When someone close to you is struggling with addiction, how can you help them?
If a good friend accidentally splashed coffee onto your dress shirt, you might quickly assure him, “Don’t worry, no harm done. I’ll just put a little soap on it, and I’m sure it will come out.” Not many of us would raise our eyebrows and say, “This shirt cost me fifty bucks. Fork it over! I want you to experience the consequence of your mistake.” In this kind of situation, playing hardball seems a little insensitive. So where do we draw the line between helping others and enabling destructive behavior?
When it comes to everyday interactions, most of us enjoy being able to make another person’s life a little easier. We hold the door open for the person with her hands full; we turn the light on for the friend who’s reading in a dimly lit room; we hand a tissue to the kid who has the sniffles. These things allow us to feel that we’re having a positive effect on the world.
It becomes much harder, though, when we’re dealing with someone who struggles with an addiction. Should we help him recover from his hangover in the morning? Should we call her office and tell them she’s “sick”? Should we loan him money to pay for the car accident he had while under the influence? Should we patch up the hole in the wall and pretend nothing happened? Should we tell her that she can stay with us when she’s kicked out of her home?
When our conscience seems to pull us in two different directions, the teachings of the New Church may help us determine the best course of action. In the Writings of the New Church, Emanuel Swedenborg conveys the idea that real charity involves careful discretion, which he calls “prudence.” He writes that when we give assistance to someone who’s involved in poor behavior, we actually end up hurting others through this person: “for through the assistance which we render, we confirm him in evil, and supply him with the means of doing evil to others” (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 100).
So what can we do? One thing we can do is refuse to undo the consequences that result from an addiction. This can be very difficult. We may suffer embarrassment, exposure, loss of familiar situations, loss of financial stability, or temporary separation. The benefits come later, though, as the gradual process of healing begins. One woman told a story about how surprised and hurt she’d felt when her mother forced her to leave home, after discovering her crack addiction. Years later, having hit “rock bottom” and slowly learned to face her own fears, the recovering daughter spoke with gratitude about the courage and strength of her mother’s decision.
Another step we can take when a loved one has an addiction is to begin finding peace within ourselves. It can help to take time each day to reflect, noticing the ways we’ve been reacting to upsetting situations, and beginning to learn healthier responses. It may also help to seek the advice of professionals who are trained in dealing with addiction.
Learning how to best support a loved one who suffers from addiction can be a tremendous struggle, but there is also enormous opportunity for growth, when it is undertaken with patience, prudence and prayer. If you are currently in this situation, may the Lord bless you and the ones you love on your journey to emotional health and recovery.