Walking along a path outside of a hotel room.
I’m in Orlando, Florida. There’s a lagoon and a beach to my left. At the waterfront, a 5 foot fence separates the beach and the water.
This fence is to keep the alligators out.
Small cabins on stilts, stand out in the shallow water. You can rent these, and sleep, right there on the water.
My brother tells me that people would sit on their decks and feed the alligators. In time, the alligators became accustomed to people and to that beach. And thus, the need for the fence.
When I meet new people, they inevitably ask me what I do. When the conversation turns to addiction treatment, I can see the gleam in their eye and I know. I know that either they or someone they love needs help.
One of the hardest things to do is watch someone you care about throw away their lives.
I have spent a lot of time helping people that struggle with addiction. It’s easy to help someone when they are actually seeking help. It is difficult when they aren’t. It feels impossible when you watch them make bad decision after worse decision.
It is especially difficult if you are very close to these people. Maybe you are their parent or brother or sister or wife. Maybe you are their child.
I have compiled a list of 10 rules that I think will help you to help them. It will strengthen your interactions and allow you to take a proactive role. Sometimes people will ask for your help and sometimes they won’t. Either way, I believe this list will help you be a positive influence on someone else’s life.
This brings me to rule #1 in helping other people recover.
1) Don’t feed the gators
“Don’t feed the wildlife.”
These signs are everywhere. I have seen them on many of the trails I have hiked in Colorado.
If you feed the cute adorable squirrels in the mountains, guess what happens? It brings the bigger predators to the trail. And soon, these predators won’t be satisfied by the squirrels.
And, when you feed these animals. they forget they are responsible for their own survival. They think you are providing for them what they need. They can’t comprehend that you will not be there 24/7 to watch and protect.
Here’s the trick: Stop enabling them.
At some point, you have to let go of control.
At some point, you have to let them make their own decisions, their own mistakes, and their own response to their mistakes. It is the only way they can learn self-sufficiency. (I am talking about people, not animals)
And so, I am going to give you some very practical advice. You may not like it. But here it is:
DO NOT GIVE THEM ANY MONEY. DO NOT PAY FOR THEIR TREATMENTS. DO NOT BUY THEM ANYTHING.
This is of course only if they are over 18. Giving them money is the same as feeding the wildlife. It may seem harmless. It may seem like the right thing to do, but it will only bring negative results.
Why? Because your goal should be independence. Not codependence.
If they are an adult, they can take care of themselves. They may be “poor”. But that is OK. I have been to third world countries, and I can tell you that poor in America is rich. It is nothing but a mindset.
They can get a job. They can work at McDonalds. They can join the army. There are legal ways for them to make money and not starve.
Your money will do nothing but keep the predators close, death at the door, and a loss of any survival instinct.
Now, I don’t mean you have to completely ignore them. But, I see too many parents enabling their kids and keeping their children as children for far too long. It’s time they grow up and become adults.
“But it’s way too tough” you say. “I can’t turn my back on them”.
Here’s what I know. It is tough. But are you willing to put in the actual difficult work it takes to help your child get clean and sober?
Because the difficult part will be this: let them fail on their own. Let them fall down. And then, they can figure out how to get back up. How to keep going. How to improve.
How else are they going to learn, unless they have to?
They don’t need your money. They need your love. And sometimes love is tough.
2) Don’t argue
Don’t let them pull you into an argument.
Trust me, they will try.
They want someone to blame.
And you probably want to shove it back into their face. You will want to show them how they screwed up, and how they should’ve listened to you, and how you are right and they are wrong.
Everyone wants to be right.
But if you really care about them, maybe you just need to let it go.
Don’t fall for their bullshit. Because they are only testing you to see if they can push you back and have you turn away. They feel guilty for their life, and they do not feel worthy of your love. If you reject them, they feel like it was your choice and not theirs. And they will do everything they can to make you reject them.
Don’t let them do this. One of the easiest ways to prevent this is to stay away from arguments.
3) Practice empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else. It’s seeing things from someone else’s perspective.
You don’t have to feel “sorry” for someone to have empathy. You don’t have to agree with their life choices.
Realize that we all make mistakes. Realize that we all come to decisions about our life at different times.
When you see your life as connected to everyone else’s life, this becomes easier. When you realize that you have also felt loneliness, helplessness, fear, anxiety, and the need to escape, then you will be able to share empathy with someone struggling with drug use.
Listen and hear them.
Let them do the talking.
You do not have to convince them that they need to stop using drugs. They already know this.
One intervention is enough. In other words, once you let them know their lifestyle is not appropriate, not healthy, and overall not acceptable, you do not have to continue to tell them.
Now, it becomes time to listen. Listen actively. Ask questions. Get to know them. This will increase your ability to have empathy.
5) Be the honest one
There is no reason to not expect this.
But you have a choice. You can get caught up in it, you can let it make you bitter, you can allow it to ruin the relationship. Or, you can be the one that is honest.
Yes, it’s not fair.
It’s not fair that you have to do all the work. But that’s just the way it is.
You may have to tell them that their lifestyle will no longer be tolerated. You still love them but you can’t be around them when they are this self destructive. Let them know you will always be there for them if they need to talk.
Be open and honest with them.
Show some simple compassion.
Practice some random acts of kindness.
Go the extra mile.
Be creative in finding ways to help. (But, not by giving them money. See rule #1)
Audit yourself. Do you care about the person? Or are you just trying to prove that you are right and that they are wrong?
Work on your own heart. Focus on cultivating a deep and vibrant inner life. Take some of the focus off of the drugs and alcohol and put the focus on relationships, love, passion, truth.
7) Embrace the chaos
Be flexible. Be open to change. Be ready at a moment’s notice.
Their life is in turmoil. Be ready for the storm.
When you expect it, it’s easier to accept it.
This doesn’t mean you have to let them drag you down.
8) Stick to your guns
Just because you want to help someone else change, doesn’t mean you have to change.
Of course we should always be striving for improvement. But what I mean by this is, you don’t have to change who you are.
Live your life. Don’t let them completely control the situation.
You be you.
9) Be there when they need you
Here’s how they will say they need you: They need money. They need help getting treatment. They need a ride.
It’s a lie.
Here’s how they actually need you: They need you to be a rock. They need you to be the one safe thing they can rely on. They need you to be there to talk to, to cry on, to open up to.
And here’s when the magic happens. Eventually, they reach that point that they actually get help. And now you get to be there for them.
You get to be there and give them the most important thing they need from you: ENCOURAGEMENT AND LOVE.
And because you’ve laid a solid foundation by following the above rules, they will accept and embrace it.
In time, they may even start to ask you for advice.
10) Be optimistic
If you are a regular reader, you may be shocked I didn’t put this first.
Optimism is probably the most important thing you can do. Because if you are optimistic, if you keep a positive outlook, if you expect good things, then the rest of these things will fall into place.
Another way of saying this: HAVE FAITH.
Believe in a future not yet seen. One powerful, beautiful, and redeemed from the despair you now see.
Keep your eyes open.
Those are my 10 rules to follow when trying to help someone that is suffering from addiction.
It won’t be easy. It will be messy and difficult.
You may feel like giving up at times. You may spend more time on your knees in prayer than you do standing up. You may feel hopeless.
You are not alone.
Instead of giving up, do this: Focus on these 10 rules. Write them down and work on them daily. And above all else LOVE.
If you or someone you know needs help: 662-322-0996. (We Can Help!)
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