Watching someone you love struggle with drugs or alcohol – or both – comes with a LOT of feelings. We may feel anger, resentment, or sadness. Sometimes all at once.

It’s not all bad, though. There are those moments, that tiny sliver of hope and happiness that you feel when your loved one tells you that this time will be different. They love you, and they’re sorry. Things are going to change.

That feels amazing.

Until the next time they steal from you, lie to you, or you don’t see them for so long you start to wonder if they are even alive anymore. And all those terrible feelings come back. It’s like a rug is pulled right from under you. It’s the proverbial rollercoaster of emotions. And it’s a daily reality.

Can you be helpful to your loved one in addiction if you haven’t indeed forgiven them? Click To Tweet

This is not something I talk about a lot, but even though I’m not in recovery, I have experienced addiction as a spectator. I come from a long line of alcoholics and addicts who I am now mostly estranged. I narrowly escaped a very different kind of life.

What I haven’t escaped, however, is the emotional baggage I carry from growing up around drugs and alcohol. That nagging feeling of should I forgive my mother for putting me through all that crap? Or an even better question, can I forgive her? How does this whole forgiveness thing work?

How do we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see things from their side? Can you move forward with your life or an even better question can you be helpful to your loved one in addiction if you haven’t indeed forgiven them?

How to Truly Help Your Loved One (And Yourself) Recover

Empathy Vs. Sympathy

First, let’s talk empathy. A lot of people confuse empathy with sympathy, and they are VERY different.

No one knows more about empathy than our favorite storyteller and shame expert, Brene Brown.

Like most things in life, it’s so simple. Expressing empathy is a simple concept, but it’s not easy. When someone you love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, it can be incredibly hard to empathize with them. Secondly, it can be hard to see past all of your pain and anger to help someone else deal with their own.

There is this excellent quote from Buddha, and it goes:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

So it seems that to really empathize with someone we have to let go of our anger and frustrations. How do we do that?

How to Truly Help Your Loved One (And Yourself) Recover

Letting Go Of Anger

As it turns out, holding onto anger, pain, and resentment can keep you back and has some severe mental and physical health implications. There was a study by the Erasmus University researchers asked participants to reflect either on a time when they had forgiven someone or on a time they had not forgiven someone. Afterward, subjects were asked to jump five times in the air as high as they could without bending their knees. Those who reflected on forgiveness jumped 30 centimeters on average; those who thought about holding a grudge only jumped 22.

So it entirely literally lifts a weight off your shoulders.

We also found this sort of social experiment through Soul Pancake where a group of people was asked to write down the name of someone that they had been holding a grudge against, detail what that person had done to them, and then subsequently “forgive” them. And then you’re supposed to read it out loud while looking into a mirror. They found that on average the group’s overall happiness increased by 8%. Not bad.

 How to Truly Help Your Loved One (And Yourself) Recover

Forgiving Our Loved Ones

On the flip side – you have people in recovery who are wondering, you know how can I get my family or my friends to understand what I’ve been through. You know, and say their loved ones are going to meetings and groups and they’re trying to do their best to help but how will they ever understand what I’ve gone through? And it takes a lot of work on both sides.

I was listening to one of my favorite authors and podcasters, Cheryl Strayed, who knows a thing or two about forgiveness. This was from episode seventy-seven of Dear Sugars, and  Cheryl said,

“I’ve had friends say to me before how can I support you in bearing this weight? And those friends who look at you and say that they’re going to be enormously helpful to you in your healing. Whether they’ve had the same experiences or not.”

I think Johann Hari put it correctly, too, when he said this in his Ted Talk called Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong – which is an incredible Ted Talk. If you haven’t heard it yet – make a note.

“And what I’ve tried to do now, and I can’t tell you I do it consistently and I can’t tell you it’s easy, is to say to the addicts in my life that I want to deepen the connection with them, to say to them, I love you whether you’re using or you’re not. I love you, whatever state you’re in, and if you need me, I’ll come and sit with you because I love you and I don’t want you to be alone or to feel alone.”

In conclusion, it’s just about being there and even if you don’t know what to do, what to say, or how to help – just say that you want to. That you’re there for them. Break down the wall and allow yourself to connect with your loved one.

Listen to the whole episode here:

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