The Merry-Go-Round of Conversing With an Addicted Loved One

Connection. You KNOW it’s important. From toddlers to teens, we’re told to try to truly connect with our children.

So we do. We try constantly to let them know we are here, and we care. As adults, the dynamic changes into trying to not being so motherly and being just friends, in a way. We thrive in being connected to our adult children. It gives us a feeling of all those little ducklings in a row, not necessarily behind us crossing the street, but out in the world, doing their thing.

When those children become dependant on a substance it twists their brain into believing anything the drug tells them to.

As with everything addiction spreads it’s volcanic ash onto; this dynamic quickly evolves back into nagging mother- disobedient child.

My mom used to always say:

“Never argue with a drunk”

It was all funny until now. 30 some years later, trying to convince my 34-year-old son -35 in 4 days- that his thinking is thwarted. As a nurse, I should know better. Alzheimer’s patients can’t be told they are unsafe to be alone- they think YOU’RE the crazy one. I swear that’s how my son acts. Of course, that is a form of gaslighting in addiction.

Banyan Treatment Center ( I have no affiliation or recommendation) Describes it this way:

"While gaslighting can occur in relationships involving addicts, it does not mean the individual is evil or doesn’t care about others. Addiction has the potential to completely twist a person’s mind until it’s only focused on getting high. This disease is characterized by an inability to control one's use of drugs or alcohol and the uncontrollable desire for these substances. A person who’s suffering from this disease may have trouble with various things in addition to gaslighting. Most people with substance use disorders will go to great lengths to sustain their habits."

That’s all. Once you understand that the hijacked brain will do ANYTHING to get what it needs, you can begin to not take it personally and see the person as extremely ill. Of course, you can’t throw that at them either or it will start a new defense mode/crazy-making conversation.

Good advice from a mom in CA:

  1. Do not try to rationalize with a drug brain, you will never win. You would make more progress by beating your head against the wall.
  2. Do not state the obvious, you need a job, you will never amount to anything, you are throwing your life away, etc. remember job equals money equals drugs. Get them clean first then the job will come.
  3. When the addict tries to pick a fight and tell you every wrong thing you ever did, do not respond and most importantly DO NOT BELIEVE IT. It is what I call the drug game, pick a fight, say bad things, you respond, it escalates, they get angry and leave, they use more drugs. I used to sing songs in my head or just stare at her blankly like she was speaking a foreign language, or say I know what you are trying to do and you can’t hurt me or suck me in, they stop real fast when you do not play. If I thought I was going to be provoked, I would wipe my hand across my mouth and that motion kept me quiet.
  4. If they use the child as manipulation, take the power back by calling CPS or serve them with guardian papers. It stops them cold in their tracks.
  5. If they yell at you on the phone, tell them you love them and when they can stop yelling call back, then hang up.
  6. Do not be guilted into giving them money for food. The hard, cold truth is addicts rarely need food. Just tell yourself if they can get money for drugs, they can get money for food.
  7. Addicts smell fear or weakness and take advantage of it. look them straight in the eye, never look away, never show fear. They know your biggest fear is that you think you are a bad Mom. Tell them when you knew better you did better and now you know better.
  8. Do not make threats you do not intend to keep. Do not say I am going to kick you out if you do not mean it.
  9. Really listen to them. Let them talk without judgement. Tell them they can tell you anything and you will still love them no matter how horrible it is. Let them know you no longer intend to fight. You plan to change the paradigm because what you were doing didn’t work.
  10. End every conversation with, I love you no matter what. You never know when it will be your last conversation.

A common theme among moms here GUILT — that we’ve somehow contributed to this horrible situation. While responses like “didn’t cause it, can’t control it, can’t cure it” are true, a deeper understanding of “false guilt” was helpful to me. Our enemy uses false guilt so effectively on us!

From Focus on the Family:

False guilt has nothing to do with what’s true and accurate, nor is it related to true repentance. Rather, it is usually the fear of disapproval in disguise, and this problem especially hounds people who have a hyperactive or malfunctioning conscience. This problem can be especially hard to decipher among Christians, who take matters of conscience seriously and who might be prone to find reasons to feel guilt where there are none.

This tricky emotion puts us on the hamster wheel of life, a never-ending treadmill of uncertainty. There is no pleasing this task master because there is always another chore to fulfill, another person to try very hard to please—even when pleasing her is sinful. People driven by false guilt often feel that they have to go through life perfectly so that they can avoid criticism and disappointing others. A quick look at the life of Christ proves otherwise: He was perfect and yet Jew and Gentle alike still plotted His murder.

False Evidence Appearing Real
If false guilt were a chariot, then fear of disapproval from others is the whip upon the back of the horses pulling it. A very helpful acronym for this kind of fear is: False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear often has us imagining the worst possible outcome to a problem when in reality the outcome is rarely as bad as fear tells us it’s going to be. Fear is often a liar.

False guilt consumes our thinking while awake and asleep, and creates in our lives both spiritual and psychological cataracts, stopping us from seeing our relationships with God, others and ourselves clearly. Through false guilt, we lie to and bare false witness against ourselves. It’s still a sin. We judge ourselves inaccurately and always too harshly. We become like the Pharisees whom Jesus chastised and corrected with the strongest language throughout his ministry (Matt. 23). Like the Pharisees, who represented false and abusive religion, false guilt is also abusive. It puts heavy burdens upon our backs, burdens we were never intended to shoulder. False guilt is self-abuse.People who suffer from false guilt nearly always have difficulty being truthful with how they think, feel and act. They have great difficulty giving others Vitamin N–telling people “no.” Charles Spurgeon, British Reformed Baptist preacher and author, recognized how important this fact is in a person’s spiritual growth when he told his students, “Learn how to say ‘no.’ It will do you more good than learning Latin.”

Tragic Optimisim
Compare the misery from false guilt to the beneficial nature of healthy guilt, or what Christian counselors sometimes call godly sorrow. Victor Frankl, founder of Logotherapy, one of the most muscular and real-world attempts to make sense of life’s suffering (Frankl was a Holocaust survivor), praised guilt as one of three components that make the case for what he called “Tragic Optimism.” He said that the tragic triad of life are pain, guilt and death. Yet if handled properly, they can spur a person toward abiding meaning and purpose in life. Through guilt, he wrote, people have the potential to change for the better. Healthy guilt is a gatekeeper and boundary-maker. It helps us discover where we shouldn’t go in life, what we shouldn’t do. And it helps us make amends when we do cause others pain and related hardships. Guilt helps us find our way back toward what’s right and repair the torn portions of our lives.

Someone who was once very close to me was also a sociopath, one of those rare souls who are incapable of feeling guilt and remorse. What was astounding about this woman was her inability to express empathy toward others—especially those who she abused. Today she is miserable, alone and sometimes homeless. By looking at guilt’s opposite, we see how valuable healthy guilt is to maintaining the virtue of empathy and common decency. Without guilt, we would be counted among the most despised and wretched people. Thankfully, we feel guilt toward others because we understand that our actions somehow depleted another’s God-given value and dignity. We should treat each other well, and guilt reminds us when we don’t, helping us to avoid sin, the result of which is death in various forms.

For relief and healing, we need to put our guilty feelings under the microscope of our sober minds and see if they are real or counterfeit. One of the best ways to do this is to quiet our minds, close our eyes, breathe deeply, then ask ourselves, “Am I really guilty of what I’m telling myself, or is this another case of false evidence appearing real?” As one who has been hindered by false guilt, this exercise has been invaluable to me…….”- Paul Coughlin

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Samantha Waters

A unique perspective on the world from a small town girl turned big city nurse. Now a grandmother to 6 gregarious, resplendent boys and 5 endearing, magical girls, she strives the make the world a more understanding, pleasant place to experience this intense thing called life.

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