I've been managing one of the largest drug programs in Arizona for nearly 29 years. And people ask over and over how they can help their loved one kick a habit. And the first thing I tell them is to stop supporting their habit.
"Oh, we don't," they usually reply. "We told him we don't want him doing that kind of stuff. We get angry when he doesn't listen. We cut off help. We threaten to quit talking to him if he doesn't get help."
But when I start digging deeper I find out that's not necessarily the case. Maybe they don't give them money. But I ask them to take an inventory of what they do give him. Do they let him sleep on the couch because he's lost his apartment? Do they feed him? Do they do his laundry? Do they buy him cigarettes? Do they give him rides to strange neighborhoods? Do they give him pocket money?
I'm a person who used heroin and other opiates for about 38 years. And alcohol for 42 years. And as long as people would enable me with any kind of help at all I used them to support my habit.
It was only when my dear mother, God bless her soul, said she was giving me no more help until I got sober and clean that I began to change. And I mean she cut me off cold. And I was very angry, but she didn't care. She was tired of seeing me dying from drugs and alcohol. She wouldn't feed me. She wouldn't buy me cigarettes. She wouldn't even let me sleep in her toolshed. And I thought she was cruel and had no understanding. Why had she turned so mean?
But see, when people quit helping me, that's when I began to change. When I could no longer borrow money, or bum rides, or get any kind of help I began to change. At first, I thought the world had turned against me and that everyone was just becoming downright evil. That they had no understanding of my substance abuse problem and my abusive upbringing.
But when people stopped helping me, that's when I changed. It took a while for people to notice. But when they did see those changes then they began to give me real help. They saw me planning businesses. They saw me going to work. They saw me going to twelve-step meetings. They weren't stupid. They realized that I was trying to do something with my life and they gave me 100% encouragement which made me want to continue to do even better. That's the only kind of help to give an addict: get behind him or her 100% when you see that they're really making motions to change their life. And when they stop trying to change their life once again that's when you quit helping.
But too many people have the idea that their loved one will no longer like or love them. That their relationship will somehow fall apart. So they continue to help them no matter what. And that's why I gave this blog the title "Loving Them to Death."