For friends and family members of a person dealing with alcohol or drug addiction, detachment can be an elusive concept. As part of the Al-Anon program, “Loosening With Love” is the idea that the family must let go of their loved ones’ problems.
It gives you permission to let them experience all the consequences of their alcohol or drug use and focus on your own health and wellbeing.
The importance of detachment
If you’ve dealt with a person’s progressive alcoholism (severe alcohol use disorder) or drug use, it may be hard to imagine finding happiness while the substance abuse continues. This is especially true if you have tried everything to prevent the situation from worsening.
The stress and exhaustion associated with caring for addicts can be overwhelming. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and unhealthy behaviors or unsafe living conditions for your family.
The reality of living with alcoholism or some other addiction often means dealing with one crisis at a time. While you may find yourself in rescue mode all the time, learning to break away relieves you of the responsibility to protect them.
Those who have attended Al-Anon long enough realize that distancing is important to the family’s emotional well-being. It also helps you understand that there is no way for you to control addiction.
Kind of rude yet
As the Al Anon literature says
“Detachment is neither kind nor unkind. It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation we are separating from. It is simply a means of enabling us to separate ourselves from the adverse effects of another’s alcoholism Person can have on our life. ”
Detachment doesn’t mean you stop loving the person, and it doesn’t mean you physically leave (unless you sense the need).
Instead, it shows that you dislike or disapprove of their behavior. It steps back from all problems associated with addiction and stops all attempts to solve them. You still take care of it, but it’s best for everyone involved if you take care of yourself first.
Often times, family members find that they have delved into the addictive behavior too much. The Al-Anon program teaches people to “focus on ourselves” and not on the person with alcoholism or anyone else. This is done through a number of key points that members take up in meetings:
- Avoid the suffering caused by someone else’s actions.
- Do not allow yourself to be abused or abused during recovery.
- Avoid doing things for them that they can do.
- Don’t use manipulation to change their behavior.
- Don’t cover up your mistakes.
- Avoid creating or preventing a crisis, especially when it is inevitable and possibly the wake up call you need.
For example, if your family member is late for work or misses it completely, it becomes a habit. Detachment teaches you that it is not your responsibility to care for them. This also applies to making excuses and trying to resolve situations, as well as avoiding arguments.
By getting the focus back on yourself you will protect yourself from the abusive behavior and stop activating it. It’s a way to take some of their power away from them so they can’t manipulate you.
Ideally, when you break away from this person, you can see how their negative behavior affects everyone around them. As Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous teach, it is important to have the wisdom to know the difference between things that can and cannot be changed.
Does it really help?
When you are contemplating detachment, you may be concerned about what will happen to your loved one after you break away from them. You may think that all of the things you have done to “help” over these years are being wasted. Or you are afraid of what crisis – prison, hospitalization, death, etc. – might come next.
Your concerns are legitimate, and show your love and commitment to someone who is addicted. However, you need to put yourself and your family first – especially if that family includes children.
As Al-Anon teaches, “distancing helps families view their situation realistically and objectively, which enables intelligent decisions.” Al-Anon members also learn that no one is responsible for any other person’s illness or recovery.
This is very difficult and on the lucid side of the addiction you likely know what should or shouldn’t happen, but that logic can be lost for the person with the disease. You need to want to change and find the help that is needed to do so.
Your goal is to be there when they need you and to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong when they are ready for recovery. As you learn to loosen up, you can find relief from many aches and pains, stress, and anxiety and realize that you deserve to be treated right.
This will not happen overnight. It takes time, a lot of patience, and love and support to help you on your way. As they say in the program: “It is easy, but it is not easy.” You don’t have to do it alone.
A word from Verywell
There is likely an Al-Anon family group meeting nearby where you can find people who understand what you are going through. It is by no means easy to break away from a loved one with an addiction. So don’t try to go it alone. By sharing your experience with others who have been there, you can find strength and hope to deal better with the situation.