In Epidemics, Hippocrates said, “Make a habit of two things–to help, or at least to do no harm.” How can we apply that idea to helping family and friends with addictions?
When we care about individuals who are trying to overcome addictions, we often face dilemmas in how best to help them. For instance, if I help someone by providing money for some critical need, am I supporting recovery by preventing some degree of “disaster”? Or am I just shielding the person from negative consequences that might motivate lasting behavior change? The latter, of course, is AKA the E word: Enabling. This article will identify some things to consider when you face that kind of decision.
What is support? I suggest that support, at its root, consists of two things: paying attention and active helping. I could pay attention to a friend who wants to quit smoking by listening to her talk about her cravings to smoke and how she copes with these cravings. I could actively help her by informing her of new tobacco cessation products (if she was unfamiliar with them). I could take her to a SMART Recovery® meeting (especially if she felt awkward going alone), or spend a non-smoking evening with her (when her other options were to be alone or be with smokers).
People observe their behavior, and evaluate it in terms of how well they like it. If we did not do this, we would have no way of improving how we act. When people seek help in therapy, in self-help groups, or by reading self-help books, they are not merely observing and thinking of their behaviors and deciding how to make adjustments. Typically, their thinking interferes with their ability to adjust and often they’re mainly aware of their misery.
REBT attempts to show you that (1) events do not automatically create your thoughts, (2) events do not cause your emotions, and (3) by changing your thinking, you will see things differently, and then your thoughts and emotions will aid you instead of interfering with your actions.
Let’s say you failed at something important to you. Compare the following two sets of thoughts regarding how they make you feel, how truthful they are, and how well they help you adjust.
1. I failed and that’s bad. Maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention to what was going on to prevent my failure. I regret that.
2. I should not have failed. It’s awful to fail as I did. Because I did fail, I’m a loser; I can’t stand myself.
Goals are important for everyone. Thinking on and reviewing goals are important both before and after you quit using an addictive substance.
What are goals? You can think of goals as being what you want. Generally your goals are happiness and survival. More specifically, you may want a better job or a happier marriage. When you use addicting substances, you seek relief from stress and misery, a high, or fun with friends. When thinking of quitting, you think of getting rid of some of the problems you’ve developed and living a better life.
What about later, when you are well on your way to recovery? You’ll do well to have some goals that are long-term interests. Many people try improving their relationships with others, finding a better job (as mentioned above), or finding a hobby in which they can absorb themselves.
Often this isn’t easy. Addiction creates such a focus on short-term pleasures and solutions to problems that you may not readily find yourself succeeding at enjoying yourself when you quit. Here are some questions you may ask yourself to see how well you are achieving your goals. Occasionally ask them to yourself, be honest with how you answer them, and see what you find.