One of the most difficult concepts for families of addicts or alcoholics to understand is the idea of “detachment with love.” The concept stems from the philosophy of AlAnon, the 12-step program for loved ones of alcoholics, which advises family members to stop enabling their loved ones and encourages them to put their attention on their own lives. By separating one’s own life from that of the alcoholic or drug addict, family members are able to let go of guilt, control and enabling, which in the long run contributes to an addicted individual’s recovery. Letting go with love means loving both oneself and the addict.
In order to detach with love, it helps to understand that the alcoholic or addict has a diseased brain, and that the behaviors exhibited while drinking or using drugs are the result of chemical, functional and structural changes in the brain caused by substance abuse. Love the individual. Despise the disease.
Three Ways To Detach With Love
Much of loving detachment depends on the tone. Express love and concern, but stand firm on boundaries. Keep it simple, say as little as possible. Don’t argue.
Attachment: Lying to an employer about a loved one’s repeated absences.
Detachment with love: Letting a loved one know his or her employer called and providing the phone number for calling back.
Attachment: Paying a loved one’s bills because he or she refuses to work or can’t get a job.
Detachment with love: Placing the bills in plain sight, or forwarding them to the loved one’s home.
Attachment: Fixing things a loved one has broken in a drunken or drugged state.
Detachment with love: Leaving things to be fixed by the loved one who broke them.
Know, too, that you can’t force an addict or alcoholic into recovery with threats, pleas or manipulation. Recovery comes when a loved one is ready, not when everyone else is ready. Detaching with love allows family members to go on with their lives until a loved one is willing.