t completely straightforward. And admitting it isn’t easy, largely because of the stigma and shame associated with addiction. But acknowledging the problem is the first step toward recovery.

Answering “yes” to any of the following three questions suggests you might have a problem with addiction and should—at the very least—consult a mental health counselor for further evaluation and guidance.

1.    Do you use more of the substance or engage in the behavior more often than in the past?
2.    Do you have withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have the substance or engage in the behavior?
3.    Have you ever lied to anyone about your use of the substance or extent of your behavior?

4 Steps to Make a Change:
1. Face your reality & tell yourself the truth
Are you experiencing any of these feelings related to your behaviors: shame, guilt, fear, hopelessness, regret, powerlessness, sadness, depression or anxiety?  If you have a little voice inside you saying, “there’s a problem” or people in your life are telling you that — it is time to listen.

2. Be Curious about the possibility of change
Are you curious about the underlying cause of your addictive behavior?  Ask yourself, “Do I want my life to be better?”  Ponder the possibility of change.

3. Befriend your Inner Critic
“Making friends” with that self-critical voice does not mean accepting what it tells you as the truth. What it does mean is that you must learn to both hear the message and explore it to understand what is behind those messages. That Critic actually has a positive intent for you – even though its messages are negative, shaming and maybe even cruel.  Finding its positive intent will unlock the door to stop the self-loathing.

4. Make a choice and take an action
Do you know what you want for your life — personally, professionally, spiritually, physically and emotionally?  You are the only one who can decide the direction to take. When it feels like you have no choices — you are likely choosing to “do nothing.”
Consider getting a mentor, mental health counselor, spiritual advisor or joining a 12-step program for ongoing support, guidance and aide.  You don’t have to do it alone.

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Calming the Inner Critic

September 2013

You likely know it’s there and have some awareness of it.  The Inner Critic is that critical or shaming voice inside of your head that evaluates, criticizes, pushes, or critiques you.  It might tell you that you are not good enough or that you are too much.  It might be more global and say overarching things such as — you’re bad.

That Critic might push you to do/accomplish more  — feeling like a slavedriver.  Or, it might shame you after you’ve done something “wrong” such as making a mistake, eating too much or getting angry.  It might tell you that you’re too big, your needs aren’t important or that you are being a nuisance to others.

If you feel inadequate or awful about yourself — it’s time to focus on your Inner Critic.

I was recently reading the lovely work of Jay Early and Bonnie Weiss (Personal Growth Programs).  They have identified  7 types of Inner Critics:

TaskMaster pushes you very hard to accomplish a lot.  It wants you to work hard and be successful. It fears that you may be mediocre or lazy and will be judged a failure.  It drives you to work harder..

Perfectionist is all about quality of work — mistakes and flaws are not acceptable.  This Critic has high standards and it does not want you to be judged, rejected or criticized.

Underminer is very uncomfortable with risk.  It tries to undermine your self-confidence and self-esteem and wants you to stay small to avoid failing, being hurt, judged or rejected.

Molder doesn’t allow for individuality and wants you to fit a mold that comes from society, your family or culture.  It attacks you for not acting in a certain way and prevents your free expression.

Inner Controller tries to prevent pleasurable, decadent or addictive behavior that might not be good for you; overeating, drinking, sexual activity.
 It fears that you will get out of control.

Guilt-Tripper crushes your conscience for some specific action you have taken (or not taken).  It tries to protect you from repeating past mistakes by making sure you never feel free.

Destroyer depresses you, making pervasive attacks on your self-worth and shaming you. It makes you feel inherently flawed and not entitled to basic understanding/respect.

The question I hear most often in my therapy room is —  “Elizabeth, how do I get rid of that self-critical voice and feel better about myself?”  The good news is — you can.

As a start — just begin to notice when the Critic surfaces. Try journaling to begin to clearly hear the words of the Inner Critic without hating it or trying to get rid of it — but rather being interested in it.  Allow your memories to drift back to what was going on in your life when the Critic started to surface.

Ask the Critic some questions.  Why do you push me like that? What are you trying to do for me? What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t criticize/shame me?

My own Critic criticizes/shames me because it is afraid that I’ll fail.  That shaming voice inside my head pushes me to succeed.  It started in highschool when I realized that I could gain more love/attention from my parents with my success in school and sports.  The critical voice is afraid that if I fail — I’ll lose love from those around me.

When I was age 14, the Critic was helpful in pushing me to do well in those formative years of my life.  It was developmentally appropriate for my age and helped me set personal, educational and career goals.   Although, four decades later — that Critic has the potential of draining my energy and damaging my self-worth.  What do you notice about your Critic?

The first step with the Critic is to notice it.  Then the shift to soften it can begin.

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