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When our loved ones are suffering from addiction and mental illness, our instinct is to protect them from harm, to shield them from hurting themselves more, and to rescue them from their pain and self-destructiveness. We want to fix their problems for them. We want to save them from themselves. While these instincts are normal, natural, common and very understandable, they can cause us to facilitate our loved ones’ patterns because our taking on the responsibility for their illnesses keeps them from taking ownership and responsibility for themselves and their challenges. We enable them unconsciously. We keep them from taking the steps they need to take to get better. How can we help our loved ones get better? 

For many of us, the answer lies in stepping back so that our loved ones can do the work for themselves. When we’re doing the work for them, sometimes they become more complacent, even comfortable, in their addictive patterns. They know they have someone who will shoulder their burdens for them. They don’t have to do the work because no one is requiring them to. When we step back and create distance between ourselves and our loved ones and their issues, we’re giving them the space they need to get clear within themselves and to start taking their recovery more seriously.

Sometimes our presence in our loved ones’ lives can do them a disservice. Not only are we facilitating their addictions and enabling their patterns, we ourselves can be a distraction for them. They’re so busy worrying about how they will be a good partner, friend or family member to us that they’re not focused on what’s most important, their recovery. They’re more worried about letting us down and disappointing us than they are about getting better. They’re prioritizing our feelings and our needs over their own. They’re trying to live up to our expectations for them instead of creating their own. When we take a step back from our loved ones, we give them the time, space and solitude they need to be able to reflect and be honest with themselves, apart from us, separate from everything they associate with us.

Separating ourselves from our loved ones doesn’t mean we stop caring. It doesn’t mean we disappear from their lives or refuse to be there to support them. It simply means we’re removing ourselves from the equation, eliminating some of the confusion and overwhelm they’re feeling so that they can really focus on their recovery without having to factor us in, along with all our feelings and needs, which can often be a distraction from the healing work they need to do.

If you’re struggling with addiction, you’re not alone. Reach out for support. The community of Riverside Recovery has personal experience with addiction and recovery. We’re here to help you reclaim the life you love. Call (800) 871-5440 today.