When you love an addict, you learn to live on fire. Not inspired, “I’m on fire!” good fire but like I’m burning and I’m melting and I feel like I’m being sucked away gradually along with the addict. It’s painful. And if I hear one more person say “it’s a disease!” I’m going to literally punch. I understand it’s a disease but it’s also a choice in many ways, too. When people are begging you to accept help for years, trying everything, showing you how you are hurting yourself, others, and the help is continually turned down…you know only the addict can make the choice to help themselves.
There is such little support for the people who are stuck breathing in the fumes, locked in a hot room in a house on fire begging to get out and breathe while the addict succumbs to their disease over and over and over again. The fire analogy works in SO many ways. One of the best quotes I’ve ever read about people who are stuck alongside family members or loved ones with addiction is that we often “light ourselves on fire to keep others warm” — we tread lightly about approaching them in fear of what they’ll do, what they’ll say. We don’t know when they’ll be angry, go off on us or hurt us or themselves and that is a terrible, terrible limbo to be stuck in at all times. The result is this: we burn.
Less than a year ago, someone asked me why as a family member I wouldn’t have taken an addict into my home and given them a place to stay. It can be a touchy subject but I have three children, a husband I love…and I have to protect that first above all. I was guilted after the death of my brother who overdosed on heroin less than two years ago and told that because I didn’t visit or come around, I made him more depressed.
Wait….because I didn’t bring myself or my young children around someone using intravenous drugs, I am a bad sister…and his depression was partially my fault? There’s a blame cycle in toxic families…both by the addicts and the ones they live with. I lived it my WHOLE LIFE. I thought it was normal to talk bad about everyone you love, your friends, people you know and don’t know and place blame — because it’s never your fault, everyone has to have worse issues than you to make you feel better and it’s black and white, no grey.
It’s grey people, it’s grey. And it’s often no one’s business what happens in others lives and I didn’t realize how much this addict-blames-everyone-else affected me just by being surrounded by them until a couple of years ago. Although I wasn’t suffering with an addiction, their negative qualities of blame, hatred and judgement had saturated my way of thinking and turned me into an absolute jerk sometimes. It changed my life when I saw this quality in myself. What a wake up call to see that you are in fact, not the best version you can be of yourself and you sound just like the addicts that have caused you so much pain and suffering. But…on the flip side, what a beautiful thing to become aware of that and be determined to change your life and not reflect that kind of negativity. Be a happy, kind, good person at all costs….once and for all. No more fires. I’m jumping into the sea and cooling off and saving the rest of this life of mine.
I was in my early 30’s and finally knew what being a true, good, Godly human being meant and it meant erasing all blame, judgement and criticism for others from my heart. It wouldn’t happen naturally and I would have to work at it, catch myself when I fail at it and forgive myself when I don’t follow through…but I was going to make it happen starting right then. Giving the same kind of grace to others the Lord gives to me. I was raised with religion pushed on me but never knew the true meaning of all of it, because what was practiced in my household was the exact opposite of that. Lots and lots of judgement and never, ever any ownership of faults.
The point is that there are more than one ways you stay on fire when you allow addicts to take over your life. A couple of points below may make you feel less alone and help you through a difficult situation you’re facing with someone under the influence in your life right now.
1. This is not your fault.
2. You can not force this person to accept help or change.
3. You can offer help and solutions to a point, but there has to be a limit. You will run yourself exhausted trying to get someone help who won’t accept it. We choose 1-2 days where we will work hard to find resources and options and then we have to cut it off. Unfortuantely, we’re seasoned in this department by now.
4. Do not EVER let the addict/someone else guilt you into hosting this person in your home. Some situations may end violently, but even if they don’t, the emotional consequences can affect your work, relationships and mental health having to witness the self destruction.
5. There is a chance this person will never accept help and will succumb to their choices/disease. When that day comes, it’s devastating. But I will say…with knots in my stomach, there is a sense of relief that the person is no longer suffering. Although I miss my brother, we don’t worry about him anymore or have that fear always lingering. But unfortunately we get to worry about all of the other addicts that refuse help in our family still.
6. You have to breathe. You have to flourish. Your family and loved ones that are not addicts deserve to see you HAPPY and although a part of you will always be hurting for this person, choosing to take the focus off of them and putting it on your family and making the best of the days you have with your people makes a big difference. I won’t pretend it goes away somewhere but choosing to say “you’re cut off until you help yourself” can definitely unburden you from a responsibility that was never yours to begin with.
7. JUMP IN THE SEA! As in, no more fires. Cool off. Take a vacation, drive to the Outer Banks and get some salt air. Gosh — just be free, I guess that’s what I mean. I choose no longer to live on fire, but to swim. I don’t know how much time my life has so I have to make it the best I can for me, my sober family, my husband and my girls.