To love or not to love an alcoholic? That is the question. The answer, however, may not seem so clear.
Active addiction is a disease that requires the same thing any other disease requires to thrive; a breakdown in the system. Of course, the system is typically a bit different with regard to the disease of addiction.
It’s typically the family system that is involved in this one – deeply rooted, in one way or another, and it is as deeply and negatively affected.
In many of these family systems, codependency is another key issue. And, unfortunately, it keeps active addiction alive and well. It’s the sugar that feeds the cancer.
And, just like sugar, codependency can look sweet. It appears to be love. However, it is quite the opposite. Codependency is enabling, and it is the opposite of love.
In fact, codependency is void of love for self or others, as the actions of an individual struggling with codependent are typically selfishly motivated. Ensuring that they are not abandoned, alone, rejected or scorned and in efforts to seek approval and validation, codependent family members convince themselves that enabling actions equate to love. They will literally “love” an alcoholic to death.
It is a harsh truth, but it's the truth.
Let Them Be
As a result, to truly love an active alcoholic, you must leave them. Give them time to be alone.
Of course, there are those (even a highly published few) who would argue that it is vital to continue to love an alcoholic despite their behaviors, toxic effects on others and self-destructive path. But, leaving someone to their own devices isn’t about lacking love for them. It is about realizing their need to see the cost of the untreated disease.
Think of it like a child throwing a temper tantrum. What happens when you engage or give in? The child wins, and the temper tantrums become a constant tool to get their way. The same is said for the irrational behaviors and thought processes that accompany active addiction.
Giving in to an alcoholic’s demands to stay (whether they’re wrapped in tears or coated in anger) will only serve to perpetuate the disease. Walk away, and let them sit with themselves for a while, without distractions, targets for projection or rescue. Sometimes, it’s their only hope for recovery.
Keep Your Distance
The only safe way you can love an alcoholic who is active in their addiction is from a safe distance. It’s an understood concept when talking about Great White sharks. But, when we throw human beings in the mix, it comes across as cruel.
However, alcoholics are known for projecting their issues onto the closest target, misdirecting their anger and throwing rocks at the person who simply acts as a mirror into the past, present or future. Still, just as we cannot ask a shark to behave like a baby kitten, we cannot expect an active alcoholic to be capable of a healthy relationship of any kind, regardless of titles or categories. Their relationship with themselves is completely void if not utterly abusive. As such, their relationships with others will be as well.
Loving from a safe distance allows you to hold space for miracles without becoming just another victim of mistaken identity.
Love Yourself First
As for the best way to love an alcoholic? Well, that one is simple. Love yourself.
If you love yourself, you’ll refuse to tolerate the abuse, lack of emotional availability, neglect and other character defects and dysfunctions that arise in active alcoholism. Instead, you will offer them a chance to get the help they need. And, if they refuse, you’ll leave; not because you don’t love them but because you love you.
And, even if it’s a family member, you’ll either cut the relationship off completely or set very stern boundaries. You will do so with compassion for both the alcoholic and yourself and with the awareness that without these steps, your loved one will find you in agreeance with their behavior simply because you tolerate it.
Remember, actions always speak louder than words. And, like children, active alcoholics pay far more attention to what you do than what you say. So, choose unconditional love of self and others, and love yourself and the active alcoholic enough to leave. Let them be who and where they are and love them anyway, from a physically and emotionally safe distance.
After all, love begins and ends with you.