How to love an addict
Do you have an addict in your life?
Mine texted me yesterday; he needed groceries. A short list: frozen bagels, cream cheese, potatoes, white sauce, coffee for him, tea for her, canned soup. I ignored the nutritional value – now that most of their calories come from liquor, burned off by cocaine.
I want to help, yet these days I find myself asking the simplest questions: Am I helping? What happens to his unemployment and her disability checks? I can guess.
Three years ago he was a senior partner at a law firm, being considered for a judge position. He didn’t get it. I think it bothered him. Then his parents died within months of each other. A year later, his Facebook picture showed him smiling, in a tony wine cellar, among a group of fizzy, young revelers. Soon he’d divorce and move in with his girlfriend.
Last year he called to borrow money for a lawyer. The bar association was investigating some bookkeeping irregularities. “A witch-hunt by a vindictive ex-employee,” he said. I gave him the money. And was shocked to find out his license was suspended pending alcohol and drug addiction treatment. The police were called and found him in the garage pointing a musket to his head.
“Just a loan,” he says when he calls. He needs money for groceries, for internet, for Christmas gifts to his children and his girlfriend’s niece, medications. Last month the car broke down; next month, they might be evicted.
He says he’ll pay me back. There’s freelance legal work, a clerk position at a men’s wear store. She’s about to start a job in a spa.
“I’m sober,” he promises. Only drinks two, three times a week. A couple of beers here and there. Then somebody told me that he shot up heroin last month.
My heart sank.
I’m scared what’ll happen next.
The same scenarios pinball in my head: he overdoses; he kills himself; he maims someone else in a car accident. He’s a quad, a vegetable. I see him crying, hands trembling, hair greasy in a jumpsuit that’s too big for him. My mother can take his dog. But what about the cats? I’ve started a eulogy.
Angrily, my family finger-pointed at his girlfriend for introducing him to drugs. Then we found out she’d been sober when they met. Her family excoriated him as the manipulative, corrosive slime that returned her to drugs.
For decades, I’ve treated addicts. I’ve tied down badly delirious ones thrashing, crashing, threatening to sue me, the “motherless afterbirth.” Yet, I’m just learning how to support an addict – last week was my first Al Anon meeting.
I’ve learned that to love an addict, I need to protect myself first.
My family has closed ranks, stopped the blaming and shaming, and set clear boundaries: no cash, no lies (from us), no bailout. We tell him we love him. But unconditional love isn’t unconditional support.
Someday we’d like to meet his girlfriend’s family. In a world with more hurt than healing, we’re in it together.