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How to call someone out in addiction

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

Conflict and confrontation are things most people seek to avoid. Folks tend to walk on eggshells even when they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. It’s exhausting and a recipe for burn out through accumulating resentments.

I have nothing but love for my brothers and sisters in active addiction and yet I also know my people are the best con artists in the world when we are actively using. We engage in coercion – we use your good nature against you to get what we want (or more accurately, what our disease demands). We know you’re going to “pick your battles” and we know that in your heart of hearts you want to believe us.

Please take the advice I most frequently give: don’t listen to your heart – follow what your gut tells you. Your heart may lead you to enabling (protecting an adult from the natural consequences of their actions). The worst part about enabling is that it almost always feels like the right thing to do.

I’ve learned that the best service I can provide to a person in active addiction or early recovery is to say in no uncertain terms, “I think you’re lying to yourself.” Sometimes I express that more eloquently, as in, “You’re completely full of shit.”

It took a lot of growth and healing of my own to get comfortable speaking to people this way. I was not born or raised to have this ability. I did not learn this skill in therapy school. Like most other things in my life, I learned it when I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I saw self-deception in folks I served. I watched them repeat patterns of self-destruction. All the while I was kindly and gently suggesting that there was a better way. Gradually I came to terms with a very obvious reality:

Being subtle with a person in active addiction or early recovery is a waste of everyone’s time.

There are an infinite number of things people think but do not speak. Some things are indeed better left unsaid, but among those are not important truths.

If you are concerned about a loved one, say so directly (even and especially if your voice shakes). If you’re afraid of how we’ll take it, use what counselors call, “I statements.” Instead of pointing a finger and saying “You…” (this brings up our defenses) say things like, “I’m afraid you’re using.” Tell us what you see, sense, and know and do it clearly but without accusation or shame.

No person in recovery should be angered by a loved one asking about their sobriety/recovery. If you’re afraid of offending us, say so. Take the pressure off yourself and ask if we’re willing to hear your concerns. Please know and accept that you cannot change us, but you have every right to your feelings, your needs, and to hold us accountable for what we say we will do.

Enabling helps us die. Honesty helps us build motivation to change, even when it is through suffering. In all my years of supporting addiction recovery, I have only found two motivators that lead people into recovery: suffering and spiritual growth.

The former almost always precedes the latter.

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