I’ve been in a number of situations lately where my heart goes out to the wives, husbands, children and parents of alcoholics and drug addicts who are brand new to this journey called “recovery.” Their deep, deep pain, anger, desperation, confusion, isolation, longing for it to be better, sadness — and in some cases, numbed silence — waxes and wanes as terms swirl through conversations.
Terms like codependent, enabler, SLE, IOP, in-patient, intensive out-patient, AlAnon, NarNon, powerless over alcohol, dual diagnosis and co-addictions are batted about as if they are words in conversations we exchange with that nice check-out clerk at the grocery store. Terms that make no sense, nor can they be viewed as applying to them because they were just trying to get their loved one to stop and now they’re just trying to get them clean and sober.
And, then, of course, there are the concepts of “detach” and “detach with love.” What the heck do these mean? “Who’s going to make sure my loved one is safe; doesn’t use; gets a job; succeeds in recovery if I detach?’” they often say.
For some, the suggestion they detach with love, is followed by their equally incredulous response, “Are you kidding? After all they’ve done to me? You are off your rocker. That’s asking way too much!”
And when you think about it, it is all too much. It feels like being told you have to learn to read, write, speak and translate German and Chinese within the next month (the time-period for the typical 28-day, residential addiction treatment program) or YOU will have failed.
So, for all of you who are new to this, take it slowly. And, by slowly, I mean take it just for today, and in some cases, just for just the next 5 minutes. You do not, nor can you, have all (or even 2) of the answers to what happens next. To give you a hand with this, the posts linked at the end of this article may help you stay in just for today (yes, another one of those catchy phrases you’ll hear a lot). As you learn to detach, you’ll eventually be able to detach with love.
Detach means to…
realize that each of us has a brain that has its own neural network wiring based on our individual experiences, thoughts, influences, genetics and the like. The only brain we can control, and therefore the only behaviors we can change, is/are our own. Therefore, we can detach from another person when we remember their brain, a brain that is not within our power to control, controls their thoughts and behaviors.
Detach with love means to…
have love in your heart [which, believe it or not, originates in the brain] for another person, who may not be living their life the way you think they should or want them to, while at the same time, detaching — letting go of the notion you can change them given you can’t change their brain — only they can. In the case of detaching with love from someone with the brain disease of addiction, it helps to think of it as you having accepted that addiction is a brain disease and that the behaviors exhibited while your loved one is active in their disease were/are the result of the chemical, structural and functional brain changes caused by their disease. Therefore it’s okay to love the person but hate their disease. Truly accepting that you cannot control that person’s brain (regardless of whether they’re using their substance of addiction but especially if they are) is a huge piece to being able to detach with love.
For now, however, focus on just trying to “detach.” And when all else fails (which it will because this is all so new), focus on your breath and simply breathe. Breathe in; breathe out; breathe in; breathe out. For those brief moments, your mind will detach and give you the moments of much-needed peace you need.
P.S. When you’re ready for more information, check out the “Brain Research | Brain Scans” and the “Secondhand Drinking | Help for Families” categories listed in the right column.