The Addict Identity must die. Most people would agree with that, but what they may not either agree with or understand is that they keep the Addict Identity alive. The challenge is that most people don’t understand the Addict Identity, but more problematically, they have an opinion about Addiction. But the opinions about Addiction, whatever they are, don’t really help much in terms of the person who’s assumed the Addict Identity.
In order to bring about the Addict Identity’s demise, we have to both understand the Addict Identity and change the way we relate with it. But what is the Addict Identity? On a basic level, it’s a singular role through with all behaviors are filtered. Most people fill several roles and the collection of those roles establish an overall identity. The Addict Identity, however, doesn’t really allow for any other roles to be fulfilled. For example, a given person might be a mother, a wife, and a friend. The person has a certain pattern of behavior performed through each of those roles and, most importantly, there is a related role that acts in association with each of the person’s roles. That is, as a mother, she must have a child; as a wife, a husband, and as a friend there must be another friend. When a person assumes the Addict Identity, however, there are no other roles of significance.
To illustrate, if the person above assumed the Addict Identity, her child, husband and friend may confuse their roles within the Addict Identity and become fearful and angry when they attempt to relate with the person through what had been an established pattern of behavior. However, the Addict Identity does not recognize formerly roles and so, therefore, does not allow former patterns of behavior to continue.
I had a mother express frustration to me the other day because she just doesn’t know how to relate with her “addict” daughter anymore. I asked her, “Did you have a relationship before the addiction took hold?”
She said that she did, but that the only time she heard from her daughter these days was when there was some kind of a problem. She was afraid of becoming an “enabler” and simply wanted to know how to be with her daughter, now that she was addicted.
“Well,” I said. “The simple truth is that there is no way to relate with someone who is addicted. She is your daughter, however, and you should try to maintain that relationship to the best of your ability and within reasonable means of safety. Your daughter is still there, but the Addict Identity is the main motivation fueling all of her behaviors. If you try and commingle your role as her mother with her Addict Identity, you really will be fueling and enabling her Addict Identity.”
She nodded her head and appeared to be processing what I had said. After a few seconds, she said, “So, if I want to make her dinner, which is something I would do as her mother, I should do that, but if she’s hustling me for money, then I should stop the conversation, is that it?”
“Yup,” I said. “That’s about it.” We discussed the idea some more and after a while, she thanked me and went along her way. I seemed to make sense to her and I do hope she can apply what we discussed. Something clicked to her; she saw how she was allowing her role as “mother” mix with her daughter’s Addict Identity and cause harm rather than be nurturing.
Like the woman, people commingle established role behaviors with someone’s Addict Identity and become frustrated. But, if someone can realize when he or she is mixing role behaviors with another’s Addict Identity, then that person can maintain safe boundaries and not provide fuel through which the Addict Identity can maintain. The Addict Identity is singular in its focus: It will do whatever it needs to achieve its purpose. Only by relating through other roles will the Addict Identity die. That is, if your girlfriend uses heroin, relate with her as best you can as her boyfriend, but don’t try and stop her heroin use because in doing so, you are providing the Addict Identity defensive strength. IF you can’t act as her boyfriend anymore, then you should move on. Only in loss and grief will the Addict Identity suffocate. Other roles have to have MORE VALUE than the Addict Identity BEFORE the person will seek to change.