Currently there is a situation in my life that doesn’t have any direct impact on me, and yet it’s been on my mind and on my heart. Someone I love is struggling. It’s deep and painful, and it’s difficult to watch. I’ve often thought that if I had to choose between my own heartbreak, and the heartbreak of someone I love, I would choose my own time and time again.
As a person who is a family member in recovery from the impact of addiction in her life, I have some tools to deal with my emotions around this sort of situation. But, that doesn’t make the emotions go away. My first reaction when seeing pain in a person I love is that I want to fix it, ease it, or make it go away. When I am experiencing this sort of reaction – when my fear is kicking in – I am as far away from trust and faith as I can possibly be.
Some of this fear comes from past experience, and watching someone relapse due to unpleasant experiences in their lives. Some of this fear comes from a deep, old fear of the unknown that I have had, which makes sense based on times in my life when addiction made things feel out of control. Some of my reaction comes from compassion and concern. Some of it comes from a disconnection that happens when someone I love is connected to a problem in their world, and their connection to me feels less strong. I know that I am not alone in this: many family members feel this way when they watch the things that happen in their loved one’s lives, especially when addiction is at play.
When emotions are this strong, the need to eradicate them becomes strong, as well. I want to offer helpful solutions that the person can try. I want to get in the middle of things and help navigate, even when, sometimes especially when, I haven’t been asked. I want to go back to old behavior because it is comfortable, even though these behaviors were never effective. Sometimes we as family members put our comfort, our perceived well-being, above anyone else’s.
The truth is, although the situation that I’m writing about is painful to watch, and there’s a piece of it that feels confusing to me, it’s important to accept that it’s happening and is now a part of this person’s path. There is no right or wrong in this situation, although I want to create justifications and judgments to help me to “solve” it. There are personalities involved, and there are unpleasant consequences happening, and all of these things are outside of my control, and really don’t concern me firsthand. My job in all of this is to keep loving the people I love, and to find a way to trust that they will find their way.
This is what detachment looks like. Instead of attaching to the problem, to outcomes, and to the plan of attack, detachment allows me to notice these reactions within me, and to step away from what is not mine. Instead I need to attach myself to something helpful, like my program of recovery or a Power that will help me to trust the process. If I can attach to these things, than I get to be reminded of what I have already learned in family recovery: everyone has their own path, I don’t have all of the answers, and that it’s a spiritual practice to get out of the way.
When I get out of the way, I allow myself a front row seat to watch the workings of my Higher Power, and the Higher Power of the people I love. I get to see that old wounds don’t heal until they are felt, and the struggle that my loved one is having is part of that healing. I get to see that I don’t always know what is right for someone else, and I get to watch with delight as the people I love discover what is right for them. I get to reconnect to trust and faith, and remember that in my life so far it’s been the painful experiences have led to overwhelming growth. Don’t I want the same thing to happen for my loved one?
The fastest way that I have found to get from my reaction of “I need to fix this!” to my response of “I’m getting out of the way!” is to surround myself with the support that is offered in recovery. I don’t have to be alone in this, and I also don’t have to add my reactions to the struggle my loved one is already experiencing. I can reach out to my people, and they will remind me to take care of me, to pray and meditate, and to let my loved ones have their own spiritual journey. My loved one’s struggle is just that: their struggle. Recovery helps me to love them without making their struggle my own.