“I don’t want to be clean,” said my friend of over 20 years.
This proclamation came after I had given what I thought was a brilliant lecture on why she needed to stop smoking pain pills.
Her admonishment of sobriety seemed unfathomable to me. This simple, six-word sentence spoke volumes.
Throughout my career, I had, of course, observed clients who didn’t want to quit their drug usage. In the field of counseling, we either call this “resistance” or say, “They haven’t hit bottom yet.”
As a caregiver, I wanted her—no, I needed her—to stop using drugs. But no one can make someone quit using drugs if they do not want to quit. I have seen addicts go beyond what I would call “hitting bottom,” sinking to lower places than I could imagine, and barely slow their use in response.
When someone does ask for help, there is a call to action and a feeling of hope; finally, we’re actively “fixing” the problem. Yet among long-term caregivers, the experience of watching someone slowly kill themselves with substances while still not wanting to stop is far more prevalent.
My friend followed her statement up with something even harder for me to hear: “I am sorry you can’t love me while I’m on drugs, but I do not want to stop using.” That’s when I saw it: not wanting to be off narcotics was her truth. In all her lies to me, this was the truth, and I not only needed to hear it, but I needed to respect it.
My heart and spirit felt broken because I loved her, and the only way I thought I could be in a relationship with her was by fixing her—or attempting to do so. The fixing kept us apart and left each of us feeling depleted and alone. I knew she was right in her words of wisdom; I could not love her in the way she wanted me to. The behaviors associated with drug addiction were too high of a price for me. I could not hang out with someone who lied and stole, because I cannot be friends with someone I cannot trust.
It was the addictive behaviors that I did not love; I loved and love her deeply. I had to differentiate between her body, which was addicted, and her limitless and inspiring soul, which I loved. I needed a spiritual response to all the chaos I was feeling.
Before moving forward, let me clarify the difference between a spiritual response and a religious one.
Religion is an organized system based upon the theological doctrine that is typically culturally bound to tradition. It provides a curriculum to find peace and a source of wisdom through a connection with God.
Spirituality is a connection with a state of being that is bigger than one’s self and produces a state of consciousness that is typically called the divine, spirit, universe, or whatever feels like a place of wisdom and security—including the term “God.” It does not have rules or culturally bound tradition. Spirituality can be obtained through religious practice or connection to the community, faith groups, or even nature. In short, good self-care is likely to connect you to spirituality naturally. If your spirituality includes religion, it will connect you to that, too.
Spirituality is the vehicle to provide you with a vision of a higher power. Whatever preference and practice, be it spiritual or religious, that makes you most comfortable is the right fit for this job of healing the soul. Don’t get too caught up in what to name it. Instead, focus on connecting to this aspect of spirit for yourself. One does not need to be a “religious person” to utilize a spiritual response to radical self-care—in fact, one can specifically identify as not a “religious person.” One can also be a devout practitioner of any faith.
This approach to self-care only requires that you be open to infinite possibilities of how a person can heal and grow. Being open to the endless options includes your growth and the growth of your loved one who is struggling.
Some of the most spiritual people I have met in my professional career as a psychotherapist have struggled deeply with substance use disorder. I have seen remarkable recoveries come about from a spiritual response to both addiction and life in general.
The Basics of a Spiritual Response
Every problem, including addiction, has a spiritual response. In times of stress and panic during a loved one’s fight with substance use disorders, there is a tendency to lose faith. The emotional state of fear, over time, creates the mental reaction of anger. Anger is fear’s emotional suit of arms. Fear keeps the body in low energy, and anger kicks the body into fight-or-flight mode. Anger itself is highly addictive; family members often find themselves in a seemingly never-ending state of fear and anger toward their loved one. This anger speaks at a considerable volume within our minds.
Spiritual responses come when we consciously move beyond the limited definitions of what addiction and recovery are. Some limiting beliefs include, I will not rest until my loved one is clean, or if I try harder to be devoted to my loved one, they will appreciate the life I provide and stop using. Neither of these beliefs does anything to respond to the crisis. It is not you who is in crisis; it is your loved one and their addiction that is in crisis. For you, there is a call for action, but it’s not a call to heal someone else’s addiction. Instead, it’s a call to shift from feeling like you are held hostage by your loved one’s behavior. This sets you free to love yourself and even love your family members just as they are. It’s simple but phenomenally tricky.
As Dr. Wayne Dyer states in There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, “A spiritual solution means you are an instrument for giving peace.”
The stress, judgments, and anger that emerge while loving someone affected by addiction create a barrier to spiritual awareness and comfort. Solutions to the perceived crisis that addiction presents develop when one learns how to be open to more expanded consciousness and to choose a response that fulfills the soul, rather than creating animosity.
A Five-Step Spiritual Response
In a world that is often filled with pain and suffering, it may help to view things through the eyes of loving awareness. Of course, this state of consciousness requires daily practice and setting an intention to shift your perspective from fear to love. This isn’t easy, but it holds the potential to heal your mind, body, and soul. There are infinite opportunities for healing and miracles. Your desire and intention to heal your loved one must also include repairing your vision of the pain in the world. If you see no hope, there is no hope.
The following four steps will help you train your brain to shift your perspective toward loving awareness. They will bring you from a judgmental, limiting belief system to a spiritual response to stress and worry.
Step 1: No Fixing of Others
Avoid the temptation to find relief in your suffering through attempts to fix others. Fixing others can also look like a need to know and be a part of not just the drama between you and your addicted loved one, but also the drama of other family members and friends.
Look to see whether you have become addicted to drama and the role of being the fixer in the family. The fixer spends little time taking care of themselves, and all their energy is spent in aid of others. This level of energy is not helpful to your own goals.
Being the fixer harms marriages and alienates adult children. If you frequently find yourself feeling like you are being taken advantage of, you are likely to have fallen into the fixing trap.
Instead of fixing others, spend time in silence and meditation and explore your inner world of judgments and fears. It is often a fear of not being loved that leads us to fix others. Ask your higher power to alleviate the concerns and replace fear with understanding. Listen more and lecture less. Put all your focused energy into knowing that addiction can only be healed by the person who is directly dependent on drugs or alcohol, and only when they are ready. Have faith in your loved one that they will know when that time arrives.
It may help to follow a few guidelines as you adjust to this new role. First, only be of service if the person who wants to receive help has actually asked you to help. Second, only help with whatever they have specifically asked you to help with. Third, deliver this help only after prayer and meditation. A spiritual response requires you to trust the divine, rather than your efforts. You can release your fear and the attempts to control that stem from it, knowing that the spirit and universe will provide for you and all you are called to fix.
Step 2: Be Kind
Dr. Wayne Dyer has a saying that is taped to my computer at work and is quite helpful for me as a psychotherapist. The saying is, “If you have a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. You will never regret being kind.”
This kindness is not to be mistaken for being taken advantage of or not speaking your truth. You can and should have boundaries and say no while still being kind. This may mean still saying no, but without the lecture or the rage. Being kind also means being kind to yourself by releasing the need to be right or feel guilt; you may be right that your loved one is killing themselves with drugs and alcohol, but this is of no value to the person who is not ready or willing to accept that truth, and you release yourself from guilt when you understand that their acceptance of it is not your responsibility.
Dr. Wayne Dyer is right; you will never regret being kind. Some like to think that kindness in addiction is akin to “blowing sunshine up one’s backside,” but it reflects the universal truth that all beings are loveable. Be the instrument of this universal truth by speaking your truth through love and kindness.
Step 3: Heal Yourself
When you are in a state of high energy and emotional balance, you have the power to love those who are suffering. You cannot give what you do not have, so it is not selfish to put yourself first. A spiritual connection to the source provides an infinite amount of energy and abundance.
The Buddha gave excellent teaching on kindness through a practice called the Metta Sutta. The literal translation of sutta is “thread,” but it’s generally used to describe one of the teachings of Buddhism. Metta means “loving-kindness,” so Metta Sutta can be translated as the “teaching on loving-kindness.” The words of the sutta can be repeated in a prayer-like way. The general idea is to sit comfortably with your eyes closed and imagine what you wish for your life.
This meditation involves the simple repetition of these phrases while directing them to different people.
The Metta Sutta
1. Start by directing the phrases at yourself: May I be healthy and strong. May I be happy. May I be filled with ease.
2. Address the Metta toward someone you feel thankful for, or someone who has helped you, repeating their name or seeing their face in your mind: May (they) be healthy and strong. May (they) be happy. May (they) be filled with ease.
3. Now visualize someone you feel neutral about—people you neither like nor dislike: May (they) be healthy and strong. May (they) be happy. May (they) be filled with ease.
4. Now, it gets more challenging. Visualize a person you don’t like or who you are having a hard time with: May (they) be healthy and strong. May (they) be happy. May (they) be filled with ease. You will be surprised you feel empowered when you send love to the people who seem to be making you miserable.
5. Finally, direct the Metta toward everyone universally: May all beings be healthy and strong. May all beings be happy. May all beings be filled with ease.
Step 4: Know that You are Not Alone
You are not alone. Addiction in the United States is at epidemic proportions; millions of family members just like you are also suffering.
Reach out to others. Don’t let shame or embarrassment keep you from connecting to others; doing so brings powerful healing. Substance use disorders are not moral failures; they are a chemical reaction in the brain. Although many use drugs or alcohol to excess due to trauma and chronic stress, there are just as many people using substances who have loving and caring families.
Do not let the stigma of addiction keep you from finding your healing tribe. The more open and communicative you are about your experiences, the more others can feel safe in talking about addiction as well.
Step 5: Accept that What You Can Do is Good Enough
There is no right path to loving someone who is struggling with addiction. Love yourself and give yourself enough space to be okay with the choices you must make daily. Some days, you will have to set firm boundaries with your loved one, and on other days, you can enjoy them freely. Every day is a new day.
Recovery from addiction and active addiction both have good days, frightfully bad days, and “meh” days. Allow yourself to feel gratitude for what you have been able to do for your loved one. Feel gratitude for the boundaries you have set with your loved one. Write on a piece of paper and hang it from your mirror: “What I did and what I do is good enough when done with love.”
Working through the five steps is critical in establishing a strong foundation in your spiritual response. These practices can help you shift your entire attitude around your loved one’s addiction and bring you peace, regardless of the circumstances.