Detachment is a tool for family members’ addiction recovery. It is also a therapeutic goal for family members in recovery. Detachment, in an addiction context, means letting go of efforts to control or take responsibility for the addict.
Alcohol/drug addiction not only has a typical progression for the individual, there is a progression to the family dynamics of addiction as well. As addiction progresses, the addict becomes more and more disabled by the addiction. In this progression, family members feel compelled to take on increasingly more of the addict’s roles and responsibilities. They often take on the job of “parenting” the adult addict.
Family members, trying so desperately to fix the problem, often feel like they have lost themselves in the process or have become someone that they never wanted to be. They experience a wide range of significant emotional and mental health symptoms in the process.
The addict feels compelled to continue to the use the chemical in the face of negative consequences. Family members are similarly “compelled”. They observe someone that they love losing control over his/her life. They feel that the “must” do something to prevent it from happening or to fix it. This compulsion to take control is a typical part of the family dynamics of addiction. In a family system, this shift in responsibilities marks a pathological adjustment to the behavioral, emotional, relationship, spiritual, and physical changes of the addict as s/he progresses in his/her addiction.
As the addict continues to decline, the system incorporates the addict’s changes into the structure and function of that system. Family members, in their attempts to solve the problems of the addiction, try reasonable problem solving behaviors that do not work on addiction. Their efforts to solve those problems amount to adjusting to the pathology of the addiction in a way that tends to maintain the dysfunction. These problem solving efforts are labeled “enabling” because they enable the addict to continue his/her drinking/using behavior by removing the “natural, negative consequences” of that behavior.
This does not mean that family members cause the addiction. Nor are they responsible for the addict remaining in the addiction. The family member is not responsible for another person’s disease or recovery from it. Yet in the disease, the family member becomes hopelessly entangled in the destructive family dynamics of addiction.
In order for family members to recover their health and control over their own lives, they must detach with love from the addict. It helps family members to understand how their compulsion to fix the addict, helps perpetuate the problem, rather than solving those problems. The attempts of family members to “fix” the problems are viewed by the addict as “control”.
In obsessing about the addict, family members lose themselves in the process. Family members often describe not knowing what they are feeling. They often question their own sanity, especially in a struggle to find out “the truth” about a suspected lie.
Family members often find themselves locked in a cycle of obsessing about the addict’s behavior, emotionally reacting, and compulsively attempting to make them change. Family members are certain that they know what is best for the addict, or what they need to do, to solve the problem. They invest emotionally in their solutions and feel compelled to impose those solutions on the addict. Family members continue the same problem solving behavior despite evidence that it is not working. No other possible solutions are considered; largely because family members are so invested in their solutions that they cannot imagine that there could be another way.
Detachment is a tool that helps break that pattern. Detachment does not have to involve anger. Detachment with love does not involve a hostile withdrawal of love or support. It does not involve a hopeless or desperate acceptance of the unacceptable.
Detachment with love is about mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically letting go of unhealthy entanglements with another person’s life and responsibilities. Detachment with love involves letting go of problems that are not yours to solve. In family addiction, this detachment is about relinquishing responsibility over that which you have no authority and no power. It implies taking responsibility for one’s own issues, feelings, behaviors, and happiness. Detachment with loves means to stop removing the natural negative consequences of the addict’s behavior and to allow them to suffer those consequences.
Detachment with love allows family members to take better care of self. By detaching with love, you free yourself up to “care about” the addict, instead of “taking care of” them. For the family in recovery, “detachment with love” means letting go of the compulsion to be responsible for the addict. It allows a family member to return to being the person s/he was before s/he became someone else in the process of trying to take responsibility for the addict’s addiction.