By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-C, Bellevue Christian Counseling
References: Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening by Robert J. Meyers, Ph.D & Brenda L. Wolfe, Ph.D
This is the second article in a two-part set about improving life with a substance abuser. This article focuses on common goals people living with substance abusers have. It will help you specify how you hope to improve your situation, and suggest ways for doing that.
Although the language used in the book speaks to alcoholics, the principles apply to every kind of substance abuser.
As you learned in the first article, the most important part of goal setting is to know exactly what you want. It is not enough to say, “I want my life to get better.” You must identify ways that would mark improvement such as having family dinners a few times a week, yearly vacations with your spouse, or to finally finish a big project you have been dreaming about.
As you go through the following goals, think about specific actions that will help you achieve them:
“Help my loved one get Sober”
First you need to define what “sober” means. Do you mean never using again, or drinking only in moderation? How do you want to help them do this– by removing yourself from their life completely so as to no longer enable them, or by figuring out a better way to encourage them to pursue sobriety? You may need to alter your own drinking habits (if you drink). You may have to learn how to change your own behavior so that your haranguing doesn’t encourage them to use. (70)
“Reduce the risk of violence in my Family”
What kind of violence are you dealing with now? The safest course of action may be to get out of there, rather than try to change it. If you can stay, you may want to learn how to avoid escalating fights with your loved one. It can be tempting to have the last word, but it can come at the cost of uncontrollable arguments or even violence. Here is another article about how to deal with conflict in your family. (Christian Counseling View: Domestic Violence Is Not Your Fault)
“Reduce the emotional stress in my Life”
“Before you try to generate a goal to reduce the emotional stress in your life, review the different areas of your life for stressors. Think about your relationship with your drinker, other family members, your work, social life, and health behaviors. Once you have a reasonably complete picture of what is causing your stress, then you can figure out what would be most effective to focus on and what you can change.” (73)
In order to care for your substance abuser, you must take care of yourself. If you always put solving their problems and cleaning up their messes first, you will inevitably burn out and be no help to anybody. Practice self-care. What relaxes and refreshes you? Figure out these activities, and make time to do them. Maybe you want to start setting aside one hour a day to enjoy a hobby. Schedule an outing with people who are not your substance abuser.
“Get my loved one into Treatment”
People use in order to feel better about unpleasant parts of their lives. They steer clear of treatment because they are not convinced sobriety will be an improvement over how they deal with their problems now. Their Concerned Significant Other often does not do a good job selling them on it. Substance abuse brings out the ugly qualities of everyone involved. The substance abuser becomes their less appealing intoxicated self. The CSO becomes a sobbing or shrieking or snarky adversary because they do not understand how their loved one could be so selfish and keep using, in spite of the negative influence it has on their family.
The user starts using to deal with one problem, and keeps using to cope with you. The CRAFT methods discussed in “Get Your Loved One Sober” have been proven to help people encourage their substance abusing loved ones to pursue, and stick with, sobriety. This is because you learn how to help them deal with their problems without substances, and show them you will not spend time with them while they are using. “You [use] the relationship you already have with your drinker to gently make her want to change because there are more benefits to changing them than remaining drunk.” (74)
“Learn how to support my loved one’s Sobriety and Treatment”
Just as you need to change your behavior to help your loved one pursue treatment, you will probably also need to make some changes to make them want to stick with it. Returning to circumstances they were accustomed to using in, or may have even motivated them to use, will make it that much harder for them to stay sober. (74)
Christian Counseling for setting Goals
Pursuing a goal is hard work. When you sit down to plan how you can accomplish what you want, the amount of effort required can so intimidate you that you want to give it up altogether. But scripture tells us that hard work pays off, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” (Prov. 21:5 NIV)
In the case of people living with substance abusers, a professional Christian counselor can help you encourage your loved one to pursue treatment.