You Can’t Change Them

I just want to say something real quick to anyone out there who needs it:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with loving someone who is dealing with addiction. There is nothing wrong with loving a family member or friend who has substance abuse problems. And there is nothing wrong with falling in love with someone who has an addiction.

It’s going to hurt, though.

There are going to be good days, and bad days. Whether they are abstaining from their substance of choice, trying to control their intake, or are in the throws of a full-blown bender, there are going to be some days worse than others. And no matter how much you love them, how much you try to help them, how much they love you and appreciate what you’re doing for them, they will hurt you.

You can’t change them.

You are not responsible for monitoring their every move, tracking their addiction. You can’t make them get clean. You can’t guilt or shame them into rehab. They have to do these things on their own. You can give them support, you can help them when they need it, but they are the ones who have to make the decision when and if to get clean, and to what degree. They are the ones who have to put in the work.

And it’s not easy for them to get clean, no matter to what degree. It doesn’t matter if they want to stop completely, cut back a bit, or just make themselves a bit more functional: it’s not an easy task for them. They will have to deal with this constantly, every day, for the rest of their lives.

There will be times they slip up, times they fail. There will be the days when everything seems all sunshine and roses, and things seem like they’re getting better. Then there will be the days when they lash out at you, when nothing you do for them is right or enough, when it seems to you like they’re not even trying anymore. And if you want to remain a part of their life, a part of their recovery, then you have to deal with these days too.

I am in love with an alcoholic. He is not interested in total sobriety, but instead wants to manage his drinking so he can drink socially and responsibly. And I totally support him. There are days when he will have a few beers after work, we can watch TV together, and everything is great. There are days when he has a bit of hard liquor, and still manages to control himself. And then there are days when he has a bit of liquor, and is a whole different person. He can be mean, he can be cruel, and can completely shatter my heart.

But when he’s sober in the morning, I make sure he knows what he was like the night before. I make sure to tell him, “You were drinking a lot, and here is what you said to me, and here’s how it made me feel”. Yes, there are nights (or weeks) where one of us sleeps on the couch. Yes, there are a lot of tears shed.

But I know that he is a good person, and he is trying. Yes, he will have his days when he overdoes it. He has his demons to deal with, and that is never easy. Through all of this, I am trying to be patient. When he drinks and lashes out, or says nasty things, I don’t let it slide. I tell him flat out, “Just because you were drinking, doesn’t make this ok. Even if you don’t mean it, or would never think that when you’re sober, you still said it while drunk and now there’s consequences.”

I make sure to ask him what he needs. I ask him how I can help him. I ask how I can support him, how I can help him deal with things, how we can work together to help him. I will not take on the full responsibility of his addiction, I will not baby him or make excuses for his behaviour. I only want to help him do what he needs to do to get through this.

So anyone out there in this same situation, just remember: you can’t change them. You can be there for them, you can help them, you can do all sorts of things for them to make their battle a little bit easier to get through. But they have to put in the work; you can’t do it for them.

For anyone out there who needs help while loving someone with an addiction problem, there are groups out there you can join. One I’ve been looking into lately is Al Anon. While this group is aimed at the friends and family of problem drinkers, many chapters do have resources for other addictions. You can check out their website HERE for more information.


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