I Love an Addict by Malena Lovall
How to Find Hope, Healing, and Happiness through Christ
Copyright © 2017 Malena Lovall, All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electrical, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author, who may be contacted by email: [email protected]
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints.
No liability is assumed by the author for any damage or error that may result from the information given in this book.
Sources used include:
The HOLY BIBLE, King James Version
[The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
The Doctrine and Covenants]
Bruce C. Hafen, Covenant Hearts: Why Marriage Matters and How to Make It Last, page 63, published 2005, © Deseret Book Company. Used by Permission.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, In Praise of Those Who Save, April 2016 General Conference. Used by Permission.
I hope this book finds everyone who needs it. I know that many people have qualms with the word “addict,” but I hope you understand that it does not have to be a label of hate or incrimination. Like “patient,” “client,” or “customer,” it is simply a term to describe a person by what they are doing, not by who they are.
While the addict I love is my husband, this book is not exclusively for spouses. It offers support for anyone who loves an addict, whether you are an addict’s parent, spouse, child, sibling, or friend. I hope that this book can help everyone who needs it, because addiction hurts everyone involved.
I am so grateful for the amazing support I have had. Especially to everyone who was a part of the launch, editing, and early reading of this book! I will leave out their names to protect their anonymity, but am grateful for each of them just the same. I also want to thank everyone who makes the Addiction Recovery Program and its different classes possible. It has saved my marriage. Thank you!
It is my deepest wish that you can find help and hope among these pages, but everyone has different needs. I am not a medical professional, I do not know everything, but I have learned a lot from my own experiences as we’ve battled my husband’s addiction. I never studied counseling professionally, but I know many of the feelings you are having because I have had them too. I hope and pray that this book can provide what you have been searching for. You are on the right path by trying to learn more. It will get better, just keep going!
Love you all, find a reason to smile today!
My husband’s addiction was rooted in his childhood. Looking back we can see that, but it wasn’t always obvious. There were small instances in his past, but it was not a serious problem until we had our first child. That is when the nightmare came to life. Having a child is supposed to be tender, beautiful, and sweet, but this is found more often in movies than in real life. The reality of having a baby is hard, painful, and scary. When we had our son, there was no sudden wave of intense love that swept over us. Instead we were hit by a wave of exhaustion.
We love our son very much, but that love never came the way it is portrayed on our televisions. This caused even more stress for us on top of the smelly diapers and lack of sleep. The extreme changes and stresses that came with a new child pushed Travis so hard that he broke.
I had no idea that Travis had started a terrible addiction. He didn’t tell me until four months later. Then, we were given a wonderful, but terrifying surprise: I was going to have another baby. I felt guilty and scared to bring another child into a home that seemed to be breaking. I felt like our daughter deserved a better family, but Travis was the only one who could fix ours. She also deserved a family who was excited for her arrival and I was determined to give her at least that.
I have learned so much since that terrible day when Travis confessed to me what he had been doing. I learned mostly about love. About loving unconditionally. I learned about Christ and His love. And from there, I learned how to love like He does.
I will happily tell you that the dark clouds which once overtook our every moment have lifted. Travis still struggles with this addiction and he might for the rest of his life. Or he might not. Either way, I am so proud of the victories he has made in this war. I can now, finally, say that there is hope for us to keep our marriage intact. And there is hope for you and for your loved one who may be struggling with a terrible addiction.
How did we do it? With a lot of time, patience, and love. But also with a lot of help. We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly, but less-accurately, called ‘Mormons’) where we found support in a loving bishop. That bishop helped to save our marriage. The bishop guided us to a psychologist, who helped us to better understand addiction and how to defeat it.
This was very helpful but I found the most peace from a class my bishop suggested. He told us about the Addiction Recovery Program (or ARP) that the church provides for free. Resources for the Addiction Recovery Program can be found at arp.lds.org. It includes a twelve step program for those trapped in addiction and different support groups for their loved ones who have been hurt. I wanted to go, to get help for me. Thankfully, so did Travis.
Before I went to the support group, I felt hopelessly depressed, angry, and afraid. I was alone and confused. I did not know what to do. I cried through many of those classes, but I was quickly able to find the strength I needed from that class. And since then, we have found many useful weapons that we have used in our battles.
While I recognize that not everyone agrees with the religion I am devoted to, I will be using the scriptures I believe to be true. I’m putting in quotes from the Holy Bible (King James Version), The Book of Mormon, and words from the leaders of my church. I don’t do this to push my religion on you, but to exclude these scriptures would be pushing other’s religions on me. These scriptures are a part of who I am, and I believe that quoting them can guide and inspire readers to understand what I am trying to share. No matter what your religion, I would hope that you refer to the entirety of your own sacred works for your healing.
It was hard, but we have found all that we needed through Christ. We were able to find hope for Travis’ recovery through Christ’s atonement. We also found healing as we learned how to forgive. And we found happiness as we continued to love and support one another. Travis’ addiction once had complete power over our lives. It determined what we did, how we acted, and what we felt every day, but Christ was able to free us with His love, mercy, and grace. “Wherefore redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.” (2 Nephi 2:6)
“…remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.” (2 Nephi 10: 23)
Agency, I know – what a terrible, disgusting word. At least it is for us. It is frustrating that we can’t take the reins for our loved ones and keep them from their addiction, but, in His wisdom, the Lord gave us agency. He wanted us to prove ourselves, which could only be accomplished if we were given the ability to choose. It is so important to remember that there was a reason we all have it, even though we might wish some people did not.
While it is the Lord’s will that we have agency, what people choose to do with it is not always according to His will. It is very hard to think that our loved ones are hurting themselves and others in such a terrible way – that they are hurting YOU this way – but remember that someone else’s choice that causes us harm is not a punishment sent from God.
Our Heavenly Father does not want us to hurt but He had to give us agency, and with that, He allows bad choices because He knows we will learn from them. He knows you are strong enough to get through this. You might be the best support the Lord could give your addict and He will support you the whole way. He will not lose faith in you, do not lose faith in Him.
While it is painful seeing people we love make bad choices, we have to remember that it is their choice. This means, it is NOT your fault. It was not your choice for them to struggle with this. I used to blame myself constantly for my husband’s relapses, but it wasn’t my fault. It was his choice.
However, I often felt like I had failed in some way, even when I knew it was not my fault. I wondered if he would have relapsed if I had done the dishes, or if I had not said that stupid, harsh thing to him. If you have done this to yourself, you need to stop. It was their choice, no matter how the addiction began. Which is almost more painful to comprehend, but you can’t let yourself carry the guilt that is theirs. There is not more you could have done to save your spouse, to teach your children, or to help your dear loved one with their addictive behavior.
You might be thinking, “If it is their choice, why don’t they stop right now?” It’s not that easy. Telling a person to stop having an addiction is like telling someone to stop having cancer. We can’t choose to stop growing brain tumors. Often, our addicts need medical help. And, just like with chemotherapy, it is going to take a lot of time, love, and prayer too.
While it is a choice, a relapse often occurs when they are not in their right mind. There might be a chemical in their body fighting to get its fix, or they could be beyond the point of reasoning. A relapse can become an almost instinctive reaction to stress. Whatever is fogging their choices, I want you to remember that there is still hope! That brain tumor can be treated, and so can that addiction. But you can’t just cut an addiction out of your body like you can with a tumor. It will take a lot of time and resources to destroy this kind of disease.
Your loved one isn’t the only one making decisions, you are too. The first decision you should make, is to choose the Lord. In the Old Testament, David said:
“I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.” (Psalms 18: 1-3 King James Version)
David chose to put his trust in the Lord, and the Lord saved him from his enemies. Likewise, in our situation, if we choose to put our trust in God, He will deliver us and our loved ones from our enemy: addiction. Our Father in Heaven is the best source of support I have. He has given us strength, comfort, and hope. It can be hard to choose the Lord especially when we feel angry and hurt, but those are often the most important times to turn to Him.
The next decision you need to make is how far you are willing to go. Setting clear boundaries will help keep you safe and help keep your addict in line. It is important that you protect yourself by deciding how to respond to a worse-case scenario. It is equally important that your addicted loved one knows what to expect from you when they relapse.
Make a list of your limits and the consequences that will follow if they are ever breached. Include every worst-case scenario but also include minor things that need addressing with the addiction. The consequences not only give you protection, but can help an addict see things clearly
A consequence should not be a punishment, it needs to be a natural cause and effect. For example, if your son is looking at pornography on his phone, his phone might be taken away for a set amount of time. You might consider downgrading to a flip phone to help him have less temptation, but don’t ground him from his friends or smash his Xbox when that has nothing to do with the relapse. These consequences should not be about punishing them for failing. It can help them to see what they are risking and the damage they are doing to themselves and others. So make sure that the consequence reflects the right purpose.
A limit I set was if Travis broke the law, I would call the police on him. I would have to in order to protect myself and my children. This is a very common practice. I met one mother who would call the police on her son if she caught him high. In the support groups I went to, I found many others who would do the same. It is an important choice for us to stand by.
While we want to protect our loved ones, shielding them from the law is not protecting them. Guarding them from the consequences of their choices will only enable their addiction. It is not our duty to protect them from the law and doing so will only cause more problems. It can get you in trouble and make the case worse for your loved one.
Make a decision now to protect yourself and your beloved addict by reporting any illegal activity. If you want to protect them, being cooperative with the police will be far more helpful than to resist or hide. These choices are hard, but important for your safety. Add them to the list.
As you go about making your list of limits, you will want to include your beloved addict while you make the final draft. Be prepared to compromise a little so that they can feel comfortable with the consequences you choose. This is not about bossing them around, or forcing them into submission, it is about protecting yourself.
You can turn this list into an informal contract with your loved one so that they are fully mindful of it. However, you should be careful with how you present it to them, having them agree to a consequence might feel demeaning. Some addicts are responsible enough that all you need is a verbal agreement, but if you need a stricter route, have them agree to the terms and add their signature next to yours. Later on, do not allow them to alter the contract or turn it into a deal. Treat it like a new law, it is not to be questioned or changed by those who will break it. However, if you feel like you need to revise it, you can start again, keeping your addict a part of the process.
The contract may differ depending on how your loved one is related to you and the addiction that they are working through. I really struggled with making a list for my husband. I feel like he is my equal and I was scared he would not accept it. But, whether he accepted it or not, I was still going to react the same way if he crossed my limits.
Another limit I set for my husband was that he could not relapse in front of me. I explained to him how it would break my heart. I knew the consequence could not be to kick him out of the house that he paid the rent on, not even for one night, but he did not have to sleep alongside me. That was a harsh consequence, maybe too harsh, but, I did what was needed and I stood by the contract.
It is important that once you present your loved one with your list that you stick to what you said. I’ve heard that addiction creates master manipulators. If you told them they can’t come inside drunk, don’t let them in the house. Don’t give in even once or you will lose your credibility and they will walk all over you.
Stand firm in your choices and be brave. But also remember to be compassionate and loving. It may be hard on the family, and on you, but remember that you are their front line of support and often the reason they want to change. While you are making the list to protect you and your family, you are also making it so that you can still be in their life.
Responding to a Relapse
“So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” (2 Cor. 2: 7-8)
Unfortunately, in almost every case, a relapse IS going to happen. But the fact that they have failed does not mean the war is over. Even when our loved ones tell us they won’t do it again, it is bound to happen. It’s not that they are lying, but a moment of weakness can change everything for an addict. How you react can change everything too.
In order to respond to a relapse correctly, think of how Christ treated the sinners who came to Him. It is easy to remember the words of forgiveness He often gave, “They faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” (Luke 7: 50) He always embraced others with love and forgiveness. This is the key to our own happiness, as well as our addict’s. Because we know that Christ was perfect, we can have faith in following the example He set for us. The combination of love and forgiveness will bring healing to both you and your addict. We lack the power to make them whole again, but by leaning on this example of Christ, we can find the divine help that can.
It is important to love them, but still gently disapprove of the behavior. Do not ignore or enable the addiction, but be their teammate as they battle its ugly face. Sometimes, for the addict, having someone else loving an addict and cheering them on is the only hope they are holding on to. Often, a loving friend or family member can help motivate them to continue fighting and to be better.
Hearing that our loved ones have turned to their addiction is bound to bring up all kinds of emotions; anger, hurt, fear, betrayal, and others. It is hard to keep these feelings back when a wound is freshly opened. But for all the emotion you might feel, your addict is feeling an equal amount of despair and shame. They are just as, if not more, angry with themselves and are afraid to lose everything they have.
When your loved one comes to you to confess, you must first do a self-evaluation. How are YOU feeling? You need to have complete control of yourself to handle the situation correctly. If you can’t do that, walk away and finish the conversation after you have calmed down. I find that it is best to give Travis a specific time that we can talk so that I don’t get caught up with my busy life.
I have heard people disagree with this method. They say that showing your anger helps an addict feel guilt. That yelling at them and shaming them will help them remember to be better next time. These words come from people who are hurting very badly and they are mistaken. While there are different ways to handle the situation, it must always be done with love, not anger. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Anger will close doors. If you choose to scream and yell at your loved one, they will not feel safe coming to you again. You will lose the connection that let them confide in you in the first place. It will hurt the relationship you have with them and may even push them into hopelessness.
Instead of yelling, try to whisper the conversation. Make sure to keep your voice down, but don’t compensate your anger by lashing out with hurtful words instead. You could also write the conversation down. While confessing out loud can really affect an addict, having them write it down is a step in the right direction. If it is still hard to face your loved one’s confession calmly, you may want to try another method.
If you have already shut that door, don’t despair. You can reopen it.
When I first found out about Travis’ addiction, I was enraged beyond anything I had ever felt before. I let it boil and fester. In a twisted way, it felt good to give in to the frustration and hurt. I thought that releasing my anger would help me heal. It didn’t. Instead, it hurt more because I let it out on Travis. Working through your emotions is important, but using them to attack others only causes injury. I’m sorry to say that I lashed out at my husband. I wanted him to hurt like I did. This shut him down.
Travis saw how it hurt me and wanted to protect me. He also wanted to protect himself from that dangerously crazed version of myself. I really scared him. Travis was afraid that I would leave him after another relapse. He felt unsupported and hopeless. So, he decided to give up on confessing to me. But confession is an essential part of repentance and he needed his teammate’s help.
I knew right away that I had hurt him deeply. That I had damaged our relationship and slammed the door in his face. I knew I had to get that door back open. And I did. I told him that I loved him and that I was sorry. And I cried. Then I told him I would do better. And I have.
It is amazing how powerful words can be. If you have shut the door on your loved one, a sincere apology is the key to reopening it. It is important that you really mean it when you apologize though, because if you shut that door after it has reopened, it will only be harder to open the next time.
Words of love are very potent. It is vital that you say, “I still love you,” every time they relapse. They will be affected by those words deeper than anything else. It might be hard for them to believe it. They might wonder, “How can they love me when I have fallen so far?” They might not feel they deserve it, but having your love will make all the difference. Your love, combined with that of Christ’s, will propel them beyond their own ability as they battle their addiction.
Now, you might ask me, “But how CAN I love them when they have fallen so far?” If addiction has taught me anything, it’s that love can endure far more than we ever expect. And in our case, it is a Christ-like love that we rely on, which is even stronger.
In the Book of Mormon, there is a scripture that says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” (Moroni 7:48)
You can pray to be filled with Christ’s love for them and you can borrow it until your own love can sustain you. I have done this and can promise that if you give your whole heart to prayer, asking for this help, your ability to love them will increase. You will become closer to Christ, whose love for all is incomprehensible and who cares for the sinner more than we can understand. He can help you to respond appropriately as well as comfort and sustain you, but you need to ask for it.
It is not going to be easy for your addict to open up to you. It will be painful for them to be honest, as painful as removing a hundred porcupine quills. Although it is hard, it is important that those quills are removed for the healing to begin. So be patient and focus on the accomplishment it is that they are confessing to you.
When they do come to you, close your mouth and listen. They are confiding in you! If a line has been crossed in your contract, you may have to gently remind them of their consequence, but this is NOT a time to chastise or punish them. You really don’t need to do the talking, but there may be a few times where you will need to stop their talking and redirect the conversation.
For example, you will need to redirect them if they are going too far into detail and reliving the emotions of fulfillment or enjoyment of the addiction. You should also stop them if they start blaming you or anyone else for their relapse. While it is not bad – in fact it can be very useful – for them to explain how you may have helped them stay in control, it is a different case when they blame you, an item, or situation for their decision. If your loved one does this, stop them and gently remind them that no one else was responsible for their relapse, but that you still love them and want to work through it with them.
Witnessing a relapse can be really painful, and it can be very hard to control your emotions. If you catch them in a relapse, help them to stop and then walk away to cope with your own feelings before confronting them about it. When this happens, it hurts so deeply that you could fall to your knees, scream, rip out your hair, and then curl up in a ball and cry. Hopefully you can keep it together better than that, but if you need to have a good cry, you might not want to do it in front of the addict. Doing so can make them feel overwhelmed and, in some cases, even manipulated. Crying also puts us in a vulnerable state where we might say things we would not normally want to say.
When you are ready to talk with them, sit them down alone and discuss what you saw, then let them own up to what they did. Don’t be accusing. Don’t force them into talking about it. Don’t be confrontational. Instead be loving and tell them, “Well, if you need to talk about it, I still love you and I will be here.” Try to be a positive and loving influence, not a controlling one.
What you might say to them will depend on how your loved one is reacting. Some addicts feel too guilty about what they have done, falling into a hopeless despair where they have lost all faith in themselves. While others, unfortunately, are in denial.
Denial can come in different levels. Some addicts may be in complete denial, not believing they have a problem, while others may diminish or justify what they are doing. Again, be patient and loving. They will get there. If they come to you to confess, listen to them, but be honest with them. If they don’t accept the same reality you see, they will eventually. It all takes time. Until then, remember that it can be hard for an addict to accept that their actions – actions that they may have chosen for their whole lives – were wrong. They are not just changing a habit, but they are changing themselves at a fundamental level all while their body and mind are fighting to stay the same.
For those who love an addict that is in denial, be patient. They must admit that there is a problem to themselves first. There is not much that can be done for an addict who is in denial, except to pray for them. There may come a day when they realize what they are risking and what they are losing. If you choose to help them see their addiction, do it in a loving way, but try not to fight about it. Nothing is worth hurting your relationship, and fighting will only increase the pain. Contention will hurt their chances of coming to you for help when they are ready.
Instead of making it a hostile confrontation, go to them with love. Consistent, gentle reminders go a lot further than a head-on attack. They might still act hostile toward you, but do your best not to let that bother you. Tell them that you love them and because you love them, you need them to get better so they can continue being a part of your life. Don’t make it about them and what they need, make it about you and what you need. They will be more willing to do something for you than for themselves.
However, if they accept what they have done and are okay with continuing, you may want to consider your options. Sadly, some relationships cannot survive addiction. If you are in this situation, seek advice from counselors, church leaders, and family members.
Travis does not have a denial problem. Instead, he falls off a cliff into a canyon of torment and self-loathing. This is a dangerous state of mind for an addict. The intense emotions can lead them right back to the addiction. Sometimes it will even take them to a point of suicidal thoughts or self-harming habits. If the one you love is in hopeless despair, be their lifeline. They need you to show them that there is still hope. They need you to show them that all is not lost.
When Travis falls into this pit I have to toss him a line, and that rope is woven with Christ’s atonement and positivity. I tell him that Christ still loves him, that God still loves him, and that I still love him. This always catches him off guard. He struggles to understand how love can still exist for him.
I also remind him of all the progress he has made. The relapses have gotten less intense and less often. He has come far in accepting what he has done as wrong. Even if you can’t find something positive to say, focus on the positive. Even the smallest triumphs are huge, whether that is finally accepting help from a psychiatrist or going one day longer without a relapse. If you can think of nothing else, simply say that they will get better and that you will be there for them.
Remember this is a disease, a cancer that is spreading throughout their body. They don’t want to hurt you and they don’t want this disease, even if they have told you differently. I know it is hard to endure this, especially as we listen to a confession or watch them sit in denial. We have to be strong, for them and for us. Having control over yourself is only one step, but finding healing for yourself is the key to enduring.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4: 32)
Forgiveness is the sweetest relief we can give ourselves. And we deserve it. That’s right, it is a gift to ourselves, not to the offender. While forgiving our loved ones can help them, it isn’t for their healing, it’s for our own. Forgiving them won’t justify, condone, or change what they have done. It won’t give them grace – we don’t have that much power- but it can help us to find that grace for ourselves.
If we hold on to the pain by keeping a grudge, it won’t hurt the offender, but it will continue to hurt us. While forgiveness and love are not among the natural feelings that come from our loved one’s addiction, they will heal us, so choose forgiveness. Choose it now. You don’t have to wait for their apology, or for them to change. In fact, because addiction can be a life-long battle, you need to decide to forgive now, even if your loved one is still relapsing. If you wait, you will only put yourself through needless torment, putting off the relief you so badly need. You can have that relief now.
Forgiveness is so important to our healing, and addiction requires it often. You need to forgive the addict you love. Your addict needs to find forgiveness for themselves. And you both need to forgive whoever or whatever introduced the addiction in the first place.
That is a lot easier to read than it is to do.
How do we forgive? I won’t pretend that I was able to forgive on my own. It was only through the strength and love of Christ that I was able to do it. Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us, especially when we bear such deep pain.
When they talked about forgiveness in the support group I attended, I wanted to stick my nose up at it, to be above forgiveness. I quickly realized how prideful I was being and learned that forgiveness takes humility and love.
I wanted to forgive Travis, knowing the pain could be lessened if I did, but it was hard, especially because he still had the addiction. I made excuses for a while. A very common excuse was, “But I’ll have to forgive him every time he relapses, won’t it be easier to forgive him just one time when it is all over?” This is the wrong mindset to have. Refusing to forgive until the problem is solved will only weigh us down.
When I was struggling to forgive him, I tried to act on it. I went to Travis and told him that I had not forgiven him yet, but that I wanted to and that I would try to. Saying this made something click inside me. It was like someone had flipped a switch that turned on the forgiveness process. I felt motivated knowing that Travis was expecting and hoping for that forgiveness. Now he could support me as I struggled to find it. And my heart began to soften towards my husband.
Forgiving him the first time was definitely the hardest, but after forgiving him more and more, it became easier. It was easier because I was able to cope without the weight of a grudge pressing the pain deeper into my soul. After that, I was able to handle other relapses better because I was able to draw upon my newly learned ability to forgive.
Now, just because it was easier, doesn’t mean I didn’t get annoyed when Travis relapsed again. I was still annoyed. I even thought, “How many times will I have to forgive him?” I knew the answer before I even asked. Just as the Savior instructed, I would have to forgive Travis every time, even if that was “until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22)
One day, the worst kind of relapses happened. Travis slipped up at my mother’s house. I felt powerless and hurt. It was supposed to be a wonderful visit. We had driven six hours to see my family. A terrible fear came over me – did anyone see? My family did not know about Travis’ struggle, and I was not ready to tell them about it. Luckily, no one found out about Travis’ addiction that day.
Even though no one found out, I was still mad at him, so mad that I refused to talk to him. When my siblings went to school and the house was quiet, I decided to do my daily scripture study. I remember saying in that prayer, “Please let there be something in here for me today,” and then there it was! I had been reading through the talks from General Conference – an amazing conference for the LDS church where our beloved prophet and apostles speak – and the talk I read that day was “In Praise of Those Who Save,” by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. I almost didn’t read it because it was a part of the conference section that focused on the men, but I am so grateful that I did. It was the perfect talk for that day. I felt like the Lord was speaking to me directly.
In his talk, which you should read, Elder Uchtdorf explains that like many other things in our lives, the world has started to see marriage as disposable. That it seems as replaceable as an outdated smart phone. But then he goes on to explain that marriage is not meant to be treated that way. That we should not be so shallow in thinking that our commitment is only a contract.
I quickly realized that I was doing just that. That I was seeing our marriage as a contract and because I felt like Travis had disrespected it, I was ready to give up. But a relationship is not about a list of vows, agreements, or deals. It is a commitment to love despite flaws or mistakes. I was being prideful and selfish instead of thinking of what I could do to help Travis. That day, I realized his addiction would be OUR battle.
I love this talk from Elder Uchtdorf, it is very dear to my heart. One thing that stuck out to me was when he talked about charity. I remember reading, “Whatever problems your family is facing, whatever you must do to solve them, the beginning and the end of the solution is charity, the pure love of Christ. Without this love, even seemingly perfect families struggle. With it, even families with great challenges succeed. “Charity never faileth,” [1 Cor. 13:8]
“It is true for saving marriages! It is true for saving families!” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, In Praise of Those Who Save, April 2016 General Conference)
I wondered, could charity fail here? Could the pure love of Christ be the key to saving my marriage? I looked up what charity is and how to get it. And guess what? I found out that it wouldn’t fail, even for me.
“Charity is the pure love of Christ,” (Moro. 7:47) It is not a love that we can find within ourselves naturally. It is an immortal, unconditional love. It is very real and better than any fictional superpower. I learned that the only way to get charity was to pray for it. So I began to pray for it every single day. The days I forgot were always terrible, but the days I remembered were filled with love. It was charity that allowed me to love Travis enough to forgive him.
Pray for charity, it will not fail us! With charity as our guide, we can face our loved one and their addiction with strength. Pray for it every single day, but mean it each time. Try not to let it become a repetitive saying as if you are only reciting it, but say it knowing how badly you need it. Ask for it while thinking of your beloved addict who you might easily lose, but also ask for it with faith knowing that Christ is able to help you through this.
After seeking this divine help, be open about your forgiveness process with your addict. This will allow them to give you support and help as you find healing, even though they are the ones who caused the pain. Being open in this way can help us to be steadfast in our goal to forgive. It can also help us to relieve some of the pressure that has blown the grudge out of proportion
If you know why you are hurting, you can calmly explain it to them, but be open to their perspective if they share it. There might be more going on than you know. Then, if they apologize, accept it gracefully. You can say, “I will try to forgive you.” But do not shut down the apology, even if you don’t believe that they are sorry. They don’t deserve to be treated with cruelty when they are trying to be better.
The next step to finding forgiveness is to do something. Our feelings rarely come by request. Feelings often are the result of an event, so make an event. Try to do things with them, so that you can move on and see them the way you used to. Be kind to them, even serve them. Maybe bring them breakfast one morning or help them with a daily chore. Practicing love can bring love. And love can replace a grudge.
Have you ever heard, “laughter is the best medicine?” This is so true! So, go out to a funny movie together, or attack them with water balloons and silly string. Be spontaneous and have fun with them. In time, this lightness can heal the scars that a grudge gave you. It can replace a harsh, judgmental attitude with a fun and loving relationship.
To forgive someone, you may need to change your perspective of that person. They are not the addiction, they have an addiction. They struggle with an addiction, and they are pained by an addiction. Just like when my grandma had cancer, she was not the cancer even though it was a living part of her body.
Instead of hating them for their addiction, try to be compassionate toward them for their disease. Turn outward toward their needs rather than inwards. Then you won’t have to stare at your scars all day.
Still feel angry? Try to diffuse that anger. Let it out in an unsent letter, or a painting. Take a jog around the block or do some yoga. Find an activity you love doing that you can empty yourself into. I love to write, so I had a journal that I would vent into. This allowed me to face my emotions without confronting my husband. Writing it out also helped me to see what was going on inside my brain. I could see where I was being unrealistic and even cruel towards Travis. I also could easily pinpoint exactly why and what was hurting me.
Forgiving is hard to do, but remember that you don’t have to do it alone. While you try to find forgiveness, seek Christ. He knows how to forgive, and you can lean on His knowledge. Christ was offended far beyond anything our beloved addicts have inflicted. Christ did no wrong but was still betrayed, whipped, cursed, and abused. And yet, Christ remained loving and forgiving. He can help us to do the same.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53: 3-5)
Jesus Christ knows your pain perfectly. He loves all kinds of sinners, including every single addict. Can you imagine the burden of loving every addict? I can’t. It can be hard to think of love as painful. Most people think of it as a joyful, fun thing, but in reality, it is also full of pain, hard work, and dedication.
If you struggle to feel connected to our Savior, find a quiet place and tell the Lord in prayer. Ask if our Heavenly Father and His beloved son know your pain, and you will be given a beautiful wave of peace and love. Our Savior really does understand all of our pain and our worry and our fear. He knows us. He knows our addict.
The Lord has commanded us to forgive. “I will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10) It is hard, but He would not ask us to do this if it was impossible. And, because God loves us, He would not ask us to forgive if we did not need to. He has prepared a way for us to accomplish forgiveness, we just have to find it.
After you have forgiven them, don’t be Lot’s wife. Don’t look back, it will only turn you into a bitter pillar of salt. The phrase “forgive and forget” is not very realistic. We can’t force our brains into amnesia. When we are hurt by someone we are bound to let it seep into our judgement of that person and affect how we act around them. While this is normal, try not to dwell on the past. Still be weary of a relapse, but don’t bring up what they have repented of. It is in the past and nothing about it can be changed.
Instead of dwelling in the past, focus on the now. Those of us affected by addiction often live second by second, knowing that if they can just get through today, they will be able to face tomorrow. No matter what happened in the past, the fact is that there is an addiction to deal with now. If we turn back thinking of what happened, we will remain buried under the pain and sorrow of the past. Likewise, if we focus on the future, worrying about the “what if’s,” we will surely be overwhelmed by fear and hopelessness.
Remain hopeful of their recovery and remember the scripture, “Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
Coping for Yourself
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11: 28)
If you find yourself stuck under a dark cloud all day, if the wound your addict has opened is hurting you every moment, you are not the first. I used to feel that way too. I found a lot of help in the support group I attended. And most of the others who had just started felt the same way. I could almost see the dark cloud hovering over their head, singling them out, as if in a cartoon. This is a typical stage that we go through. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, like we are drowning under the downpour of that dark cloud, but there is a way to step out from under the cruel shadow.
“I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
I can tell you from experience that this scripture is true. Our Heavenly Father and His son, Jesus Christ, love you. They are supporting you, and they know what you are going through. They want to help you and have prepared a way for you to endure.
You also have ancestors beyond the veil cheering you on. Some have been where you are right now, with someone they loved snagged by addiction. We don’t always see them, or feel them, but be comforted knowing that you have a whole army of them backing you.
Your family support is not limited by those who have passed either. You should seek help from your close relatives and friends. It is hard to open up to anyone about our loved one’s addiction because we want to protect them, but it is worth the help we can get. If you do choose to open up to someone, seek permission from your addict first. Of course, we have to be careful when we decide to seek support from others. It can be hard for others to understand, so make sure that the person you choose loves your addict too.
But, before anyone can really help you, you need to help yourself. It is often said that an addict’s turning point is when they accept that they have a problem, and when they decide to do something about it. The turning point in our own healing is the same. We have to admit to ourselves that we are hurting and decide that we want to heal.
I have a few friends who kept their pain in hiding. But the abuse they suffered did not hide from them. It ate at them like a parasite, sucking the life out of them. But, like a parasite, keeping it a secret was hurting them more. It not only kept them from healing, but made things worse. Luckily, those friends were able to open up to me about their pain. Finding a supportive friend was like sucking the venom from a wound, and they were able to start the healing process.
With Travis’ addiction, I found a support system too. Unfortunately, I did not have the courage to tell my friends and family for a long time, but there was an anonymous support group that my church offers for free. At first I was nervous to go. I didn’t want to betray Travis or tell anyone that he had an addiction. But I found out that you don’t have to share with the group that you didn’t want to.
So I tried it out and I found a room full of love and loyalty. Everyone there was hurting too, and we could bear each other’s pain together. No one judged us or the addicts we cared for. It was like I had my own team as we struggled against Travis’ addiction. Everyone there had loved ones with different addictions, but the pain was the same. The fear, anger, and confusion were the same. We were able to support and rely on one another as well as share advice. It was the greatest relief and help I could have found.
A support group is a great place to feel safe. In a normal social environment, it is natural for us to feel lonely, either because no one knows or because everyone knows about our loved one’s addiction. Many of us are rejected by people who don’t understand, but there is no shunning in a support group. The other people you will meet there have been through it too.
My heart aches for those who are being shunned. It wasn’t your fault that they made those poor choices. Be patient and loving to those around you, even if they are cruel to you. You cannot control their actions, but you can control your own. Besides, feeding the fire only makes it bigger.
One thing that the support group gave me was understanding. They taught me all about addiction; what it does, how it works, and how to fight it. Understanding addiction is a great tool in our own healing. It can help us to better understand our loved one and what they are battling. Give yourself a pat on the back. By reading this book you are seeking that understanding! However, realize that reading a small book will not be enough, understanding and battling addiction takes a lot more work than that.
Try to be more grateful. Be grateful you still have your addict. They could be dead. They could be, and might currently be, incarcerated. They might be permanently handicapped from the poor choices they make with their addiction. Be grateful for what they do have still, for the goodness that they have somehow retained beyond the evil disease.
Also be grateful for all that you have. Be grateful that you have food, that you have a roof, that you have a car. Even if what you have is very little, at least you have your hair, your skin, your nose – I hope. There is no one in this world who has nothing to be grateful for. You may want to keep a gratitude journal where you can jot down two things you are grateful for every day to help you see just how blessed you are.
It is also important to separate yourself from their addiction. Take time to be you. Just you, not you as a mom, or you as an addict’s support, but just purely you. While I am “one” with Travis, being his wife, we are not one person. I am a separate person. I used to feel so obsessed with Travis’ addiction that I lost who I was for a while. All I could think of being was the wife of an addict. My whole life was taken over by it until I was able to find myself again.
Take time to be yourself. You don’t have time? Make time. You might have to lose fifteen minutes of sleep or allow the dishes to pile up a little more than you usually like, but you can, and must find time for you. Letting yourself have this time will help you, not only to be happier, but also to be a better support for your addict.
Find that trait, or talent that makes you feel like you and seek after it. If you don’t feel like you have one, find one you can start. But be patient with yourself, you won’t be Picasso when you wake up tomorrow. Don’t seek the talent to be good at it or to impress others, seek it merely for the sake of your personal enjoyment.
Keep a journal. You need a journal to let out your pain into. To pour your emotions on with no fear of judgement. It will be your best friend as it has been for me. It let me release my tension and reflect on what I was going through and how I was handling it. Of course, Travis was never allowed to read these pages because it was usually full of things I would not normally say. It also let me write down scriptures I found that I could refer to later and gave me a way to record my happy thoughts.
Journals are very therapeutic, ask any psychologist, but you may try a different method of keeping one. Many people consider a private blog as their journal, some keep an art journal, while others like to keep a gratitude journal. Whatever kind you choose to go for, use it to release and reflect on your day.
Find purpose in the pain. Reach out and help others. Giving of yourself may seem like the exact opposite of what you need – you need all of yourself to figure this out, what more do you have to give? But a simple act, like baking cookies or sending a letter, will make someone smile. And guess what? Smiles are contagious! Helping others to find a smile is a great way to find your own.
I used to spend every moment of every day worrying about Travis. What was he doing right now? Was he being tempted? Was he thinking about his addiction? Etc. I had to let go of the obsession by handing my addict to the Savior. You cannot take control of their repentance, it is something only they can choose. Trust them to His atonement. Have faith in this perfect gift He provided for us. After you do that, I hope you will find the same lift I did.
We can find peace, even in the midst of a raging storm. God trusted you to love them because He knew you could better than anyone else. He knew you could do this and He prepared a way for you to handle it.
As much as God wants to take trials away from us, it is against His law to stop someone’s agency, but He has not abandoned you. You can find him in prayer, but to really find him we need to pray correctly. God is not there to be bossed around, but He does want to comfort and strengthen you. “The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.” (Psalms 29:11)
Nephi, after being bound by his angry brothers, gave a prayer that shows us a pattern we need to follow. “But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.” (1 Nephi 7:17) Instead of asking that our trials are removed, we can follow Nephi’s example by praying for the strength and endurance, for both you and for your addict.
You might be afraid you do not have enough faith but Christ once said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matt. 17:20) A mustard seed is very small – only one millimeter wide! You can find these tiny granules sold with other spices. You don’t need a lot of faith to tap into the help and peace the Lord has for you, but if your belief in prayer is lacking, you can pray for a stronger testimony and remember the sweet father who said, “help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
Give prayer the time and privacy it requires. Find a quiet hour and let your heart pour out in prayer. If you can’t find that hour, schedule it in. I often say, “If it isn’t scheduled, it isn’t done.” Put it on your calendar, or in your to-do list. Keeping a relationship with our Heavenly Father is so important, the other things on your lists of to-do’s can wait until you have spoken with our Father.
Remember that the Lord loves you. He is our Father. This is not a random title or one that is meant to show dominance, it is His because of the loving relationship that He wants to have with all of us. He has blessings waiting for you, but many of them cannot be sent until you ask for them. Make praying a daily habit so that the Lord can help you every day. If you find that this is not enough, read your scriptures, and take as much time as you need to get back in tune. Be prepared to dedicate long periods of time to the endeavor. It will come.
In Covenant Hearts, by Bruce C. Hafen, there is a story where Mr. Hafen fell out of his family’s car. It was still moving down the road when he hit the ground, hurting his elbow. Despite the injury, Hafen got up and ran after the car, fearing that he might be left behind. Of this incident, Hafen says, “I have since wondered why I didn’t feel that pain when I was running. Now I understand that I wanted to be with my family so much that my intense desire to join them was greater than my pain.”
Our wounds can be like this if we focus on the eternal truths and love of our family. Hafen continues to say, “The power of our doctrinal vision of family future is strong enough that it will outweigh whatever sacrifice and pain we may need to bear during our days of family present.”
I have found these statements to be true when it comes to Travis’ addiction. It is easy for me to see now that when I focused on my own feelings of hurt and betrayal, I was overburdened with emotion. But, when I focused on our goal of having a forever family, the pain was turned to determination.
Protecting the Relationship
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)
One of the scariest things about addiction, is the possibility that we will lose the addict that we so dearly love. But, if we show our love to them in the right ways, we can help increase the chances of keeping them.
You need to keep your relationship with the addict separate from the relationship with their addiction. I know I keep saying to separate things, but let’s totally compartmentalize. Put your loved one, the addiction, and you in three separate boxes.
It can be hard to look at an addict without seeing the addiction. To think of them as a normal human being. To see them as the beloved child, spouse, or sibling that they are. But, despite the addiction, they are still the same person, they are just in the middle of a very turbulent storm.
It is important to keep up the relationship with that person so they can continue to rely on you, but also so the relationship can exist after this storm. Still go out for a nice dinner, visit the zoo together, play a card game or whatever you like to do. But when you go to the theatre, make sure you don’t bring their addiction with you. Leave that box behind so you can enjoy the person you love, rather than miss the movie to scowl at the addict.
Giving a safe hour is a smart way to start this habit of separating your relationship with your loved one and their addiction. Think of the game of tag. You are in a group of people chasing them around and you are it! But then, the victim you have chosen has their hand on the bright yellow slide, they are in the safe zone. You can’t tackle them or lure them away from the slide, but must wait for the right moment. The safe hour is like this. Allot an hour every day when the addiction does not exist. It does not come up in the conversation at all, even if they had a relapse only twenty minutes before. There will be time later to discuss it.
If you and your loved one agree on when to have this safe hour, it can help your addict to have the normal relationship with you that they crave. They don’t want to be constantly badgered by your questions and worry. And you don’t want the relationship to be based solely on the addiction either.
If they give up on repentance, don’t give up on them. They can come back. One of my dearest friends married a wonderfully charming man. He was perfect for her, until he fell into a horrible, disgusting kind of addiction. It ruined everything. Then he said that he didn’t want to change, that he chose that life. They were getting ready to divorce when he finally came around, realizing what he was about to lose. He had first rejected the idea of change, but eventually he came back. Things have gotten a lot better for them since.
It is important to remember what used to make your relationship strong. Remember who the addict was before the addiction and try to see it in them still. It is there, even though it may be buried deep within. They can be that person again. They even have potential to become greater than who they were before.
Lists are a really wonderful tool. They let us get everything we connect together on paper. There are two lists you should make. The first is a list of your loved ones potential without the addiction weighing them down. What could they do? Who could they be? If nothing else, they would be happier in life if they could just overcome the addiction.
Then I want you to list why you love them. Make the list as long as you can. It can be anything from the color of their eyes to the way they can cook an amazing meal. When you finish the list, give it to your loved one as a gift. Wrap it up in a box and put a ribbon on it. I know a sweet lady who did this. She used a roll of paper towels and filled the whole roll! You can imagine the joyful smile, maybe even tears, that came to her husband’s face as she gave it to him.
Loving someone who has hurt you is hard, especially when the hurt has destroyed your trust. Trust is a horrible thing to lose and it is not easy to regain. The only way you can start healing that trust is to practice it. Start small and build your way back up. When I was too obsessed to leave Travis alone, I had to try trusting him long enough for me to take care of things outside of the house. Eventually, I trusted him to be alone for an hour. A WHOLE SIXTY MINUTES. I could have pulled out all my hair with the anxiety I had for those long three thousand and six-hundred seconds.
I felt every one of those seconds tick inside of me until I came home to a clean man. I was amazed, but he was able to last for that hour without me. I know that may sound ridiculous – I know he went hours without thinking of his addiction before then – but there was just something about leaving him for that long that really scared me. And I realized that I could have trusted him a little more and a lot sooner.
There was a very dark time when I used to give every second to Travis’ addiction. I thought that if I was always in the same room as him, he would think of me instead of his addiction. I made it a habit to always exist right next to him. This was ridiculous. It got to the point where I was scared to leave him even just to use the bathroom. I often found myself holding it so that I could stay right next to him for as long as possible. That was really extreme, but I did it because I was scared that he would relapse the second I left. Learn from my mistake, don’t hover over your addict, fearing the worst. While being present can help an addict, we can’t make decisions for them, and we certainly can’t avoid the bathroom forever.
As much as we may want to take the sin away from our addicts, we can’t. We can’t manage them or control them. We can’t stop them. We are not responsible for their repentance and we are not meant to be the judge. But we ARE their support. We can help them to be strong, if they let us. We can love them. We can support their recovery. And we can encourage them to continue.
“ Once an addict, always an addict,” is one of the greatest lies you will ever be told. The next greatest lie is that “there is an 85% chance that your loved one will stick with the addiction.” If you look at the statistics for several rehabilitation centers, the numbers can be just as depressing. But you can’t put a statistic on an individual. Your addict’s chance at success is not determined by what others have done. And other’s successes can’t always guide you to what you need anyway.
The first key to your addict’s recovery is their own decision to get better. Your loved one has to choose recovery for themselves. This kind of change comes through Christ, whose ways are perfect, but if they are being forced on that path, it will not change them. For those who are loving someone who is refusing help, my heart breaks for you. Keep praying for them and never give up on them.
Rehab centers are not always bad, although the success rates are discouraging. A lot of the bad statistics come from addicts who were forced into the program. They have to want the change to succeed there. But, if your addict wants to go, I would not recommend choosing one that waves their high rates of failure in your face as if it was their country’s flag. If they are showing you their bad stats, it might be because they don’t believe in their own system.
Some might argue that even the smallest success rate is good, it is helping those three out of ten people. And that really is great, but could those three people have succeeded with other programs too? There are just so many problems with statistics that you can’t rely on them to know what program would be best. So, do your research on how they plan to help your addict find change.
Addiction classes are helpful. An addict can get support, love, and advice there. It may take some humility to go, but the bruise on their pride will be worth it. Travis goes to his class every Sunday. It gives him the help, support, and knowledge that he needs.
A counselor is a fantastic source too. I think a good counselor is important. If you have a counselor but they are not working, try a different one. Our counselor is amazing because he shares our beliefs and values, and he has taught us a lot about how addiction works.
Remember that you are a team. I often refer to Travis’ addiction as “our struggle,” because it is even though it is his sin. I can coach him and support him when he needs it. I can also take over in many stressful situations so that he can walk away from his temptation.
Your addicted loved one also needs a journal. This journal should be used for more than mental therapy. They should keep a journal just for their relapses where they can record what happened, when, why, how, and where. They should record how they felt before and after they relapsed and how it will – or how they are afraid it might – affect their future. This record should be reviewed often. It can teach them about how to avoid a relapse again later.
Honesty is vital to recovery. You need to make an agreement to be honest with each other. Your honesty is important for you to heal, but you must be honest in a gentle loving way when the harsh truths come up. Your loved one also needs honesty to heal. This is a great struggle that comes with addiction. Be prepared to accept when they have lied, but encourage their honesty with love and support.
You have to be strong for your addict. Be bold enough to ask the hard questions, “Did you mess up?” “Were you thinking about hurting yourself?” “How far did you go?” One time, Travis was in a very scary state of mind. He was beyond depressed. I asked him if he had been considering suicide and was so relieved when he said no. But I felt so worried when he added that he had wanted to hurt himself. We don’t want to ask if our loved ones have become suicidal or self-harming, but it is vital if we want to protect them from it.
Never forget their victories. It is important to celebrate with them as they triumph, rather than punish them when they fail. Travis loves this tactic. I usually let him pick out a wonderful dessert if he meets the goal we set. Then, after we enjoy the hard-earned cookies and ice cream, we set another goal with a celebration in mind. This helps Travis think ahead to what good is in store when he is tempted, instead of only thinking about what he will lose. If you make a goal and they fail to reach it, that’s okay! Set another goal, maybe one that is a little more reachable. But always celebrate when you can.
On a regular handgun, when you pull the trigger, a spark is made. This spark ignites the gunpowder that will thrust the bullet out of the barrel. Many addicts feel like they are a gun and that someone or something is pulling their trigger and aiming them right at their addiction. They don’t always feel like they are in control of it, and when they are, it is hard to resist the pressure of ignited gunpowder.
A trigger, also called a cue, can be anything that an addict associates with their addiction. It is usually something that clicks in their head, like those oatmeal cookies that remind you of Grandma’s house. You just smell that oatmeal baking and you’re drooling. You want those cookies. You have been waiting and watching the oven hopefully. When those globs of oatmeal goodness finally come out, you might not be able to resist them when the offer comes. A trigger is like that except, for an addict, it is stronger than any cookie craving.
Triggers come in many different forms. Some are emotional, like stress or anger. Some can be situational, like a place, person, or party. And some are just like your Grandma’s oatmeal cookies, as the offer comes so irresistibly.
Some people believe that there is no safety setting on an addict’s trigger and that there are no blanks to shoot. This is partly true. We cannot stop the trigger from existing and we cannot control every trigger out there or keep it away from our loved ones. However, we can help our beloved addicts recognize their triggers and find a new target to aim for.
First, you should turn to medical help. Therapists are a great tool for an addict in recognizing their triggers. They can also help determine if an addict needs additional medicine. There are many wonderful tips that therapists recommend for addicts. I have heard it recommended to keep a journal where they can write about, and discover, what triggered their relapses. I have also heard that an addict needs to stay healthy – getting the rest and nourishment they need. But this was not enough for us.
When we learned about triggers, I felt really discouraged. Travis didn’t know what his triggers were, most addicts don’t realize they have triggers until they do a very deep self-assessment. It was a problem that was only in Travis’ head. How could I help him see something that I couldn’t? Sure, there were times that I could just tell, usually by his stress-levels, that he was really close to losing a battle, but that was not always easy to see.
I needed a way to peak into Travis’ mind to know what was going on in there. And I found it. I drew a hill on the white board that hung on our fridge and labeled it from one to ten with one at the bottom, five at the top, and then ten at the other bottom. From this beautiful hill, I knew exactly what to do. All I had to do was ask, “Honey, what’s your number?”
Those words changed everything for us. It meant that I could be the support he needed, especially when he needed it. It also meant that he could rate himself and see his triggers BEFORE they were pulled.
“What’s your number?” is a simple concept. Zero means that there is no desire to relapse at all. A three is where I usually got nervous, because he was climbing the hill to his addiction. A five is too late, that number is when the trigger is pulled and the bullet launched into the bullseye of addiction. After five, the hill drops again, but more like a cliff. That drop represents Travis’ fall into hopeless sorrow.
The basic danger areas of the hill are at three, four, four-and-a-half (as Travis sometimes says), eight, nine, and ten. Again, five is too late. The last three might seem a little unusual. Why would remorse for their wrongdoing be bad? Shouldn’t they feel sorry for what they did? When they get as low as ten, it is not a repentant sorrow, but a hopeless, despairing one. If they become depressed, it can easily drop them through a portal right back to five again, where relapses happen. A ten might even be the most dangerous of these because Travis won’t tell me when he is at a ten, but, luckily, I usually know when he is that low.
When your addict is at a ten, you might see their guilt, or you might only see the emotions caused by that guilt. An addict who has fallen into hopeless sorrow will be unusually depressed and frustrated. If you notice your addict going through emotions like these, ask them what is bothering them and be ready to listen calmly.
This diagram was such a great discovery for us that we used it almost daily until the addiction decided to calm down and let us ask it weekly. I love being able to ask “What’s your number?” because it has a touch of secrecy to it. It is not a question that attacks Travis, and I can ask it in public without anyone knowing what we are talking about. Numbers have become a sort of code between us, and now we not only can recognize how close a relapse is, but we can communicate it anywhere, anytime.
Now that they can recognize when something is trying to trigger their addiction, your addict can redirect their aim. Triggers are all about cause and effect, but if they consciously change the effect, the trigger will eventually leave the addiction alone. They can train themselves to work out, draw, write, or pray. They could do anything that helps them when they feel the pressure of ignited gunpowder. You can’t erase addiction, at least not easily, but you can replace it with a good behavior.
Another saying we have is “Remember the plan!” When we understood Travis’ triggers we immediately made a plan. Sometimes we would need to make a new plan to go with the situation, but we always had a plan. Usually, we would agree that if Travis encountered a trigger or was being tempted that he would call me. If I did not answer, he was supposed to continue to call me until I answered. And if that did not work, we always had a back-up plan. Having a plan like this has been extremely helpful to us as we battled his addiction. He could rely on me when he needed it and we were able to intercept many relapses.
Recognizing triggers can help an addict to understand themselves. It gives them the chance to recognize what is going on so that they can stop it and go back to zero. By paying attention to triggers, they might also be able to see where the addiction is rooted inside of them, what it is attached to and feeding off of.
Faith to Endure
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phillippians 4:13)
I can testify that Christ will be there to help bear your burdens. His help is often sent in unusual forms, like a plate of cookies on your doorstep or a visit from a friend, but He is there. Often He guides others to do what He needs done.
He can also be there personally for you. No, He probably won’t appear to you in your living room, but He will come to you in prayer. Remember to pray every day. Real, sincere, personal prayer where you can open your heart to the Lord and show Him the wounds He wants to heal. If you are not getting that feeling, don’t stop praying. It will come with time. You won’t be best friends with someone in one day, and you won’t have a strong relationship with your Heavenly Father in one prayer.
A really important part of endurance is staying positive. Don’t let pessimism weigh you down. If all you can see is the bad, you won’t want to endure. But if you force yourself to see what is good, what is possible, and remember the beloved addict you are enduring for, you will find the strength and motivation you need.
Continue in faith. Know that God has allowed this trial because He knows you can get through it. So fear not, because fear destroys our faith. Go forward with love toward your addict and hope for the future. It is natural to feel afraid of what could be, but if you focus on the “what if’s” anything is possible, including a giant cosmic explosion that kills all of us and makes none of this seem worth it.
If your faith is failing you, keep going. Act on the faith you want to have. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:17) Faith takes time to grow, so give it the time you need, but until then “fake it ‘till ya make it!” If we say that we have faith in our loved one’s recovery but then abandon them to their addiction, there is no faith there. If we say that we believe they will get better but continually assume that they have failed, there is no belief there. Instead, maintain a positive attitude and remain hopeful, even if you do not feel like being faithful.
If you can “endure it well,” you are bound to learn something. After all, trials are given to us so that we can learn. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Heb. 12:11.) But what can you, and your addict learn from this awful storm? Quite a lot. I have learned so much. I have learned about marriage and the commitment that I made when I entered it with Travis. A commitment to a future I could not see.
I have also learned about how to love, how to really love. I learned about how Christ loved, although I am not nearly as good at it as He is. There are things that both you and your addict will learn from this. It might teach you both about what kind of person you are and what you can accomplish.
Last of all, I hope you know that God loves you. He is our Father, He is our caretaker, friend, confidant, and all else that we may need. He provides everything for us, including the flowers, trees, puppies, and chocolate. Remember that nothing you do can take away the Lord’s love for you or for your addict. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Endure this trial patiently and with faith. Do not forget the love that God has for you and your addict. You can both get through this and you can do it together. It is not impossible for them to leave their addiction, but it will take time. Whatever route you take as you battle their addiction together, always remember to love. And always have a reason to smile.
Be uplifted and find the power to step out from under the heavy weight that rests on you. Supporting an addict is difficult and painful, but, because of Christ, it does not have to be. By following His example, we can support our addicts better and help them to recover. Christ’s teachings can help us understand how to help the addicts that we love, because He loves them too. An important part of supporting an addict, however, is to take care of ourselves first. You cannot light another’s candle if your own is out. It can be painful and scary to have an addict in the family, but it doesn’t have to be because of the perfect atonement. Christ gave us the gift to be cleansed from our own sins AND to endure the sins of others. We were given the ability to forgive so we can heal. You can tap into that healing if you lean on the Savior, the one who has the ability to forgive, and love, every sinner. “I Love an Addict,” will guide you to those gifts that Christ wants you to have. It will also help you decide how to handle your loved one’s addiction, and teach you how to find the strength to endure this trial.