Staying Power and Forgiveness: Keys to Supporting people with Addiction
Saturday, 12 March 2011 @ 3:55 PM
David Taylor-Klaus in Conflict Resolution, Health, Life Purpose, awareness, choice, friends, integrity, life lesson, live fully, respect, responsibility, stay

I have participated in one intervention in my life. It was sad and uplifting, and I recall the simultaneous feelings of power and powerlessness. Happily, my very dear friend has defied the odds to date. He has been ‘clean’ for quite some time now.

But let me tell you, there were a lot of years in there that were touch and go, to say the least. It felt very much like I had lost my old friend. He was immersed in a world that had nothing good to offer him, and was daily robbing him of anything worth living for.

Addictions like that don’t happen in a vacuum. For him, there were clear life circumstances that led to loneliness and depression, loss and disillusion. He started to use drugs and sex to feel something – anything – that would replace an inner hopelessness. It started as a misguided way of seeking stimulation, and spiraled out of control.

When a small group of us recognized that our friend was in serious trouble, we joined forces to intervene. We met with him directly, and reached out to his family. A plan was put in place. But it fell through quickly, lost to the seduction of denial and the power of public appearances. There were differing opinions about the level of support he really needed.  Let’s just say it wasn’t a quick fix. The crisis continued for another year or so. He hadn’t hit rock-bottom, yet.

During my friend’s crisis I had ample opportunity to think about my responsibilities as his friend. Addiction doesn’t only happen to an individual, of course, and if you’re willing to step outside of the realm of judgment, then there is a lot to learn about human behavior and relationships. I learned most about staying power, and forgiveness.

Severe addiction causes a lot of pain and guilt -- and not just for the person with addiction. As much as I wanted to see my friend reclaim his life, it grew difficult over time to stay engaged and committed to our friendship. I was always concerned, but I had to strike a balance between staying connected, and keeping a safe distance. He was clearly self-destructing. I didn’t feel comfortable around him, and couldn’t let my kids visit his home. It’s sorta like trying to save a drowning person – if you really want to help, you can’t get too close or the drowning victim will drag you under the water with him.

In all honesty, it’s hard not to get disgusted with addiction. When you don’t suffer from addiction, it’s easy to forget that addicts are not willfully making terrible choices – there is an underlying issue that is interfering with sage decision-making. Interfering in an epic way.

So, the challenge for me was to STAY – to stay connected to my friend, to be a friend to him even when he was unable to be a friend to me, much less to himself. A life-long friendship is much like a marriage – that whole “better or worse” thing can be hard as hell. But, usually, when a friend is in trouble and behaving badly, THAT is when they need you the most.

Staying engaged was an intense practice of Don Miguel Ruiz’s third agreement, “don’t take things personally.” In order to stay connected, I had to get to the point that I was ready to let him go if that was his choice. It wasn’t about me, or whether he was listening to my ‘advice.’ I had to figure out how to respect him as a person without judgment, despite his incredible absence of good judgment.

That practice of staying was a huge life lesson for me. It was hard to love someone and support someone even when he was making really awful choices – to stay connected without being so close as to put myself at risk.

The other lesson for me, besides testing my staying power, was about forgiveness. I had to learn not to indulge him, not to enable him, but to forgive him his humanness – to love who he is as a person, despite his behavior.

It’s hard to find forgiveness for someone whom you ‘think’ should ‘know better.’ It was hard not to see him as incredibly selfish, willfully hurtful, and just a lousy friend. Forgiveness after his recovery was not the challenging part. It was forgiveness while in the throes of addiction that was a true test of my integrity.

So, here’s What I Know: having someone in your life with an addiction offers opportunities to learn to help without enabling, to support without saving, and to care for others without sacrificing yourself. It is NOT easy for anyone involved. But two perspectives offer a lot of assistance: focus on Staying committed to the person without getting too close, and finding forgiveness for the person while holding his behaviors as intolerable.

My friend has rediscovered his sense of purpose and is living life again, fully. With pure joy I celebrate his successes as he continues to slowly climb out of that deep hole. His happy ending was hard-earned, and he continues to work for it every day. For my part, I like to think I helped … by being a friend who encouraged him, stayed with him (if not too close), and accepted his humanity.

This blog also appears as part of my regular column on

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