Love is a powerful thing isn’t it? This word covers so much ground, from the “love of chocolate cake” to the “love between parents and their children”. Love is defined as: An intense feeling of deep affection – and let me just say there is no truer example of this truth than that…I LOVE a good moist chocolate cake! However, using this word “love” to describe the connection that exists between a parent and child will fall desperately short, as that love, (obviously), is far more significant than any affection for chocolate cake. In fact there is a word for it called: Beloved – which means to be dearly loved, most treasured, adored and cherished. It’s true; the love between a parent and child is truly unlike any other kind of love. It is in this love where a parent will find themselves consumed with a desire likely not experienced prior – to want more for this precious life than even for themselves. Indeed, awareness arises that they would lay their very life down to insure that their little one has every chance to grow up healthy, happy and strong. We also see this type love within other family dynamics as well, such as with a spouse and siblings.
I don’t know what it is like in other countries and cultures, but having grown up in America, there is one thing that everybody knows – When a loved one is in need, there is nothing but NOTHING that you won’t do for them – and that is as it should be. There are times though, that this love and readiness to be there for your beloved doesn’t work out so well. Worse still, it can actually do more harm than good. One of these situations is when the loved one being helped is someone in active addiction/alcoholism. The dilemma for those who love them is often astounding. They face circumstances in their loved one’s life such as: job terminations, debts, loss of housing, personal injury, arrests, and court dates, legal expenses, children to care for and the list goes on. All the while, the addict/alcoholic is generally quick to give “reasons” for why these things are happening to them and making promises for change – playing on their position as the beloved to get someone else to take responsibility for their actions or lack of action that has resulted in the numerous consequences in their life.
For the family, there is the need to believe these promises, because of the desire for the best in their loved one’s life. There is also the deep fear that failing to help could somehow result in a worse consequence happening, up to and including death. The family is left to an existence, which no one should have to live in: Where they fear doing too much could lead to harm and not doing enough could lead to harm – all while being incapable of having such perfect knowledge of what their loved one’s true need is or even the ability to meet that need. It is an impossible task, and so their life is held hostage for a never ending ransom. The family falls into a vicious cycle very similar to the addict/alcoholic. For the addicted person, when they have their drugs/alcohol they are relatively ok, when they don’t they are a miserable lot to be around. The wellbeing of the addict/alcoholic is contingent on being under the influence. For the family, when their loved one is ok – then they are ok. When their loved one is not ok – then they are not ok. So their wellbeing then ceases to be about themselves and becomes increasingly contingent on the addict/alcoholic – thereby making them all the more desperate to “take care of the messes” in order to have some degree of peace in their own lives.
When I was married to my ex-husband and he relapsed I experienced for the first time, being on the other side of the fence – as I am a recovered alcoholic myself. I attempted to manage the increasing fear and issues on my own, as I felt “I” should have a better handle on this situation since I had both personal knowledge and professional knowledge of the illness, (as I was also an addictions counselor). However I would soon find that this was not the case. In fact I was doing everything short of painting my face and following him at night – consumed with fear of every terrible thing that might happen. Finally I went to my supervisor at work and disclosed to him what was happening and all that I was feeling. I can recall so clearly him leaning forward and saying, “Rebecca – do you believe in God?” My heart sank a bit, as I thought he was going to give me the – “prayer works” talk. (Let me interject here that I knew prayer worked and was the best thing anyone could do. But at that moment I REALLY needed to hear something more.) I replied, “Yes”. He then said, “OK – good. Do you believe that God is perfect love?” To which I said, “Yes I do” – Uncertain as to where this was going.
He smiled at me, leaned back in his chair interlocking his fingers with his hands resting on his chest and said, “Rebecca, did God ever prevent you from making stupid decisions?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, when you made those decisions, did God prevent you from experiencing consequences?” Again I said, “No.” He then asked, “And when you had those consequences hard enough that you asked for His help – did God turn you away?” I answered, “No.” He replied, “OK – so then, did God swoop in and make all your consequences just go away?” I laughed and said, “Uhhhh…no!” Where he would take this conversation next changed my life forever. He leaned forward, with his left elbow resting on the arm of his chair and right hand on his knee, smiling, and said, “Rebecca…so why are you trying to out-love God?” I sat for a moment stunned , attempting to process what he had just said to me, while he proceeded to say: “God is the most perfect example of love any of us could ever have and through that He demonstrates how to love others. It isn’t preventing them from making poor choices, it isn’t ignoring them or punishing them, it isn’t making them do what is right and it isn’t stopping consequences and pain from being experienced. You have got to re-define love.”
In that moment it was as if a curtain was pulled back revealing a truth before me that had been there all along, but I had been blind to: That loving someone didn’t mean being God for them, rather loving them meant relying upon God for wisdom in knowing how to love them in a way that was healthy. I realized that it was not for me to fix him, make him not use or even convince him of the truth – rather to share with him a solution, set healthy boundaries and be willing to offer assistance should he decide to take action for his own recovery. On my own strength I could never have stuck to this and would have remained in the situation I had found myself in. Thankfully I found that getting support, suggestions and guidance from others who had more experience than me, was the greatest asset I had.
I encourage you in knowing that there IS hope and you are NOT alone. If you or a loved one struggles in this area, there are many people ready to offer you support in your community through groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Celebrate Recovery and more. You can connect with people in person and/or on-line and begin the road to recovery and wholeness today!
© 2015 Rebecca Balko