The best way to describe how it feels to have a loved one battling addiction is isolating. It’s lonely. It can be hard to relate to other people.
It’s hard to make commitments, like volunteering for church activities or children’s school trips because you might be overwhelmed and never know what will happen from day to day. Going to work can be good if you get yourself motivated to go, but some days, it’s too much to handle. Inviting friends over for coffee is generally out of the question because you never know what environment your home will be in that day. To be honest, it’s easier to withdraw than reach out.
If you’re the wife of someone with an addiction, then being around other couples is almost unbearable, especially at church. It’s hard to make conversation with other wives or mothers.
My friend doesn’t talk about her loved one’s addiction. What’s she feeling?
It’s tough to fully explain how it feels to be caught up in a loved one’s web of addiction, but I’m going to try and verbalize it so you can understand what your friend or family member is really dealing with.
Whether in a crisis or recovery phase, the emotions are still very much the same. When a loved one goes into recovery, the insecurities are still there. The boundaries still need to be in place. Recovery from addiction is one of the “long narrow roads,” Jesus talked about leading to life.
Sadly, there’s also a growing mortality rate among substance abuse users. So if that’s the addiction your friend is dealing with, then she’s carrying that fear around too. Deaths due to drug overdoses have climbed significantly in recent years, jumping 102 percent between 1999 and 2010 alone to make it the leading cause of injury death in America, ahead of traffic accidents and gun-related incidents.
Although there are many of different types of addictions, generally speaking, most compulsive behaviors leave family members feeling the same way. I hope this helps give some insight into what your friend or family member might be feeling. I know it may sound mostly negative but don’t despair! Recovery does happen. Treatment can work. I believe God does heal.
Here are 10 ways to help your friend or family member feel supported.
1. Ask her if she wants to talk about it.
We need to talk. We want to talk. This isn’t a topic that’s difficult for us to discuss. If we seem hesitant to talk, then it’s because we aren’t sure what you can handle hearing. The darkness can be deep. We don’t want to be judged, just heard. If we cry, then it’s not because what you said was hurtful, but because we’ve been holding it in. If we didn’t want to talk that day, then ask again later. If we’re complaining too often, then take us out to vent, have dinner, get it off our chest and then tell us gently, we need to stop talking about it now. You’re protecting us from ourselves because constantly complaining only makes us feel worse.
2. Don’t make us feel guilty.
Mothers feel guilty for not seeing the warning signs and being unable to protect their children from harm. Wives feel guilty for taking on the “head of household” role and not being loving enough. Siblings feel ignored.
We need to know you support us. You may not agree with everything we say but as our friends, trust us and have our backs.
3. If she has kids, then babysit for a day.
Take our children to the movies or to the park. Pick them up from school for us. Take them anywhere. We might be able to pay for it. It takes so much effort to be a loving, caring mother and we’re exhausted. A small break goes a long way in helping us stay peaceful amidst our storm.
4. Give her a small token to show you’re thinking of her.
Flowers, a card, a pretty scarf, cupcakes — it’s the thought that counts. We spend most of, if not all our time, pouring into others and ignoring ourselves. Showing us you’re thinking about us with a small gift does two things: It reminds us we’re valued and treats us to something we wouldn’t do for ourselves. A little goes a long way!
5. Be on the lookout for an opportunity to help her environment.
Have we been griping about not having time to paint that one bathroom? Has our flowerbed been poorly neglected? Is our couch old and peeling into shreds? Do our windows need cleaning? Anything you can do to help our physical environment will help us feel better on the inside. Your investment into our lives will have a long-lasting effect on our overall health and daily life.
6. Bring her a casserole.
I say it all the time, but nobody brings you a casserole when your husband goes to rehab. (There may or may not be a book in the making! Winky face.) I’m not sure why this is such a big thing to me, but it is. It could be because I personally don’t want to cook when I’m upset but eating a healthy, wholesome meal does wonders for the soul. If your friend or family member has children, then you won’t only be blessing her, but you’ll be blessing the entire family.
7. Sincerely ask how she is doing.
People often ask, “How’s it going?” or “How are things?” and we obligingly say, “Fine. Good. I’m fine. The kids are good.” What we really want to say is, “Things are not good. I am not OK. The kids are having a tough time,” but often people don’t really want the truth. They ask because it’s polite. Ask us with sincerity how we really are and we’ll be ever thankful you cared enough to ask.
8. If you know something she doesn’t, then tell her.
Please, don’t hide truths from us. It doesn’t help to keep us in the dark. We need to know what’s really happening so we can react accordingly. This is especially true for wives. Dear friends of our husbands, if you know something, then tell us. We are hurting more than you know. A hard truth doesn’t bring more pain, but it gives freedom. Living in uncertainty makes us bounce back and forth between compassion and asserting boundaries. Without the truth, it’s hard to know the right thing to do. We love them. We will do what is best for them, not what feels good. Trust us that we know what that is. (We probably do. We’ve been riding the roller coaster!)
9. If you see red flags she doesn’t see, then tell her.
Being on the outside looking in, you might be able to see behavior we’ve become accustomed to. Our love for them can be blinding. We hope for the best and want to get to a place of trust so we unintentionally overlook or make excuses. Be fairly warned. We may not receive advice well, but it’ll be stored into our subconscious. We’ll look more closely at our loved ones or our own behavior.
10. Pray for her.
People often brush off comments like “Hey, I’ll pray for you,” as being a “wishy-washy” thing to say, but heartfelt prayer is powerful. I’ve seen it happen!
Here are a few things to avoid saying to your friend:
In your innocence, you may say some things that hurt more than help. I mean this in the kindest way because I understand no one understands addiction until they experience it. So here’s some gentle suggestions of things that are better not to say.
Don’t compare your problems to ours. “My daughter did this once at a party,” or “My husband has problems, too. No one is perfect,” doesn’t help. It only confirms to us that you don’t get it.
Tread lightly when advising a wife to leave her husband for the sake of her kids or telling a mother to no longer allow her child to come home. Those are not small decisions or boundaries. They’re huge. They’ll ignite a river of events our loved ones may or may not be able to survive. It’s OK to say what you see, just be gentle. If you sense resistance, then I wouldn’t push it.
Is addiction hopeless?
No! Nothing is hopeless. I know there’s healing for addiction.
Remember, a friend that will be there for us, cry with us, help us with our daily tasks and get us through the hard days means everything. We’re fighting a battle we never planned on fighting and having you stand behind us gives us strength to keep going. Your support gives us life by reminding us we have a life to live too.
If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.
This post originally appeared on Leah Grey.