TIRED OF FEELING MANIPULATED? HOW TO SET LIMITS WITH ADDICTS WITHOUT THE GUILT
When Alcoholics Anonymous introduced the Twelve Steps to addiction recovery in 1938, they decided that the first step must be something both simple and profound. Famously, the first step is to admit that one is powerless over their addiction and that they need help. This may sound simple to someone who has never been faced with a life-altering addiction, but it can be a very destabilizing admission.
Addicts are manipulative, conniving and focused. They manipulate those around them to get what they see as a critical need, will use every trick they can think of to acquire the substance and they are singularly focused on obtaining it. This becomes a lifestyle. An addict has to become a completely different person.
Understanding this, it is easier to grasp the change an addict faces. Life has been completely lawless, focused on a singular goal. They have ignored societal structure at the expense of the substance and it is very hard to rearrange ingrained thoughts and patterns. So, when facing boundaries most would consider elemental, the addict balks and pushes against what they see as unfair stricture.
The Cause of Your Guilt
One issue many family members and friends face is the guilt associated with setting needed boundaries. It’s important to understand where this guilt comes from and how to overcome it personally before you can help the addict. Despite any personal guilt, you have to set guidelines that help define this new life on which the addict has embarked.
Ask yourself who abused the substance? When an individual makes a choice, it is not the fault of those around him or her when the consequences are negative. The abuser was the one who made the choice, not you.
For many, their role was not as a drug supplier or co-addict, but as an enabler. Family and friends may have looked away as the abuse became worse, or maybe you helped hide the extent of the abuse from an employer and others. But the abuser was still ultimately responsible for their actions. That enabling can be used positively now to assist the addict in their recovery.
Some common withdrawal reactions
Another issue is that of withdrawal. Addicts can become withdrawn, moody and violent as they face the reality of a life without their former crutch. It is a truism that “life is hard”, but an addict has to face reality. The boundaries you set have to be a safety net that he or she can cling to when recovery is most difficult.
Setting Limits is Essential
Most have heard the saying Catch a fish and someone eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. It is true in many areas of life. Society has rules and one of them is that working, driving, etc. impaired is dangerous to the individual and those around them. Rules are made to protect both the individual who would break them for convenience or pleasure’s sake and for other people who could be harmed. Setting house rules for the addict provides a safe platform. Breaking family rules comes with consequences that are not as extreme as those society dictates.
How do You Set Those Limits Without Experiencing Feelings of Guilt?
The bad news is, it may be impossible. Most people who are close to someone who has experienced an addiction, don’t want them to face any more pain. The addiction itself was filled with anguish both for the addict and family members, so forcing them to endure even more can be difficult. Both the addict and those enforcing boundaries will have to face reality.
Think of it this way, an addict is not unlike a child since most people who become addicts start abusing when they are in their teens. According to a recent study reported in US News & World report “90 percent of Americans who are addicted to tobacco, alcohol or other substances started smoking, drinking or using drugs before they were 18 years old.” This realization is important because when an individual begins using a substance to cope, they have essentially arrested emotional growth. In other words, though the addict may be physically 45, he or she may be an emotional 12-year-old.
Boundaries teach children and teens what society will expect of them as they mature. Guidelines help addicts in recovery in the same way.
So, despite whatever guilt you may feel, it is essential to set boundaries for the recovering addict. He or she may push against the boundary, there will be some associated pain, but the addict needs to understand that the problems of life can be handled without their substance of choice. Another thought, your guilt has nothing to do with their recovery. Show your own emotional maturity by setting firm boundaries with real consequences despite manipulation. It sets a precedence that could save the addicts life in the future.