Practicing Detachment

Here’s an excerpt from entitled How Can I Help an Alcoholic or Drug Addict? I found it timely given that Jerri is starting to acknowledge she still has substance abuse issues. But I also think this is applicable to all of us who love someone with a brain disorder. It’s about practicing detachment.

One of the key principles that will help you in dealing with a struggling alcoholic or drug addict is detachment. The idea behind it is to separate yourself emotionally from the damaging effects of your relationship with the addict or alcoholic. It is not the same as complete disassociation or abandoning the relationship. The idea is to care for them while detaching emotionally. You can care for them but not feel like you are responsible for them. In other words, you are specifically trying to not get all wrapped up emotionally by an addict’s destructive behaviors.

This is difficult.

Practicing detachment should make it easier over time. Here are some things that you can do in order to practice detachment with the struggling addict in your life:

  • Don’t do things that they should be doing themselves.
  • Don’t bend over backwards to rescue them or save them from natural consequences.
  • Don’t cover up for their mistakes or embarrassing situations.
  • Don’t rescue them from crisis or financial situations.
  • Don’t try to fix them.
  • Let go of any guilt you may have about them.
  • Detachment is not about denying your emotions. If someone close to you dies, for example, you will probably feel sad. You can’t choose this feeling. It simply is. But we do have the power to affect the intensity of this feeling, by focusing on the positive aspects of the situation. We can also change our thinking in an attempt to eradicate irrational beliefs that might be contributing to our emotional turmoil.

    The goal is not to go without emotions, the goal is to achieve some level of emotional stability. We are detaching from the negative, irrational thoughts that stir up our emotions, like the guilt we might have if we think someone’s addiction is our fault.

    For me, I have to work hard at not doing things for Jerri that she can do herself. One technique I’m learning to apply is what I call “delayed response.” Jerri’s first instinct when she needs help is to call me with directions on what I can do to fix her problem. As if. I’m learning that if I don’t respond immediately, she can usually come up with some creative solution that doesn’t involve me. Yay! Take this week for example. Her refrigerator died the day after we’d made a grocery run. She called me and left a frantic voice message around 12:30 pm.

    “I need you to bring a cooler over and some ice. I’m going to lose all my groceries. Help! I can’t afford to do that–I don’t have any money left to buy more!!”

    It was Sunday and I’d turned my ringer off. I’d told Jerri on Saturday when we were at Walmart that I intended to stay in and do nothing the next day. I intended to take the whole day of rest thing literally. When I checked my phone at 7 pm, I saw four messages from Jerri all within a half hour of each other. Uh oh. The last one was at 2:30 pm – I listened to it first.

    “OK. I don’t need you to do anything now. Bronwyn let me put some stuff in her refrigerator and Mike took the rest of it. He doesn’t have hardly any food in his. I just hope they replace my refrigerator quickly. I don’t know if I can trust them not to eat my food.”

    I immediately called and congratulated her on her quick-thinking and problem-solving skills. This, BTW, is call “positive reinforcement” and I learned it at Puppy Kindergarten 🙂 (Hey, you gotta pick up life skills wherever you can find them!) I also told her how sorry I was that this had happened which is sometimes what we want more than actual help when we’re in a jam–someone to commiserate.

    Anyone else out there practicing detachment?



    4 Comments on “Practicing Detachment”

    1. […] Practicing Detachment ( Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

    2. Loads, girl, loads. Great post, great tips for handling – and helping – anyone in need of some problem-solving skills. I read somewhere recently that studies have shown kids do much better in school if they are left staring at the problem on the math board until they work through it, than when they are patted on the head and told they can sit down – with no resolution.

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