Detachment with Love | For Families in Addiction
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When Treatment is Refused

Detachment with love is a state of calmness — to not be emotionally worked up by your loved one, their actions or your own thoughts.

More from the Experts

James English, Therapist, Port St Lucie
James English MS, CAC
Primary Therapist

Hurtful and damaging things will continue to happen until they get effective treatment. Detachment helps you conserve your balance and not take their addiction personally. You’re saying: “I believe you have the strength and intelligence to handle this yourself. I believe you’re going to find your way through this.”

Therapist Ashley Cook from Ambrosia Port St Lucie rehab
Ashley Bassett LCSW
Clinical Supervisor

Detachment doesn’t mean a lack of interest or a lack of feeling. It’s an attitude of accepting calmly whatever happens. The best way to practice detachment is to learn to stay positive. Developing positivity takes time and energy, but it’s time and energy you’d otherwise spend feeling bad about yourself and your life.

Is it time to detach?

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Our Stories

Eric W, Father
Parent
Spouse
Adult Child
Sibling

As I learned, I came to accept addiction as a disease that can be managed but never cured. This realization helped me develop compassion toward my son and accept that my anxiety was self-induced. I recognized that my instinct to try to fix him and the situations addiction got him in was coming from my own fear of what would happen if I didn’t step in. I had to think more objectively and realistically about my own feelings and my reactions. Is this good for me? Can I live with the outcome of my reaction? What are my motives? What are my choices? Is this a wise choice?

It took me a long time to slow down instead of jumping in to fix his life. I’m able to listen instead of offering unsolicited advice. I don’t act impulsively. Often, I’ll say, “Let me think about this and I’ll get back to you.” Or if we disagree, I don’t argue. A simple “you might be right,” helps deflect fights. The slogans “think” and “listen and learn” have become invaluable. So does the cliché “mind your own business.” Cultivating compassion and detaching with love have been important tools for me. They’ve helped me chisel my way toward freedom.

- Eric W.

Detachment with love was the most difficult recovery concept for me to grasp. Even after I embraced the idea of setting boundaries, I was so focused on the things I needed to say to him and things I need to stop doing for him. I was still living without any sense of calm — trying to hold him accountable, to be there for him, to be positive and hopeful. All the other things they tell you in support groups.

It wasn’t until I realized that if there was anything I could have said or did to change him, it would have already been said and done. So, I just stopped. I stopped snooping. I stopped making demands of him. Before an argument even happened, I took three steps back from the situation and took a deep breath. I used my time, energy and attention to rebuild myself, to start doing things I liked again. I had other things going on again to focus on.

It did feel a little bit like giving up, but it felt good. I didn’t ignore him or refuse to talk, but I’d now have conversations with him without crying or nagging. I wasn’t numb to his addiction or living a totally separate life, but my attitude was strictly “matter-of-fact.” Without detachment, I’m sure my marriage would not have survived. And, I now know that whether my marriage ultimately survives or fails, it will not affect my own emotional survival. For the first time in my life, I truly believe that my husband’s addiction has absolutely nothing to do with me.

- Christina V.

Growing up my dad was my superhero, the man that I always aspired to become. However, not long after the addiction took hold, the good days became few and far between. God, I miss those good days. I would hold onto them in the darkest of times… I still do. But I was 26 when I finally realized that his alcohol addiction was uncontrollable, like a pot that never stops boiling.

I tried for years to be supportive, to understand, and to show love. But his excuses just kept adding up, and I started to doubt myself, and his love for me. I grew tired and depressed. Eventually, my life was no longer my own anymore. I was living HIS life, and I wasn’t the man that I wanted to be. It took me awhile to understand the recovery concept that it’s ok to be selfish because for those years, without even knowing it, I had lost my sense of self. I didn’t even realize that he was pulling me under, drowning me right along with him, until I finally breached the surface and took that first breath. By choosing to step away, I was reborn.

When I was younger, I yearned for immediate answers, quick fixes to his never-ending problem. But after each relapse, I felt defeated, lost, and confused. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t enough of a reason for him to change. But that was the wrong approach. By practicing detachment, I learned that I’m my own person and what happens to him doesn’t reflect me. It took a while, but today, I can confidently face myself in the mirror and say that I’m happy with the man that I’ve become. And by keeping myself whole, I can continue to love, rather than hate my father; the man who, no matter what, is still my superhero despite the disease of addiction.

- Tom D.

At my first Al-Anon meeting, they taught me the three C’s: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it. Hearing that was a huge relief for me because I felt like a hostage to my sister’s drinking for a long time. I put too much pressure on myself to keep her safe, and I had to let go in order to get my own life back.

I had no idea what the women at the meeting were talking about when they shared about detaching. They taught me that it’s wasn’t my family’s fault that she was an addict. But, did that mean I had to watch her destroy her life and do nothing about it? I knew she was making all the wrong decisions and I felt that it was my job to step in. She needed me to help her maintain her life by paying her bills, staying up to make sure she made it home alive and bailing her out of jail when she got too drunk.

Even though I didn’t see how letting her get in trouble and do this on her own was supposed to help her, I had to let go, trust the process, and realize that my help wasn’t helping. I took away her consequences, so there was no reason for her to change her behavior. I still don’t know if I am doing it right, so I keep going back to the meetings, sharing and receiving feedback so I can keep improving.

- Taylor J.