taking my own advice
Anyone who knows me knows I used to be really good at giving people advice. Wait, did I say “used to be?” Well, yesterday is in the past so I can use those words and still consider them the truth, right? I haven’t given anyone any advice today – at least not yet.
I will admit it’s easier to give advice than to receive it. The idea that someone might tell me something that I did not think of myself, used to stir a defensive reaction within me. But I was happy to convey my own advice to anyone. Oops, did I say “was?” Honestly, breaking the habit of giving advice will be a lifetime journey for me. I get better at it each day but it is still my unconscious response to many situations.
As the family member of a person with the disease of addiction, handing out my advice was constant reaction. Who could blame me? I was watching someone I dearly loved unravel before my eyes. I was witnessing a life spiraling down, out of control, with wanton disregard for his health and safety. Fear and worry were at the heart of all my thoughts every day. I barely saw anything or anyone else. I was with my addict family member in my mind and in my heart even when he was not physically present. If I say I was consumed with fixing and solving his problems, that still doesn’t adequately describe my obsession.
I firmly believed that I could fix the problem. All I had to do was find the right program, doctor, therapist, or treatment. I was convinced I could say the right words at the right time and he would listen and change. I needed to be constantly doing something to address the problems in his life, desperately trying to reach through the barriers of his disease, hoping he would listen to me and change his path.
My happiness – or lack of – was reliant on the ups and downs of his life. And when an addict is allowing the disease to be in control, there are more valleys than there are hills.
Was my advice effective? Rarely. I lacked the understanding that I could not effectively change another person’s life. That power to change was in his hands, not mine. Eventually, I realized I did not have the experience to really offer anything to my addict family member because I had never experienced the disease myself.
I started to take my own advice and apply it to MY life. All the time I had spent searching for the right program, treatment, therapist, and support group for him, I now turned towards doing the same for myself. Slowly – oh so slowly! – I began to change my obsession with fixing someone else’s life to focusing on my own needs and learning how to take care of myself. I came to recognize that giving advice when I had not been asked was sending an unspoken message that my addicted family member could not figure things out on his own. I discovered how to love him without needing him to change, and how to encourage him to find his way through his own personal strength.
Addiction, and the family dynamics that occur as a result, are complex and can easily lead to feeling isolated from friends and family. Stepping out for support and engaging with others to find healing and information shined a light into my isolation. With that light came the well-being, health and happiness I had wanted all along. Was it quick and easy and over and done? No. We are all a work-in-progress.
And since I said I haven’t totally changed my habit of giving advice, it seems fitting to offer some now. At the weekly Wits End meeting there are many people who have traveled similar roads and have the understanding and empathy to listen and offer encouragement and support. My advice is pretty simple – don’t struggle alone with addiction – whether it is present in yourself or in someone you love. Step up and out for support and help. Do for yourself what you would advise another to do.