Sometimes we think this approach pressures a loved one into compliance. But I’ve learned from experience it does just the opposite. Pushing away someone with mental illness or addiction from the love of family leaves them feeling untethered, unsupported, ashamed, resentful, and rejected. And what does that do? Usually, it drives them toward the behavior that they have been using to manage difficult feelings. For those with SUD that can be drinking or drugging more. For those with mental illness it can push someone towards suicide (nobody cares) or self-harm.
Our loved ones need to know we’ll meet them wherever they are and love them even if we don’t agree with where they are in their journey.
It doesn’t mean letting someone with addiction use us like a doormat and allowing them to abuse or steal from you. You can love someone and still set boundaries for your own well-being.
I remember Ryan Hampton, a political policy activist in long-term recovery, telling the story about how his mother would make meals for him and drop them off wherever he was couch surfing back when he was still using. Although he was still very sick, she let him know he was loved even if she couldn’t live with him.
Using our own privilege of belonging to threaten those who already feel ashamed, ostracized, or sick is an abuse of power and cruel.
Being included, feeling as if one belongs, and being accepted are all basic human desires. Dangling love as a carrot in order to force one to submit to your terms is hardly something that fosters a good long-term relationship. It’s often a seed that inspires resentment. And although we don’t mean to, we are weaponizing our love.
By listening, and trying to understand someone from their viewpoint, we allow our loved ones to feel heard. That approach repairs fractured relationships and can plant the seed that can lead to stability or recovery. Then again, it may not and that’s the point at which we just accept someone exactly as they are.
My whole mission of carrying forward my son’s legacy of letting others know they matter is about helping people create a culture of connection. That means embracing one another’s differences and diversity, understanding that your way is not always the only way, and allowing yourself to grow in that process of acceptance. This very simple philosophy can, all by itself, resolve a great many social and relationship problems.