One of the more difficult things for me to explain is what I mean by having compassion for an addict.  At first glance, it may sound like I mean that if you love an addict, you should le him or her do or say anything and let it slide because of their addiction.  But, that’s not at all what I’m saying.

While I do think compassion is critical for healthy recovery, it doesn’t mean that anything should be allowed.  An addict is mired in identity conflict; that is, seeking and using drugs is often in conflict with other roles the addict may fill and that conflict probably causes an intense amount of stress.  Understanding those conflicting roles AND how a person responds to both the roles and the conflict is at the source of what I mean by having compassion.

The word, “Compassion” means to “share suffering.”  In addiction, suffering is all too freely shared, especially as we try to change an addict’s behavior. But in working so hard to change an addict’s behavior, we are actually strengthening the motive energies that drive the addiction identity.  For example, I’ve seen cases where people want a heroin user to also be a good financial provider for his family.  What they fail to recognize is the using heroin means spending quite a bit of money.  The roles, “heroin user” and “”good provider” are in DIRECT conflict.  It is this conflict where we find, not only the addict’s stress, but also in the anger that people have when they fail to recognize the role conflict.

When approaching the heroin user from a place of compassion, we can see that various roles may not be able to be filled AT THE SAME TIME as when the heroin user seeks and uses heroin.  There may be moments in time when the heroin user can be a good provider; it is those moments that need to be celebrated and acknowledged.  Yelling at the heroin user about NOT being a good provider doesn’t help.  As a matter of fact, simply talking about heroin use, without judgement, can neutralize the negative associations that come with heroin use. But unless we first try to understand what heroin use MEANS to us, we cannot even begin to talk about heroin use without anger.

I equate compassion with understanding.  If someone wants to use heroin and doesn’t want to find healthier ways to live, then that’s on them.  But we have to figure out how we can best respond to that reality; approaching the heroin user from a place of compassion will allow us to better figure out our own healthy responses to the heroin use.  But if we continue to force a change, we will only drive ourselves batty!!

{As a tool, my book 49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction really can help build a foundation of understanding.  You can click here to learn more}