Have you ever known someone struggling with addiction? My experience is that they often laugh it off or minimize its affect on them. Even our society doesn’t seem to think some addictions are all that serious. Workaholic? At least they’re being productive. Addicted to sex? Who cares as long as he can still perform on the golf course? Alcoholic? What’s so bad about a night of drinking if you don’t drive? What’s the big deal?
Of course, the very nature of addiction is that the person is giving themselves up to something that consumes them. Something that consumes their life. Their thoughts and actions are centered in desire. Take the edge off. Add a little spice to life. Look successful.
Often it’s not the person who has the addiction that sees the need for help. It’s the ones trying to live with them. It’s hard to confront someone with an addiction because it becomes an all out war. And it’s hard to tell others because many don’t understand or won’t get involved. Some blame it on us. Some are fueling the addiction.
We stay with people struggling with addiction because we love them. But living in the shadows of addiction can become a very dark and lonely place.
We don’t want to call them addicts because that labels them and sounds inherently bad. And they’re not bad people. When they’re themselves. The way they used to be. But the truth is that someone struggling with addiction–someone going back to the source of that addiction–is an addict. Even if they believe they can stop at any time. Even if we believe it’s not that bad. The continual secrecy, lies and relapses confirm they’re addicted. They are an addict.
Many addicts swing from extremes of being the hero and the victim. It’s all about them. And they’re persuasive.
As the hero, they need to feel important and in control, and they may try to convince us that we need them. They say things like, “Look what I’ve done for you. Good thing I keep saving you. You couldn’t do this without me.” And we believe it.
As the victim, they often project their failures or shortcomings on us, as if the hardships caused by their addiction are our fault. We’ll hear things like, “Look what you’ve done to me! You’ve caused “this” to happen. You’re trying to make me relapse.” We feel ashamed that we’ve made them feel this way and we try to make it up to them. And sometimes as the victim, they keep us connected by saying they love us and we deserve better so they’re letting us go. But of course we can’t leave.
Living in the middle between an addict’s extremes of hero and victim can tear us apart.
Their intense emotions drain us, confuse us, and beat us down. The swings between hero and victim keep us going in circles until we don’t know what’s true anymore. We don’t know what to believe. We don’t know where to turn. And trying to leave the relationship can be like pouring gas on an open flame. It explodes! Most addicts have more than one addictive tendency, and often relationships become an addiction. They want us when they want us. If they can’t get in touch with us they incessantly call and text, and eventually try to hunt us down.
There is no easy answer if we’re in a relationship of any kind with someone struggling with addiction. But the first step is always to seek help.
We can’t heal them or change them. But we can offer to go with them, as long as we keep ourselves safe and hold onto truth in the process. They can only be helped if they truly want help.
If you’re living in the middle now with someone who’s struggling with addiction, you don’t have to stay in the shadows. You don’t have to walk this journey alone. Reach out. Confide in a trusted friend or talk to a pastor or counselor. Know that you have not caused the addiction. And you don’t have to keep it a secret. There are many of us who have been on this road before. Many of us who are on a similar road now. Take courage and hold onto hope. God can heal those who want to be healed, no matter where they are today. And He wants you to live in peace.
“I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far,” says the LORD, who heals them.” Isaiah 57:18-19 (NLT)
May I pray?
Heavenly Father, today I pray for my sisters and brothers who are in the shadows of addiction. Whether they’re the ones struggling with addiction or they’re the ones living in the middle with an addict, I lift them up to You. Mighty Lord, You know them by name. You know all of the details of their situation. You’ve seen their tears. You know their fears. And You want them to come to You. Even now, may they feel Your strength and peace. May they know how much You love them. May they take a step of faith with You today. Amen.
Q4U: Do you have a word of encouragement you can share with someone “living in the middle”?