It’s not easy to help someone help themselves. Even good intentions can be inappropriate. And sometimes we realise we are the ones who need supporting first.
In the material world where we learn to believe that love, peace and happiness are externally sourced experiences, the trapdoors of addiction and dependency lie in wait around every corner. An increasing number lose themselves in some form of regular stimulation, which can eventually rule and perhaps ruin their life. As a result many of us now have within our circles of families and friends, colleagues and acquaintances, someone who has fallen prey to some form of substance abuse and are fast becoming addicts. Gradually, and often quite suddenly, not only do they appear to change physically in front of our eyes, their personality also seems to deteriorate. What was once a positive, happy and enthusiastic person becomes a depressed and often angry character, more inclined towards isolation or the company of those who have also fallen prey to similar dependencies.
It’s hard not to suffer as we watched them suffer as we ‘feel’ for them. It’s often hard not to become occasionally resentful at how they have changed. It’s hard not to want to rescue them and try to restore them to their former selves. But there are not only many traps in attempting to do so, there can be subtle costs that we may have to incur if we go down the road of the ‘rescuer’.
These are few of the many factors that are worthy of consideration when we find ourselves in such a position where a close friend or member of our family is on a downward spiral due to some form of addiction or dependency.
They need strength and you cannot give strength if you are weak
As we watch them in pain it’s as if we feel their pain and, as a consequence, we are in pain ourselves. Sometimes this is called empathy but it’s not, it’s coming out in sympathy. It means we are suffering alongside them. And a suffering person cannot be strong for the other, they cannot empower the other. In fact if we suffer alongside the suffering of another we too need help?
This is usually more obvious to someone outside the relationship. Often the other person’s deterioration into some form of addiction is subconsciously because they know that it will induce a response/reaction in us. They simply want attention, probably yours. Or because they know you will suffer when they suffer. This can be their way of trying to punish you or make you feel guilty for whatever reason. Although the descent can begin this way, once ‘addictive momentum’ has been gathered it may turn into frequent expressions of, “Oh God what have I done”.
And their guilt only adds to the momentum.
Our negative image of them empowers their negative self image
It is obvious that anyone who becomes addicted to any substance or form of stimulation has a negative self-image, which is generating negative and painful emotions. This suffering is alleviated by whatever they have become addicted to. As we watch them deteriorate so too the image we have of them can easily become a negative one. We then transmit that image to them as if to affirm they are right about themselves. This of course is the last thing they need if they are to find the strength to reverse their self-sabotage. It is now well recorded that the most effective way to help young people with low self-esteem is through personal mentoring.
It is the mentor’s unconditional positive regard that helps them break their habit of seeing themselves in such a negative light.
You can never know exactly why they are abusing their body with addictive or harmful substances
There is of course something significant going on within the consciousness of the addict. Trying to understand it can take us into many psychiatric theories and spiritual explanations. All of which will likely have some truth. But in fact they don’t really help in a practical way. What probably matters most is a completely non-judgmental approach where ‘they’ feel they are not being condemned or assessed, not being blamed or having their behaviours justified by someone else. Their need is only for unconditional support, and even then they may ‘appear’ to reject it. But the rejecting is often a ‘testing’ in disguise. They are trying to see if your support is genuinely unconditional, and they are waiting for you to lapse back into assessment and judgment so they can say, “I knew it, you don’t really care about me, you just care about what I am doing”.
True love doesn’t interfere but it allows the ‘other’ to go where they will go
This is a tough one because love is not always sweetness and light. Love is also not entanglement and it is easy to become entangled (if we are not already) with someone who we perceive to be in this kind of ‘trouble’. Our intention to give help is likely to be mixed within a web of expectations and desires. We forget love has no expectation. Love does not desire. But sometimes we give people too much help in the name of love but in reality it is coming from our personal desire and expectation. More often their immediate need was just for the power of our good wishes that can give them a ‘lift’ at a crucial moment. This will require our capacity to remember we cannot ‘make’ them do anything, we cannot control their behaviour. And yet we can have an influence over their decisions and direction. But before that can happen they need to deeply feel we are not attempting to ‘fix’ them. Not easy if they are ‘close’, and have been for some time.
Ultimately we have no choice but to leave them to work out their own situations. Sometimes they need to sink deeper to realize the futility of their path and perhaps develop their own distaste for the experience.
Maybe they need to hit rock bottom to learn the essential lessons that are unique to them in order to find their own inner strength. While true love is always present as support and availability, it allows them to go in a direction that we might never choose. It is after all their life and their destiny is in their hands. This does of course require a measure of ‘detachment’, but it is neither uncaring nor cold, simply the ability to not suffer with, but empathise with, and be there for them. The teenager who is obviously setting out on a path of addiction requires much time and energy to talk through their decisions and to hear the wisdom of another, but ultimately they will still make their own decisions.
They serve to mirror something in you.
Relationship is our mirror. And as we look in the mirror of a loved one who is deteriorating in our midst we may see our sadness about them, our occasional anger towards them, and our fear for them, as they spiral downwards. They serve to show us our own vulnerability, they reflect our inclination to become ‘attached’, which itself is a sign of addiction and dependency. For sure we are taught to believe that these emotions (sadness/anger/fear) are natural in the presence of others sadness/anger/fear.
We are so accustomed to their appearance that it’s hard to imagine life without them. And yet it is the attempt to mask and blot out such feelings that attracts us towards some form of relief, it is the alleviation of such emotional suffering that lies at the root of using any stimulant or addictive substance in the first place. It is the intensity of these insufferable emotions that has us all reaching for our own forms of ‘alleviation’ from TV to caffeine, from a position with power to a special relationship, from following our team to following a guru. Addictions and dependencies are not exclusive to a few and they come in many forms. It’s just that the vast majority are now ‘socially acceptable’!
The cause of their suffering is not an addiction to a substance it is an internal disconnection to their true nature that is temporarily repaired by the stimulant
The deepest, and some would call the ‘spiritual viewpoint’, reminds us that at the core of human consciousness is our true and eternal nature, which is pure love, deep peace, and a blissful contentment.
The ‘insperience’ of these states of being are lost when we learn to ‘believe’ there is only a physical/material reality. Physical/sensual stimulations do trigger an inner reconnection with those states as they open a brief pathway back into our true nature. But it can only be temporary, hence the addiction. The more permanent ways back are traditionally recognised as various forms of contemplation, meditation and deep inward reflection. With sustained practice these methods reveal the ideas and beliefs that are generating the mental and emotional suffering, as illusions. There are of course hundreds of such beliefs that will eventually stimulate painful emotions from inside out. The most common include beliefs such as ‘success is acquisition’ and ‘your happiness lies somewhere in the future’ and ‘you have to work hard to earn respect’ and ‘what you see in the bathroom mirror in the morning is you’ and ‘money is the measure of your self worth’. When enough of these beliefs are learned and assimilated over time they will eventually generate misery as they go against the grain of what is true. And it’s that misery that will have us all, at some stage, reaching for something to alleviate the darkness of our ‘inner emotional clouds’.
Reflection: What are you dependent upon in a mildly addictive way and what do the see as the emotions you are attempting to mask or alleviate?
Action: Generate and transmit the power of good wishes fro someone you know this week.