Standing strong in the space between codependency and tough love
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…
not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.”
- Henri Nouwen
I was listening to one of my favorite podcast personalities recently and heard this:
“Solidarity is different than solution.”
These words resonated deep within me. I immediately found the message profound, and it kept rolling around in my head and heart. Several days have gone by and still those words are with me. I am still steeped in that phrase and the weight of it, and feel like I have to get my feelings out—to put them on paper. Writing helps me learn and grow. The process slows me down, forces me to examine my ideas and helps to provide clarity and understanding. The thoughts and ramblings I post on my blog are a form of self-healing, and I sincerely appreciate all of you who read my words and share in this journey with me.
A primary reason that the statement “solidarity is different than solution” resonated so deeply within me is that it captures the essence of what it is I am trying to do with my daughter. I work every day to continually foster an authentic relationship with her that offers unity and support without serving as the solution to her problems, many of which stem from her struggles with substance use disorder (SUD).
Family members and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics are often put in seemingly impossible situations, and to be or not to be in relationship with an addicted loved one can feel like an all or nothing proposition—we are either all in or we are all out. We stay in the struggle trying to find, force, coerce and manufacture solutions to the disease. OR, we remove ourselves entirely, refusing to be sucked into the vortex of chaos and confusion that surrounds and plagues the lives of our loved ones struggling with alcoholism or addiction.
I believe that both responses are simply two sides of the same coin—both being attempts to control the disorder. One goes into the disorder and hopes to fix it; the other shuts it out with the hope that it can force the disease into submission. Both, at their core, are ways to force a solution. Both involve mechanisms of shame, guilt and manipulation that are at odds with the true intent of loving an addicted person—or loving anyone for that matter. Those who enter into the disorder with a loved one are viewed negatively and labeled as codependents, while those who shut it out are hailed as champions and lauded for their heroic displays of tough love.
I have done both, and I am not a fan of either. Both approaches were taken in an attempt to control the disease. Both failed. Neither felt right. Neither yielded the results I desired. Neither was rooted in healthy, authentic or honest ideologies. Neither allowed me to stand in solidarity with my daughter. Neither resulted in solutions. And, neither reflects my goals for today. Today, my goal is to be in unity with my loved one—to stand in solidarity with my daughter.
The Choices That Comes With Loving An Addicted Person
Sometimes it is hard to find pieces and parts of my daughter that I can engage with. SUD is an eraser. It erases honesty, integrity, trust and much, much more. But, while the disease erases much of what it good and solid in relationships, it does not erase the love I have for my daughter. And, it is that love that encourages me to remain solid and not allow my daughter’s struggles with SUD to erase my relationship with her. SUD has already erased and stolen things that are beyond my ability to control, restore or replace. Yet, I refuse to let it take from me what it cannot control, restore or replace—my love for and relationship with my daughter. I get to maintain choices around that—choices that go beyond codependency or tough love. My choices today include love, unity and solidarity.
Ironically (or not), while writing this, I get a call from my daughter, seeking a solution to a problem she’s currently experiencing. I quickly realized that what I could offer her was not going to be in line with the solution she was seeking. I did not yield to her request nor did I tell her not to call me with that type of problem again. Instead, I simply listened. I held space for her as she expressed pain, fear and desires. I told her I loved her. I then stated my position on what I was willing to do and asked her if what I had to offer was something she was interested in. It was not. I told her I loved her again. I told her I was sorry she was hurting. I stood in solidarity with her. Then I ended the call.
This stance is not easy. In fact, it is often difficult, takes practice and must be continually cultivated. This new ground has been hard fought for; however, it has been worth the fight.
We Get To Regulate Our Own Emotions
This conversation demonstrating my stance of solidarity with my precious daughter requires me to be responsible for recognizing, acknowledging and regulating my own emotions. Standing in solidarity does not allow me to find relief in the way of the “codependent,” diving into the experience with her—arranging, reordering, managing and manipulating the scenario so that I can offload the angst and anxiety I feel when hearing about her pain and the current situation she finds herself in. Nor, does solidarity allow me to indulge in “tough love,” the method by which I attempt to negotiate with her dis-ease by withholding. Instead, standing in solidarity requires me to face, acknowledge, manage, regulate and feel the emotions that arise from the phone calls, her requests and the situations that inevitably arise.
Solidarity is not for the faint of heart, and like most everything else in life, it generally comes at a price. Standing in solidarity and authentically loving an addicted person requires that you enter into and feel the pain—your pain and the pain of your loved one. It requires a posturing that is uncomfortable and may feel unsustainable. It demands the commitment to work, support, care and nurture oneself. This must be continually cultivated through community, connection with fellow travelers and seekers, prayer and meditation.
Let Go Of Looking For The Fix
Solidarity will never be a quick fix or easy resolution. It is not about digging deep or ordering circumstances in order to fix or solve a situation or person. It goes against the ideology that all problems are meant to be resolved or the posturing that problems are meant to be mastered and controlled.
I cannot master, control or resolve my daughter’s struggle with substance use disorder. There is no quick fix for her. Nor is there a quick fix for me or the rest of our family. My daughter cannot just dig deeper and pull herself up by her bootstraps. That’s not how diseases or mental illnesses are cured. And, it’s not how a family member finds relief.
Rather, relief is sought through entering into the feeling—be it loss, fear, bewilderment, confusion, grief, sorrow, disorientation or any of the other thousands of emotions that accompany a loved one’s disorder. Acceptance is ultimately at the crux of recovering, rebuilding and restoring. To be recovered, rebuilt and restored requires an unlearning, a letting go, and a surrendering to what is.
What is, for my family, my daughter and me, is addiction. I cannot control or resurrect all that it has erased. I cannot force my daughter’s recovery, but I can choose how I respond to the disease. I can choose to not allow it to erase anymore of my relationship with my daughter. I can choose to stand in solidarity with her. I can choose to face the thoughts, feelings and situations that arise as a result of the disorder. I can choose love. I can choose solidarity. I can face that I am not her solution via codependency or through tough love.
And, I can unconditionally love her. I can be in relationship with her. And, I can stand in solidarity with her. These are things that SUD cannot erase.
Standing In Strength, Solidarity And Unending Love
Rami Shapiro adapted the Jewish Prayer of Ahavat Olam. His words capture solidarity for me, and I have modified his words as a personal prayer for my daughter. I believe that solidarity is a spiritual act and wherever it is being held is holy ground. The words of this prayer capture the essence of my feelings toward to my daughter. My prayer is that she never doubts my commitment to standing in solidarity with her, and that she sees my commitment as a reflection of the One who loves her even more than I do.
My wish is that you find a path to solidarity and unconditional love through these words, too.
You are loved by an unending love.
You are embraced by arms that find you even when you are hidden from yourself.
You are touched by fingers that soothe you even when you are too proud for soothing.
You are counseled by voices that guide you even when you are too embittered to hear.
You are loved by an unending love.
You are supported by hands that uplift you even in the midst of a fall.
You are urged on by eyes that meet you even when you are too weak for meeting.