Being There: When Loved Ones Fight Addictions

I am like many, if not most Americans. I know somebody who has or is fighting an addiction. And while the person I know has been clean and sober for years, I am only now beginning to make sense of the experience. Being there, holding somebody else’s hand as they battle their demons, is an experience that is both trying and deeply personal. I do not claim to speak for anybody but myself when I write this.

The thing that struck me recently, was the importance that my loved one put on my presence. At the time I was up to my neck in worries. My own life was not going as planned and I was hurting. For me, having this person around was a way to escape the loneliness and isolation. For him, it was a way to connect. A distraction from the relentless drumbeat of addiction. When we were together he didn’t have to think about the things that drove his addiction. He could focus on other things. Important things. Meaningful and beautiful things. He could feel appreciated. He could put idle hands to work.

For him, being here was a refuge.

The rule was, if he wasn’t clean and sober he couldn’t come over. And of course, you can’t be clean and sober if you go on a bender all night. And so the promise of feeling useful and appreciated and loved became the thing that got him through the night.

We never talked much about his addiction while he was recovering. We occasionally spoke about the milestones he crossed and the way his health and finances improved. But, we never talked about the day to day struggles. I knew they were there. And, if he wanted to talk I was willing to listen. But like I said, I had my own shit. And mostly we were holding hands and weathering our individual storms.

When he fell off the wagon, I told him I knew. I didn’t berate him. He was already disappointed in himself, and I had had enough disappointment in my life. I wasn’t about to add to that cycle.

Sometimes he would tell me how that I changed his life. I still don’t believe that. He did all of the hard work. I was just there. I wanted what was best for him because (I think) I am a decent human being. I don’t want to see people struggle or fail. He says my sincerity was like magic. I don’t know if I believe that either.

What I do know is that being there matters. He was there when I needed a friend, albeit a damaged friend. Maybe I was there for him too. Maybe that was the difference that made the last attempt at sobriety the most successful one.

Like I said, years have passed. Neither of us is in that place anymore. Life has gotten better for us both. We still keep in touch. But I always remember that sometimes the best thing you can do for anybody is to simply be there for them. You can’t fix them. Don’t try.

Sometimes that makes all the difference.

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