People who love addicts learn to draw lines in the sand. Christians who love addicts may have a difficult time knowing whether their “line” is godly “tough love” or sheer anger and self-protection. We reason, “God loves us unconditionally, shouldn’t I love others that way, too?” Yes. But unconditionally sometimes mean taking a difficult stance in order to truly do the right thing. It also means loving and caring for ourselves.
I’m still reading David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy. I have to take it in small doses. It’s painfully reminiscent of the life I used to live loving an addicted spouse. Although David’s story is from a parent’s perspective, anyone who has lived the hell of waiting for a loved one who has disappeared on a binge to resurface can connect. Here’s what he realizes in chapter 17:
“I have learned to live with tormenting contradictions, such as the knowledge that an addict may not be responsible for his condition and yet he is the only one responsible. I also have accepted that I have a problem for which there is no cure and there may be no resolution. I know that I must draw a line in the sand – what I will take, what I will do, what I can’t take, what I can no longer do – and yet I must also be flexible enough to erase it and draw a new line. And now, with Nic in the hospital, I learn that I love him more, and more compassionately, than ever.”
Later, on p. 228 he writes, “Through Al-Anon…we understand the ways that our lives have become unmanageable, too. Mine has. My well-being has become dependent on Nic’s. When he us using, I’m in turmoil; when he’s not, I’m OK, but the relief is tenuous. The therapist says that parents of kids on drugs often get a form of posttraumatic stress syndrome made worse by the recurring nature of the addiction. For soldiers back from battle, the sniper fire and bombs are in their heads. For parents [or spouses] of an addict, a new barrage can come at any moment We try to guard against it. We pretend that everything is all right. But we live with a time bomb. It is debilitating to be dependent on another’s moods and decisions and actions. I bristle when I hear the word codependent, because it’s such a cliché of self-help books, but I have become codependent with Nic – codependent on his well-being for mine. How can a parent not be codependent on a child’s health or lack of it? But there must be an alternative, because this is no way to live. I have come to learn that my worry about Nic doesn’t help him, and it harms…me.”
I can completely relate. I became codependent with my addicted spouse. I built my life around his binges, his relapses, his lies. My emotions were constantly on a yo-yo as we lived the shame of being a Christian family with a double life. I hid in busyness and work. I smiled when I was crushed on the inside. I felt guilty that our money was supporting the illegal drug trade rather than advancing the kingdom of God. I fell into patterns of sin and hiding in order to cope with his sin and hiding. Ours was far from the abundant life that God longs for His children to live.
When I read the following selection from Touchstones Daily Meditations for Men, Aug. 13 in preparation for our church’s 12 Step group, the part about believing our shame is greater than that of others resonated with me. That’s what I used to believe. I thought ours was the only marriage in church being destroyed by addiction. For a long time I was too ashamed to talk about it, even with close family and friends. Especially with close family and friends. Statistics have proved me wrong. There are nearly as many Christians dealing with an addicted loved one or suffering from addiction themselves as those who are in the world. Here’s the whole quote:
“We cannot hang on to feelings of shame and guilt and still hope to become better people. How did these feelings begin? If we were treated badly by people, we need to be honest about what happened so we can resolve it and move on. Have we perpetuated our feelings by acting disrespectfully ourselves? Then we need to take a thorough inventory of our wrongdoings, admit them, make repairs, and let them go.
We may wallow in shame because facing it feels too frightening. Often, we believe our shame is greater than that of others. This belief is usually untrue and grandiose. It’s part of how we isolate ourselves. We don’t have to face it alone. We have the help of other men and women who can listen to our pain and tell us about their experiences.”
If you are wearing a cloak of shame for any reason, let me encourage you today to throw it off. Speak the truth in love to yourself or your addicted loved one. Set healthy boundaries. Find a healthy supportive group/place where you can be real – I recommend Al-Anon or Celebrate Recovery for starters. You are not alone in your suffering. It really helps to know that. When we hear the stories of others, they begin to sound so familiar, so similar to our own. We can find solace in the experience of others and be encouraged by their journey to wholeness. Addiction breaks people. God heals the broken. And He does that, according to Dr. Larry Crabb, in community. Not in isolation. Finding a community for our own healing and growth is an important way that we can care for ourselves so that we can care for our loved ones. Within the context of that community, we can learn to draw healthy lines in the sand.