How 'bout we try loving addicts?

There is little question that there are many times that someone who’s addicted to a substance will behave in very angering ways. Though I advocate compassion, I understand the anger and fear that comes with being involved with a person whose every action appears to be focused upon his or her substance of choice. I also understand that lies build so much that it’s hard to believe anything an addict says; it’s as if an addict has lost any capability to even know what’s true, much less discuss anything honestly.

But, although there are strong reasons to be angry and afraid, does that mean that an addict isn’t worthy of love? Case in point: A got a call the other day from someone whose sister ended up in the hospital after coughing up blood. The woman was distraught and worried that her sister would soon end up dead; her coughing fit was the result of once again drinking herself sick. He’d been addicted to alcohol for several years and didn’t seem to be making any progress. In fact, she had developed cirrhosis and was becoming weaker with each passing day. The caller wanted to know what, if anything, she could do to help her sister. “My mom is done with her,” she said. “And to tell you the truth, I’m at the end of my rope with her. But I’m not ready to throw her to the wolves…”

As usual, I considered my words carefully. From what the caller shared with me, it sounded like her sister was losing her battle against alcohol. But, in spite of what the caller said, I knew that by calling me, she was still holding out hope that her sister could in fact gain traction and have some kind of life unfettered by sickness. As is also usual, most of the time when anger has built in someone to the point of cutting off someone else completely, it’s usually more about the person doing the cutting off than it is about the person being cut off. I see a lot of worry and fear in dealing with substance abuse and addictions and that worry and fear leads to anger and hate. And like I’ve said dozens of times, I do understand.

But, because untreated addiction is terminal, I think it’s better to respond to the addicted with love and hope. Time passes and there’s nothing we can do to stop it or relive passed moments. Therefore, even if we know someone is lying to us, maybe we can know and love them anyway. It’s not easy, but fear and anger isn’t going to help anything. All fear and anger do is drive anxiety and shame, the two energies that drive all addictions. “Well,” I said to the woman who called me. “I think you should go visit your sister in the hospital, hold her hand, and tell her that you love her. She may recover, or she may not, but either way, at least she’ll know that someone in the world didn’t abandon her and she can find solace knowing that.”

Really, that’s all any of us can do: Love. I don’t have all the answers or even very many at all. But death knocks at all of our doors and each moment is a gift. We can accept it our waste it lost in our anger and fear.  I advise that if we know someone who is addicted to a substance, we should write all the reason they are still worthy of our love, in spite of his or her addiction.  Just acknowledging his or her worthiness may lead to some kind of healing….

  1. “…write all the reason they are still worthy of our love, in spite of his or her addiction.”

    Thanks for writing that. It helps to step back to just think and breathe for a second. I really needed that today.