Love is tough but you don’t have to tough love

Tough love means you allow a person the dignity of choice.

You may have heard the term “tough love” when talking about how to leverage a person to enter recovery from an addiction.

Tough love means you allow a person the dignity of choice.
It takes a strong person to make tough choices.

Oftentimes, this is used in conjunction with a decision that involves asking a person with an addiction to leave his or her family home.

Loving a person who struggles with a chronic, relapsing brain disorder is tough. The nature of the illness sometimes prevents the person who has the addiction from acknowledging their behaviors are out of the healthy range.

When family members become distressed to the point where they seek counseling for themselves, they learn about a concept called boundaries. Boundaries are a form of love and they are tough to implement. This is because a boundary is being set in response to a pattern of behavior which crosses societal norms.

Because we are human beings who want to feel connected to our family members, we can become blind to someone’s addiction. Families often are placed in double (love) blind experiences when they are trying to find their way in helping someone recover from a drug addiction. The first function of a family is to support its members in learning skills, morals, and values. When addiction strikes a family member, normal approaches to building a thriving family unit can be affected. Oftentimes, a family member’s addiction will drive the individual to decisions which do not fall within the societal norms of morals or values.

Love them but not to death

Unknowingly, non-addicted family members can be caught up in a perpetuation of fueling the addiction through co-dependent choices. A family member needs a ride somewhere and what caring family member wouldn’t give one? Or can s/he borrow a few bucks until s/he gets paid? Saying no to simple requests seems petty and punitive. But within the illness of addiction, keeping the affected individual comfortable may literally be “loving them to death.”  People are only as sick as their own and other people’s secrets, and addiction is sneaky and secretive. Family members who love someone with an addiction don’t know what they don’t know. And they don’t know it because they aren’t being told what is really happening.

Before families understand what the source of it is, the constant conflict and anxiety created by addiction, breaks down the family unit. Substance abuse is a leading reason married couples seek divorces. When a child is the one suffering from addiction, families frequently experience grief and anguish that only other families battling life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, can understand.

Consequently, all family members become blind to love and how it could be conveyed in terms of an unhealthy context. Underneath the person suffering from addiction is the valuable human being God created. But the manipulation and deceit of addiction destroys trust. In periods of sobriety, the restored family member resurfaces and others within the family welcome them but are confused themselves as to how they can so harshly judge a relative.

People learn through consequences

Eventually, family members may see that fixing the consequences for their loved one’s addiction is making it worse for them and the addict. Yet, it is scary to release control. The illusion for the non addict family members is they make better decisions because they are sober. However, if  consequences of choices aren’t allowed to be experienced, then no motivation exists to change.

Addiction kills and it can’t be cured. But those with an addiction can manage it. Just as a family wouldn’t treat a loved one’s cancer, families ought not manage another’s addiction. Working with professionals is as important for the family members who don’t suffer from addiction as it is for those with the illness.

When a family suffers from an illness, love is tough to implement. Yet, tough love may be the highest form of love one can offer another.

And when a family sees this, then addiction can no longer blind people to love.

Copyright 2019 Brenda Henning

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