CARETAKING AND DETACHMENT
Even as a child I had grown-up responsibilities, so it is no wonder that I grew up being a care-taker. It seemed so comfortable, so automatic to think of others first, and to give myself completely to whatever crisis was at hand without a thought for myself. When I became aware that this was not one of my most admirable traits but was instead a form of self destructiveness, I was horrified. I set out to wipe out all such behavior and attitudes. I was determined to become as self-involved and uncaring as possible.
Fortunately, I failed to make such a radical change. Today, years later, I’m still a caretaker, and I probably always will be. But now I consider it a valued characteristic, a gift of my upbringing that can greatly enhance my life if I don’t carry it to the extreme. Although I no longer do things for others that they could do for themselves, I still try to be nurturing to them as well as myself. Al-Anon helps me to find some balance.
Today I will try not to condemn parts of myself while accepting other parts. I am a composite, and I love myself best when I embrace all that I am. “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents, and I lay them both at His feet.” 54
Early one morning I stopped to watch a colony of bees. A little intimidated by the frenzied motion and intense buzzing, I reminded myself that if I didn’t poke my nose into their hive, I wouldn’t get stung. If I chose to maintain a safe distance from a dangerous situation, I would be fine.
To me, that is exactly the lesson that detachment teaches. The choice is mine. When I sense that a situation is dangerous to my physical, mental, or spiritual well-being, I can put extra distance between myself and the situation. Sometimes this means that I don’t get too emotionally involved in a problem; sometimes I may physically leave the room or end the conversation; and sometimes I try to put spiritual space between myself and another person’s addiction or behavior. This doesn’t mean I stop loving the person, only that I acknowledge the risks to my own well-being and make choices to take care of myself.
Now I know how to end an argument by simply refusing to participate, to turn to my Higher Power for help with whatever I am powerless to change, to say, “No,” when I mean no, and to step back from insanity rather than diving into it. Detachment is a loving gift I continue to give to myself and to others. “If a man carries his own lantern he need not fear darkness.” 12
Detachment. At first it may sound cold and rejecting, not loving at all. But I have come to believe that detachment is actually a wonderful gift: I am allowing my loved ones the privilege and opportunity of being themselves.
I do not wish to interfere with anyone’s opportunities to discover the joy and self-confidence that can accompany personal achievements. If I’m constantly intervening to protect them from painful experiences, I also do them a great disservice. As Mark Twain said, “A man who carries a by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”
I find it painful to watch another person suffer or head down a road which I believe leads to pain. Many of my attempts to rescue others have been prompted by my own desire to avoid this pain. Today I’m learning to experience my own fear, grief, and anguish. This helps me to be willing to trust the same growth process in others, because I know firsthand about the gifts it can bring.
Sometimes it is more loving to allow someone else to experience the natural consequences of their actions, even when it is painful for us both. In the long run, both of us will benefit. Today I will put love first in my life. All I have to do is keep my hands off and turn my heart on.124
At Al-Anon we talk a lot about the need to let others experience the consequences of their actions. We know that most addicts have to hit a “bottom” and become uncomfortable with their own behavior before they can effectively do something about it.
Those of us who love addicts often have to learn to get out of the way of this bottom. We must learn to detach with love.
Another reason for detachment with love may be equally important in building healthy, loving, respectful relationships. Many of us have interfered not only with the loved ones problems but also with their achievements. I may have the best of intentions, but if I take over other people’s responsibilities, I may rob them of the chance to accomplish something and to feel good about what they’ve done. Although I am trying to help, my actions may be communicating a lack of respect for my loved one’s abilities. When I detach with love, I offer support by freeing those I care about to experience both their own satisfactions and disappointments.
I am learning the difference between help and interference. Today I will examine the way I offer support. Detachment does not mean disinterest; I consider detachment respect for another’s personhood.168
I have always felt that my loved one’s addiction was a terrible reflection on me, and I worried about what people thought. One day, he told me he wanted to get clean. I was elated for a day, until his next binge. Then I was devastated.
Some months later, my loved one finally did go for help. Two days later, the addiction began again.
The most important thing I’ve learned in Al-Anon, since then, is that my well-being cannot depend upon whether or not the addict indulges in his addiction. His behavior is not a reflection of me; it’s a reflection of his disease. However, my behavior is reflection of me, and I owe it to myself to pay attention to what it has to tell me. I have to take care of myself. I have to accept that addiction is a disease which can be arrested but not cured. Many addicts make a number of attempts at sobriety before actually getting sober; others never do. My life is too important to waste waiting for someone else’s choices, even when it’s someone I dearly love.
No matter whether the addict in my life is clean or not, the time to put energy into my own recovery is right now. Al-Anon helped me to focus my attention on what I could do about my situation, instead of concentrating all my attention on what I thought the addict should do. I was the one who had to take a stand.180.
I think the word “detachment” is often misunderstood. For me, detachment is the freedom to own what is mine and to allow others to own what is theirs.
This freedom allows me to keep my own identity and still love, care about, and identify with the feelings of others. In fact, I believe that the degree of our humanity can be measured by our ability to know another person’s pain and joy. I have been practicing the principles of Al-Anon to the best of my abilities for a long time. But when someone in the Fellowship shares about having a difficult time, I can go right back to day one. I no longer live with that type of emotional pain, but I can feel the tears. I can identify without needing to remove their pain. To me, that is in Al-Anon success story.
Today, I don’t have to like everything my addicted loved one says or does, and I don’t have to change her, even when I think she’s wrong. I continue to learn how to care without taking everything personally.
I can detach and still feel love, still feel. I can learn to take care of my own business while allowing others to tend to the theirs. Today, I can detach without losing compassion. “Love your neighbor, yet pull not down your hedge.” 187.
Two of those closest to me were newly recovering addicts. During the active years, I had become so enmeshed with them and their self destructive behaviors that I lost sight of the idea that I could be happy even if they were depressed; that I could live a serene life even if they went back to their addiction. The turning point in my Al-Anon recovery came when someone said to me, “You’ll have to learn to make it whether the addicts do or not.”
From that day on I tried to keep in mind that I had my own life and my own destiny. Once I began to separate my welfare from that of the addict’s, I found it easier to detach from the decisions they made about how and where, and when and with whom to conduct their lives. Because my fate, my very life, was no longer tied directly to theirs, I was able to accept them for who they were and to listen to their ideas and concerns without trying to exercise control. Thanks to Al-Anon, I can concentrate my energy where I do have some control-over: my own life.
My time is too precious to waste living in the future or worrying about something over which I have no power. I am building a wonderful life for myself today. As I continued to practice putting the focus on myself, it is a relief to see I can let go of others’ problems instead of trying to solve them.199.
The image of an avalanche hopes me to give the addict in my life the dignity to make her own decisions. It is as though her actions are forming a mountain of addiction-related troubles. A mound of snow cannot indefinitely grow taller without tumbling down; neither can the addict’s mountain of problems.
Al-Anon has helped me to refrain from throwing myself in front of the addict to protect her, or from working feverishly to add to the mountain in order to speed its downward slide. I am powerless over her addiction and her pain. The most helpful course of action is for me to stay out of the way!
If the avalanche hits the addict, it must be the result of her own actions. I’ll do my best to allow God to care for her, even when painful consequences of her choices hit full force. That way I won’t get in the way of her chance to want a better life.
I will take care to avoid building an avalanche of my own. Am I heaping up resentments, excuses, and regrets that have the potential to destroy me? I don’t have to be buried under them, before I address my own problems. I can begin today. The suffering you are trying to ease, may be the very thing needed to bring the addict to a realization of the seriousness of the situation. 343