Sometimes you face a certain dilemma when dealing with addicts and alcoholics. There are probably a ton of different issues you might face but in particular I am talking about the balance between:
* Kicking an addict out on the street versus letting them stay even though they violated your boundaries again.
* Bending over backward and doing unreasonable things for an addict based on the hope that they will finally follow through with their promise to get some help.
* Not enforcing certain consequences because you think they might damage an addict’s chances at getting or staying clean.
I have faced these types of dilemmas recently and I’ve been struggling to find the answers. It becomes a constant game of “what if?” for me.
I have also noticed that different people can take a different path in any given situation. For example, I’m pretty sure that most of the experts in Al-Anon would say that in the above examples that you should always lean towards “tough love,” and enforce firm boundaries. But on the other hand, I know a lot of people in recovery who tend to error on the other side, and grant too much leniency when helping other addicts.
I have now been in recovery for over 8 years, and working directly with recovering addicts for about 4 years. Here are some things I have learned:
1) You really can’t help some people. If they want to self destruct, you cannot prevent this. You can’t talk them out of it.
2) Sometimes it pays off to grant leniency with a struggling addict. But not very often. You might cut them a break when they screw up in early recovery, or you might let it slide if they violate a boundary or break a rule. Maybe one time out of ten this is the right choice. But more often it is not, and the addict who is flirting with disaster will almost always cook their own goose in some other way, if you give them the freedom to do it.
3) It takes patience and practice to work with recovering addicts. Over time, you develop a clear intuition for those who are not yet ready to change. The devastating thing is that you will become hopeful about certain people who you think have a very good chance of making it in recovery, and so often, they will relapse as well. Therefore, it is important to always have hope, regardless of what you think a person’s chances are of making it in recovery. Sometimes we get surprised, and it is rare that we can predict with any consistency who will become a success story.
Because of these things, you have to stay a bit guarded if you work with addicts and alcoholics in the long run. Maintain hope, but be realistic. Stay positive and always encourage people to try and change.
Sometimes that is the best we can do……