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My Friend Needs Help (Part 2): Loving the Addict

This is a continuation of the, “My Friend Needs Help” series. View Part 1: Understanding the Addict.

Five months ago my grandfather died of kidney cancer. His condition before he passed away restricted him to a hospital bed—and there he existed; lying on a set of clean white sheets for the last few months of his life.

Grandfather’s condition before he passed away had a profound impacted on my father.

I remember hearing Father say to me, out of frustration, "If I get to the point where all I can do is lie on a bed, bring me to the top of a mountain and leave me there. If I make it down, I deserve to live."

Father is the realist of my family, and because he knew he couldn't help his father—he felt defeated.

Providing Hope

In dealing with an addict there is never reason to feel wholly defeated. In fact, there is always hope for recovery. Hope you can look to and hold on to—hope for your addicted loved one. But it isn't that simple.

Your hope isn’t going to help heal anyone, unless it is transferred onto the addict.

I think we have to be careful saying over and over again that there's hope for the addict. Don't misunderstand me; there is, but what if the addict doesn't understand that? What if he’s convinced his addiction is hopeless? Until addicts understand that they can recover, there really isn’t hope.

So here's the big question: How can my addicted loved one know there's hope for him?

And here's the hard answer: You love him.

Love Unconditionally and Carefully!

Loving an addict is hard work; and can be frustrating. If done properly though, your hard work can pay off with great rewards.

Love is a key that can open one of two doors. The first door leads towards enabling the addict, and unknowingly permits his irresponsible lifestyle. The second door—leads towards recovery.

Door #1

Misapplied unconditional love can, and probably will, backfire one you. Let me explain.

Usually it starts small. You begin to notice signs of addiction in your loved one's life, and instead of confronting the problem, you forgive it.

Forgiveness is easy at first. But when you continue responding to an addict with care, support and even money, you don't give the addict reason to change. In fact, you indirectly encourage him to continue pursuing his irresponsible lifestyle.

And as the addict gets sicker, you try harder. But your help is responded to with excuses and lies because your addicted loved one feels terrible disappointing someone who cares for him.

Interestingly, this sort of optimistic love often leads to anger. When you don't see your help responded to with respect and honesty, it's very easy to get mad at the addict.

Misapplied love results in a vicious cycle of lies, irresponsibility and anger. This kind of love doesn't show the addict there's hope for him.

Door #2

Loving an addict properly may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but the rewards are worth the pain. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Be patient! This is the key to loving any addict. There is no quick fix to addiction—it's going to be a life-long struggle. Recovery takes time.
  • You can't always change someone, but you can always change the way you deal with a person.
  • Remember you're dealing with a disease. The problem isn’t you or your loved one, the problem is the addiction.
  • Understanding the addict is an important part of loving him properly.
  • If your love doesn’t eventually provide the addict with hope for recovery, then you're not loving him properly.
  • Be careful not to change who you are as you deal with an addict. Helping at the expense of more than just your time, can result in feeling responsible for the addict's mistakes.

Conclusion

Applying these concepts of proper love in your relationship with an addict can change the way both of you view addiction.

Loving an addict properly is tricky business, but it's an essential step you must bravely take as you help your friend recover.

Continue learning how to help your friend or loved one by reading the third post in our series – Confronting the Addict.