We can’t fix anyone else — this is true. However, we can allow change in others to emerge IF we take the necessary steps to: first, understand our own behavior; and second,hange our own behaviors. Especially if we want an addict in our life to change, we really need to understand and recognize our actions in response to the addict and then, if they are either unhealthy or not working, then we should do something different.
To illustrate: Take Frank, a thirty-something male with a 8-year history of opiate addiction. His current form of opiate is percoset — he pounds the pills into a powder and then snorts the powder. He has a live-in girlfriend, Mary, that he’s been with for 5 years. She loves him, but hates that he’s addicted to percs. She wants, more than anything, for him to be clean. Although she’s given him ultimatums, he always manages to convince her that he’s going to change. But, as is common, he never does.
Now, the thing is that, while Frank doesn’t change, neither does Mary. She can describe his pattern of behaviors with near perfect precision, but she doesn’t (and won’t) see how the way she responds to his patterns IS PART OF THOSE PATTERNS. He uses, she gets pissed and threatens to leave, he convinces her to stay, and she does. The entire cycle is a pattern and, while Frank may not be able to change his because of his physical addiction to percs; Mary probably could, provided she did the work to understand her own patterns of behavior.
People are representative to other people, much the way other symbols are. That is, people fill roles to which others respond, based upon what those roles mean. Frank’s addiction to percosets means, to Mary, that he is going to die of an overdose someday. That is, Mary interprets the role, “addict,” to mean death. She then acts out of her own fear of Frank dying and acts accordingly. However, if Mary would do the work necessary to reframe her interpretation of “addict,” she may find healthier ways in which she can respond to Frank. Perhaps she attends Al-anon meetings, perhaps she finds another form of support, or maybe she actually acts in HER OWN best interest and leaves Frank. Really, if Mary stopped focusing on Frank and worked on improving Mary’s emotional life, not only would she become healthier, but Frank would also need to behave differently in response to Mary’s “new” behavior pattern.
Human beings have the special gift of self-reflection. We can think about our own mind and adapt to the world as needed. Yet, we choose to remain blind to our own lives and instead focus on other people’s shortcomings. I think owning our own actions and adapting is a far better approach…
One tool that is quite helpful in reflecting on our own understanding of Addiction is my book, 49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction. It provides valuable insight and exercises such that information can become the reader’s knowledge. Check it out here…you’ll be glad you did!