Is tough love the right thing to do?

From Anne Moss: I got this message from a mom that is part of our village here on Emotionally Naked.  Figuring out the boundary between enabling and helping is so difficult. Given that so many of us struggle with one in active addiction or a loved one who has died, I thought I’d post this because coincidentally, the issue she had an issue with had a perfect answer in a comment someone posted a few days ago. 

Diane’s regret after her son’s death:

Joshua Giannini

by Diane Fielder-McCormick – My biggest regret during the seasons that my son Joshua was using drugs is when I acted in “tough love” ways. In the picture I posted today on Facebook of him on my front porch a year ago, I had kicked him out for stealing money from me. I took him to a homeless shelter/drug rehab place but he walked away. Before he even went in.

And he slept in the woods, literally, all winter. Looking back,  I’m thinking that some of our behaviors add to their shame, compounding it. Multiplying it, sinking our loved ones even deeper into the abyss.

Yes, he did move back in and stayed with us until his suicide. Think twice before words are spoken or actions taken. Really hard balance on the other side of death.

The really good comment from a reader here:

(This comment was to another post but I sent this because it was so perfect for this issue.)

It’s an impossible line to navigate between support and enabling. It is an absolute tight rope, and the line is so thin, we are either enabling or supporting, and the distance between the two is about a centimeter. I learned a great deal from attending the AA meetings in rehab with my child.

The men who got up to speak, shared their past lives of deep manipulation, and hurting those closest to them. They were unable to feel regret, until they were clean of drugs. They all admitted, the more the family helped, the more advantage they took of their family members.

If they survived to rock bottom, that’s when they made the change. Drug addiction is a vicious cycle, often sweeping our most tender hearted and compassionate up in addiction. All of us can only hope and pray that our loved one is the one that hits rock-bottom, and survives it, to potentially live drug-free.

I was fortunate, my son has been clean over 6 years–and before Fentanyl hit. It had absolutely nothing to do with anything I did or didn’t do.

At any moment I could’ve lost him, there were dozens of those times I could’ve lost him. And if I didn’t lose him the one week, the next week was still dangling there, like a spider in the web.

The regret must be overwhelming about that final day, but we need to know, that there would’ve probably been many future potential final days to come, and there were probably many potentially previous final days that had come and the child miraculously survived.

Joshua Giannini leaves video suicide letters of love

Author: Anne Moss Rogers

I am the owner of emotionally naked, a site that reached a quarter million people in its first 18 months. I am President of Beacon Tree Foundation, advocates for youth mental health as well as a writer and public speaker on the topics of suicide, addiction, mental illness, and grief. I lost my youngest son, Charles, 20, to suicide June 5, 2015. I was a marketing professional for years prior to losing my son and co-owned a digital marketing firm.

10 thoughts on “Is tough love the right thing to do?”

  1. Part of what drives the tough love approach is the overwhelming feeling that nothing we are saying or trying to do to help is getting through to our addicted loved ones. I at one time felt my son was so “gone” that he was unreachable. I think it is at these moments when counseling, talking, loving and supporting is being met with rage and rebellion that there seems to be no other option left other than letting them feel the consequences of their actions. I hated this phase. My son did survive and I still wish it never had to happen. I do think that sometimes people do want to pursue the addiction they are suffering with and the complexities of their disease gives us no other option except to protect ourselves. I wanted there to be money left if my son was ever to be reachable again, so I could help him get treatment. I wanted to live and stay sane and emotionally sound, so I could someday have a mutual loving relationship with him. The reality of living with a user who is bound and determined to reak havoc is an imposible living situation. I think it is heartbreaking to have to walk the tough love approach as a parent and I also think it is risky. Unfortunately sometimes I don’t think there is any other choice. In my evaluation it takes the addict some self evaluation that sometimes is not possible without living with the reality of their addiction. This reality takes them to dark places such as homelessness or jail. All the while we as parents are telling our children there are other options. What happens witin their psyche that causes them to eventually accept or seek help is complex. My son told me once that he always had two choices while addicted. I remember I responded enthusiasticly saying I always knew that you saw somewhere inside yourself a speck of light that recovery was possible. He said no mom my two options were heroin or death. He went on to say he was to weak to choose death. However he often wished he could have ended the suffering for everyone. This complexity associated with addiction is where the battle is. They
    often are unable to see a way back to us or to the person they once were. I don’t think tough love is the answer. I do unfortunately sometimes think it is the only option we as parents have. I think it should only be applied after everything else possible has been tried. We should never give up and continue to offer hope and options. Seeking cooperation from our children and loved ones for recovery during tough love should be our goal.

  2. To Diane and all those who have lost, are stricken with grief and wondering where or even how to go on…

    I offer two pieces of information that have served me over the years.

    First, the Canadian physician Gabor Mate has some amazingly insightful information from his work with addicts. He argues that our society, its consumeristic drive, its “penchant for punishment” (my phrase), and rugged individualism (use your own bootstraps) are creating the policies and products that yield addictive thoughts and behaviors. Here is a Youtube video of Dr. Mate: He has published a couple of great books too.

    My second piece of information is an excerpt from a poem by Antonio Machado: Here are two translations…

    Caminante! no hay Camino. se hace Camino al andar (Spanish).

    Walker! There is no path. The Path is made by walking.

    To those who grieve… stand when the ferocity is too great to walk. Walk as you are able to do so. Remember that the path is yours and as you look around you, notice that there are many others – those facing ferocities and those walking their own untrod path.

  3. ‘Tired of fighting a fight I can’t win’…some of Joshua’s last words to his Mom….This statement embodies what I have heard over and over fro those who have struggled with the disease of addiction…they are as tired as we are fighting this fight and why we parents, who have children struggling with this disease, need to speak up and demand that laws and healthcare access change help save our children’s lives..early on in our son’s addiction I believed ‘tough love’ was the only way..not so sure anymore…when they run, do we let them go? Or do we try to get them stabilized, detoxed and in to treatment and therapy to address this disease…I have seen the devil in my son when using but also the kind, sweet young man when mother needs to or should bury their child…

  4. I think the tide is shifting on the whole tough love approach. I also agree that the line between enabling destructive behaviors vs enabling recovery is super thin, and will shift day to day. We all did the very best we could. I know Billy had the tools. Do I have regrets? I do. But I am getting to a place where I know dwelling on the would of, could of, should of will drag me down a dark hole so I consciously say STOP to my brain. Billy knew he was so very loved by so many. That brings some peace. 💙

  5. Yes that’s me that Anne Moss posted above about boundaries. When Josh was alive ‘i had my rights – I can’t allow people to steal from me ‘
    Now what matters is ‘did I add to his shame?. He had choices but he wasn’t in his right mind. I’m not saying that I made the wrong decision…. Just seems like the ‘tough love’ approach would add to their shame and unworthiness AND WE DONT WANT THAT FOR OUR CHILDREN. There’s got to be another way. I’m hoping ten years from now we will have come up with another way to help our addicted loved ones and we will look back on the old way as cruel and barbaric. How many other Mothers ( Fathers and Family ) have done ‘tough love’ hoping rock bottom would not be death but it was ??? I’m hoping I’m not being irrational due to grieving the loss of my son Joshua Giannini ( search on this site for videos he left me hours before his suicide ) six months ago … But still I feel strongly that we need to re-evaluate the way we treat our loved ones who are addicted. Everyone needs to be treated with honor and respect. I welcome your opinions to help me bring the right balance to my ( and others ) hurting heart. Diane
    P.S. in one of Joshs videos he said , ” Mom please… Use your hurt and pain to help others “

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