April 8, 2017

Four Ways to Love an Addict.

The name Brian is an alias and is not the real name of the deceased ~ Ed.  


I went to a funeral today.

It was held for someone named Brian, who I never knew. But I know his mother, and she called and asked me to attend.

The church was a traditional Christian one in an urban, posh neighborhood. Half of the attendees donned Armani suits—some of the wealthiest citizens in the fourth largest city in the United States. The other half were members of an anonymous program: young, tatted up, bleached hair, a bit disheveled. They were recovering addicts.

Diversity at its finest.

The eulogy was given by Mark, who is the son of a man I do know and know well. We are colleagues and close friends. I came to know Brian through Mark’s tribute to him. Laughter erupted as stories were shared of Brian’s antics ranging from the time he was seven to just a week ago.

Based on the responsiveness of the funeral attendees, the description Mark offered was accurate.

Moving. Touching. Sad. Joyful. All at the same time.

It’s so strange that autumn is so beautiful when everything is dying. ~ Anonymous

Brian had made 20-year-long attempt at sobriety, but it remained elusive for him. This tiresome struggle eventually wore him out, and so he ended his life. I wondered how the conservative pastor in this conservative setting with this unorthodox mingling of mourners might manage a sermon for an addict who committed suicide.

The pastor told the story of Jesus and a woman who had sinned. As the story goes, she was caught in the act of adultery, and the Pharisees brought her to him as a trick. How should she be punished?

His answer: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” The eldest of all the Pharisees was the first to walk away. It was a beautiful story of compassion and self-revelation—one of my favorites.

“He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” ~ Jesus of Nazareth

It’s hard to love someone who is an addict. It’s even harder to forgive them if they die or commit suicide. We feel anger, grief, broken-heartedness, and shock. If we ourselves have had some success with transforming our own addictiveness, even one day at a time, or if we are parents who feel we should have known how to help our child, there may also be survivor’s guilt and confusion. Why did I make it? What could I have done?

I have found four practices that help me love addicts—or anyone involved in self-destructive behaviors or who I might have a tendency to judge—more fully and compassionately:

1. Create a god or goddess box and put those you love in there. (Well, don’t literally put them in there, but I think you get the picture.) Years ago, a teacher reminded me that when we love someone who is involved in dangerous behavior or is simply not doing what we think they should do, we can remember that they too have a higher power, someone who loves them at least as much as we do. The ritual of putting their name on a small piece of paper and putting it in the box serves as a way for me to release them, entrust them to the divine, and let go of my own obsession and worry.

2. Pray and bow to the mystery. I’m a member of a support community for people who are in relationships with addicted individuals, and we often speak about what we have control over and what we do not. Help is for people who want it not, necessarily those who need it. We may feel helpless when our loved ones reject our efforts to ease their pain, but we must accept what is in our power. While I know it’s not for everyone, prayer is an action we can practice at any time that I find especially helpful. We can remind ourselves that there is mystery in life, that there may be aspects of our human path or the path of another that we simply do not understand. We can choose to bow to the mystery and pray.

3. Seek support for yourself. We all need support in our lives no matter the circumstances or challenges we face. Circles of support that allow us to express our deepest fears, release our tears of sadness, or open to the wisdom and experience of others in similar situations creates comfort. It’s self-care at its finest.

4. Learn the facts about the disease of addiction. As a friend of mine says, “Help is the sunny side of control.” When someone perpetually engages in self-destructive behaviors, we naturally want to help. However, the help we offer sometimes enables the very behavior we wish they would stop. It’s important to learn the facts about addiction so that we can determine when our “help” is actually perpetuating their destructive behavior. Learning the facts can also help us remember we are not alone.

“Allowing someone the dignity to deal with the consequences of their choices is an act of love.” ~ Ann R. A.



Author: Sally Bartolameolli

Image: Pixabay

Editor: Callie Rushton

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