by Fran Simone, Ph.D. Dealing with an irresponsible loved one damages everyone.
At a recent loved one’s meeting, Mary talked about planning a pot luck barbecue. Her friend, Alice, gladly accepted the invitation and offered to bring potato salad. However, on the day of the event, Alice cancelled. Since this scenario has occurred many times, Mary decided to ask Alice to bring buns to the next event. This time, Alice showed up but without the buns. Mary concluded that people fall into two general categories: they are either “bun worthy” or not.
Family members whose loved ones suffer from substance abuse issues can identify. Our loved ones are not “bun worthy.” We can’t depend on them to take responsibility for their behavior or to tell the truth. Often we fail to acknowledge this fact for a long time. We want to believe that our loved ones are sincere when they promise to pay us back the money we lent them, to show up on time for a family dinner, to mow the grass when we’re out of town, or to keep an appointment with a therapist. I believe that our loved ones usually plan to follow through when they make a promise. Most often, they don’t. Addiction trumps good intentions.
Just this morning, my adult son phoned to ask for money to help fix his car battery and a tire. (Mind you the car is relatively new.) “Mom, I have a check coming at the end of this month and I will pay you back. I can’t be without a car.” I wasn’t surprised even though I made it perfectly clear several months ago that I would pay ONLY his car insurance and cell phone bill (charged directly on my credit card). “Please DO NOT ASK me any other money.” Did my proclamation fall on deaf ears? You bet. After all I had set this money boundary many times. And for too many years I caved in and wired money or paid outstanding bills. So why shouldn’t my son try to con me into paying his bills. He manipulates. I enable. Neither of us ready to face the truth. Both of us wasting a lot of psychic energy trying to outmaneuver another. At loved ones’ meetings when I hear the saying, “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” I nod my head in agreement. And yet I continue to waiver.
Honesty is huge in addiction. Honesty tells us that we can’t fix others, no matter how much we love and care about them. This morning I read an interview with a former narcotic addict in recovery who started shooting drugs at 15. “There was nothing my parents could do. You can pray over somebody, lock them up, chain them to bed, whatever, but if they are determined to get loaded they will get loaded, and that’s how I was.” Honesty tells us to accept this reality and learn how to take care of ourselves. For me it means setting firm boundaries and following through, seeking support to help me do so, and never losing hope that my son will one day became a responsible, “bun worthy” adult.
This article first appeared on the Psychology Today website