Detachment. How Can I?
~ by Chaplain Joe Herzanek (Boulder County Jail, CO)
When life becomes one crisis after another, when emotional pain and endless drama become â€œthe normâ€ what am I supposed to do? Over the past few decades Iâ€™ve received this question a lot. Recently it has become the #1 question. Why is that? What do I suggest to families who have arrived at this place? How about this: My suggestion is to do NOTHING! Stop â€œdoing.â€ Quit â€œdoing.â€ No longer â€œDOâ€ anything.
Letâ€™s talk about letting go and what that looks like (sometimes referred to as detachment). So thereâ€”Iâ€™ve said it; The â€œDâ€ word, The Ultimatum, The Nuclear Option.
When to use it
Letâ€™s start with â€œwhen to use it.â€ Detachment is usually the last resortâ€”although it doesnâ€™t have to be. This is most effective in the life of an â€œadultâ€ loved-one who has demonstrated that they no longer have any ability to control or stop substance use on their own.
This person has a boatload of extremely negative consequences piling up all around them, but they continue to drink and/or drug. Often this pattern has gone on for years and gets progressively worse. Perhaps there were a few â€œokayâ€ periods of time, but they didnâ€™t last.
Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.
~Robert Louis Stevenson
This person may or may not have a job (approximately 77% of all substance dependent men and women get up and go to work most days). They may function well enough on the job to be able to keep it. Many will even point to this fact as proof that they are not addicted. In reality most perform poorly on the job, miss work, and generally have a negative attitude about almost everything. This in turn, leads to â€œpour me another drink.â€
Others move from job to job and eventually become unemployable. Some will tend to isolate and spend most or all of their time with their first love, AOD (alcohol and other drugs).
Family life, parenting, being the father, mother, spouse or sibling they once were is no longer a priority. In fact, itâ€™s probably not on the radar screen at all. Borrowing money, promising to quit, burning bridges, causing heartache to anyone who comes close to them is the â€œnew norm.â€ When small children become part of this picture it gets more ugly. This is not sad; this is pathetic. If not nowâ€”when? When do the family members say, â€œWeâ€™ve had enough?â€
This, dear reader, is the time to detach. This is the time to â€œdo nothing.â€
I also like to remind people of â€œThe Three Câ€™s of Al-Anonâ€ which are: â€œyou didnâ€™t cause it, you canâ€™t cure it, and you canâ€™t control it.â€ What you can do is help the person to â€œwant toâ€ quit. If the â€œwant toâ€ is there, anyone can have recovery.
What does detachment look like? How do I do it?
Before I explain how it works, I need to add one caveat. I was recently in San Antonio conducting a workshop for The Palmer Drug Abuse Program (PDAP). The Program Director of this wonderful facility, a woman named Trish, reminded me of something important I sometimes tend to overlook. She said the family needs to be totally prepared for this step (intellectually and emotionally) and that for this to be effective, all family members need to be â€œon board.â€ Having emotional support and guidance regarding the necessity for such action, what to expect and being prepared is critical to the success of this step. This is not going to be a â€œwalk in the parkâ€ and having good support is crucial.
So, how does one begin to do this? My first suggestion is to get a pen and paper and write out a plan (there is much more about this in my â€œTen Toughest Questionsâ€ DVD and the link provided at the end of this article**).
Everyoneâ€™s situation will be unique, and obviously I canâ€™t tackle each one here. Having said that, I suggest, at a minimum, that you jot down some bullet points you want to cover when you share your concerns with your loved-one. Even writing out what you want to say, word for word, is perfectly fine. Anticipate what the person will say or object to beforehand. Keep in mind that detachment is rarely forever. In fact, when you confront the person you have decided to detach from, put a timeframe on it (let them know how long itâ€™ll be till you are willing to regain communication). Once you have reached this point, you need to remember that itâ€™s too late for another broken promise or a few days of abstinence to mean anything.
So, here we go. Youâ€™ve preparedâ€”both mentally, and you have a plan on paper–and you are ready to have a firm, but loving discussion with this person. A time to confront/talk with the person has been set and agreed to. Youâ€™ve asked this person to let you share your concerns and you simply read what you want to say or speak to them based on your written bullet points.
My suggestion is to determine a minimum period of total abstinence you are requiring from your addict or alcoholicâ€”before you are willing talk to or see them again (thirty or sixty days should be the minimum). Begin by emphasizing to them that you love them very much and that it breaks your heart to see them continue with their substance abuse. Let them know that you (and all family members involved) have made this decision. You can list possible living options for them on their copy of your letter. Tell he or she–that they must decide which relationship is the most importantâ€”the one they currently have with their alcohol or drug use, or their own family. You must make it crystal clear that they have to choose–because they canâ€™t have both.
There is so much more I could write on this topicâ€”especially when I think of all the different scenarios possible. Please do your homework before attempting this, seek wise counsel*, read all you can and get a second opinion.
When itâ€™s all â€œsaid and doneâ€ this tough love approach often works when nothing else will. Addiction, left alone will only get worse over time. What I remind people about in my book and in counseling is that â€œrecovery is a processâ€”not en event.â€
This is why I sometimes suggest that you â€œdo nothing.â€ The phrase â€œlet go and let Godâ€ applies to the family members and friends–as well as the person seeking recovery. Detachment is one of the most difficult things that a person (especially a mom) may ever need to do.
Stay strong, seek support and know with confidence that no matter what happensâ€”you have â€œdoneâ€ everything you know to do.
* Have you â€œtried everything?â€ To learn about phone counseling with author and Chaplain Joe Herzanek click here.
Learn more about Detachment in Joe’s award-winning book “Why Don’t They Just Quit?”
The Importance of Empathy ~by Jim Fay, Love and Logic
Detachment is Hard–Radio interview with Joe Herzanek
To arrange a workshop or presentation at your organization
call: 303.775.6493 or email: Jherzanek@gmail.com
New! 2016 Updated Edition!
Contains new chapters and info on: Heroin, Shame & Stigma, Harm Reduction, Marijuana, Synthetic Drugs, 12-Step Groups & The Church, and much more!
Why Donâ€™t They Just Quit? Hope for families struggling with addiction.
~By Joe Herzanek
Best book ever about addiction. Written by one whose done it and is recovering. Easy to read, not preachy, just honest. I recommend this book to anyone with an addict in their life! ~Lynda A
Got an addiction problem in your family? Read this book. Joe knows his stuff. This book helps you to better understand those who are dealing with friends and family that are addicted to drugs and alcohol. I have read several of these books but this one is the best. ~RJ
I, like many people, have some knowledge of what drugs and addiction are, but are clueless on what the process of recovery entails. This book does a great job in what it would take to help a loved one, who is an addict and is willing to get clean and stay clean. It also gives one hope that your loved one will survive the nightmare they are living through with their family. ~CG
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