So how do you learn to trust an addict | alcoholic?
If you’re asking this question, you’ve likely experienced hundreds of their broken promises or engaged in zillions of crazy-making arguments with them over issues you’d thought resolved or so picky-yuny you can’t figure out why you’re talking (let alone arguing) about them! You may be accused of things you’re shocked they could think of you and then wrapped yourself in the warmth of their heart-felt apology the next day, only to be accused of those same things a month later. You may even have agreed to loan them money, buy them a car, overlooked their curfew or convinced yourself it was just a “little white lie.” You may have spent countless hours defending yourself against accusations, such as, “you always put the children first” or “what, don’t you trust me” or “if you’d try a little harder to be kind and loving” or “how hard is it to cook a decent meal” or “can’t a guy stop with his buddies after work” or ________________________ . Likely the list seems pretty long about now.
Back to the initial question, “So how do you trust an addict | alcoholic?”
The answer is simple AND oh so hard, “You must first learn to trust yourself.”
As crazy as that sounds, it’s true. Why?
The only way you’ve gotten to the place you are in in your relationship with your alcoholic | addict loved one is your belief that you are dealing with your loved one’s true self (the person before drinking | drugging that you’re initially convinced and eventually pray will emerge and end the nightmare). You do not realize that as long as your loved one drinks or drugs in any amount (assuming they are an addict | alcoholic), you will NEVER be able to trust them. EVER. Because, sadly, their lying, stealing, cheating and other untrustworthy behaviors are part of their brain disease.
What do I mean by this? And how in the heck are you supposed to learn to trust yourself? Here are three suggestions:
Know Exactly What You Are Dealing With – Addiction
The insanity described above is not about you or the kids or what you have or have not done. It is solely and entirely about the behaviors that occur as a result of the brain changes caused by alcohol or drugs. You’ve known this at some level all along – that’s why you kept at it – trying everything within your power to make them want to cut down or stop. But you didn’t understand that what you (and your loved one) were really dealing with is a brain disease – the brain disease of addiction.
Addiction (whether to drugs or alcohol) chemically and structurally changes a person’s brain. I mean seriously chemically and structurally changes it. And it is these brain changes that make it impossible for your loved one to change their behaviors when drinking or drugging because the brain controls everything a person thinks, feels, says and does.
I wrote this post, “Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat and Steal,” to help explain why. In this post, you will find a host of resources that explains the brain disease of addiction, addiction cravings, why it is that some people who abuse drugs or alcohol as much as another person never cross the line to addiction, and how it is that drugs or alcohol hijack a person’s brain and therefore that person’s behaviors. Learning, believing and not wavering from the facts about addiction is the first step to learning to trust yourself. Because it is only then that you will be able to take the next steps to stopping all denial, cover-ups, deal-making, “discussions,”… and focus on the only thing you can change, YOU.
Now you may be asking, “Yeah, but, how to I know if my loved one is really an addict | alcoholic?” The short answer is, “You don’t have to.” The issue – the sole issue – is the way they behave when they drink or drug. But if you want “proof” in the form of a self-assessment for drinking patterns, please check out these two resources: Rethinking Drinking by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Alcohol Use Disorders Test (AUDIT) by the World Health Organization. As for a self-assessment for drug use patterns, here is the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD)’s questionnaire, “Am I Drug Addicted?”
And please know – not everyone whose behaviors change when they drink or drug is an addict | alcoholic. In fact there are far more alcohol or drug abusers than there are addicts | alcoholics. Nonetheless, their unacceptable behaviors when drinking | drugging are still unacceptable. Given this post is about addiction, I won’t go further here, other than to share this link to a short video explaining the difference, “Alcoholism is a Disease and It’s Not Alcohol Abuse.”
Funny you should ask, as that’s the tag end of one of my book titles, Loved One In Treatment? Now What!
While you are sifting through the resources mentioned above, I suggest you order this short book (just 100 pages). Yes, it’s mine, but this is not about book sales. Rather it’s about giving you the information you need to understand what this coping with a loved one’s substance abuse | addiction | alcoholism has done to you. [And please know, your loved one does not need to be in treatment, nor even considering it, for you to benefit from reading this book.]
The first half of the book is about your loved one’s brain and the secondhand half is about yours, the family member | friend. This is the book I wished I’d been able to find some 10 years ago when I first started a similar journey, and I wrote it with family members | friends (and addicts | alcoholics and anyone else interested in understanding all of this) in mind. It even has a checklist to guide you through next steps.
And while you wait for your book to arrive, breathe. Breathe. Breathe. You’ve taken a HUGE first step, one that is very important to learning to trust yourself – in other words, to trust your assessment of the situation, regardless of whether your loved one ever agrees with you or not.
If your loved one insists on the crazy behaviors outlined in the opening to this post, here’s a suggested response, “I love you, but your drinking | drugging behaviors are a problem, and I am in the process of understanding what this all means. Until then, I am not going to talk about any of this.” Your reply really can be short and sweet. You do not have to explain nor get their acceptance (nor are you able to, really, because if that were the case, it would have already happened in any one of your previous arguments).
Know It Takes Time
Darn! I found this especially difficult because I was so ready for it to be done. But just know – truly – taking steps to take back your life – to trust yourself – will be the best thing you can do for your relationship with your addict | alcoholic loved one and for yourself.
I’ll leave you with one last post link because of the resources it shares that may help you with this effort, “First Things First – When Recovery From Addiction Feels Overwhelmingly Difficult, Keep It Simple.”
It’s not possible, nor should you, trust your addict | alcoholic loved one until s/he makes the decision to get help (and there are many ways they can be helped, by the way). In the meantime, it’s okay to be selfish – meaning to do what you need to do to figure things out – because that is what will give you the strength to trust yourself, to stand your ground, to set your healthy boundaries. This post by Rachael, Author and Owner of RecoveryingYou.com, can help with this concept, “Setting Personal Boundaries.”
And know – you are not bad or unsupportive or uncaring or the cause of anything. You just want to be calm and sane, again, and that, in and of itself, is okay because you’re worth it!