Arguing with an addicted loved one can be like reasoning with a hurricane!
There are more people affected by addiction than there are people addicted. It’s been said that for every one person struggling with addiction, there are at least 15 people affected. The effects are painful and relentless for those of us left in the wake. Affected family members feel helpless about changing the situation. We stand by, sober and aware, knowing that addiction is capable of quickly devouring our household, right before our eyes.
It’s no secret that addiction has ripped its way through my home and family. At least not since my book “Unhooked, a Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction” was published. Unhooked details my tumultuous struggle with my Mother as well as a 6-year journey through the prescription-pill addiction of my son and only child, following an injury in football. I have been in the presence of active addiction my entire life; it is an ordeal I wish on no one. I have not had a single day of my life unaffected by someone’s addiction and/or related behavior. Not one day. Navigating my way through life with this affliction present, always lurking and often rearing its head with great velocity, has been an emotional obstacle course.
The deceptive tactics of arguing
One of the ways I have found myself pulled into a struggle with the insanity and dysfunction of addiction is when what I call “bottomless arguments” flare up. Particularly those that involve a combination of deceptive tactics. When arguments arise and become excessively heated, if they seem to be unsolvable and involve dynamics like blame-shifting, denial and false accusation … I know I am most likely in the presence of active addiction, relapse or some other deception that desperately wants to stay hidden. I’ve found the stronger these tactics are applied by the person I am in the struggle with, the deeper the deception.
I will elaborate. The following are ways I have personally experienced these behaviors during times I’ve found myself in conflict with someone I care greatly about, but who struggles with the infirmity of addiction:
Blame-shifting: a tactic used to always push blame onto another person. The act of transferring responsibility for an error or problem to another (dictionary.com).
In my experience, the best of manipulators will apply this form of emotional abuse. It’s a slippery, shirking, somewhat “juking” way of side-stepping ownership for decisions and behavior. Whatever the offending party is confronted with, it is always someone else’s fault. Something or someone caused them to behave as they did. As if they are puppeteered against their own will, when in fact these are often very strong-willed people who can’t be forced to do a thing we’d like them to!
I refuse to go deep into conversation with blame-shifting. I set that boundary long ago. As soon as I recognize it, I back out of the conversation and respond to the blame-shifting independently. My approaches include:
- walking my dog to take a breather;
- praying or meditating for 10 or 15 minutes;
- calling a trusted friend in my support system;
- a few yoga stretches or 20 jumping jacks …
… all ways to clear my frustrated energy and feel better.
Blame-shifting is an abusive, conniving tactic that, very simply put, distracts from accountability, addressing the truth and problem solving. Blame-shifting is not a battle that truth and fairness will win. Accountability and problem solving are necessary for growth and change.
Denial: refusal to admit the truth or reality. (merriam-webster.com).
Addiction is never alive and well without the presence of denial. Denial, to me, is fluid; it takes on many forms. A person who is unwilling to face, or admit, the truth will go to the death fighting to deny it to everyone else. On the opposite side of that is often a family member desperate not to believe the whispers of truth that have been alerting them all along. The family member(s) may also resist believing that the ominous situation they’re afraid of is actually happening. I tend to be one who dives right into the truth, just as I prefer jumping into a swimming pool versus inching my way in and getting used to the cold water. For me, facing it head-on gets it over more quickly and allows me to begin making decisions toward solutions.
That said, having a person who holds weight in your life refuse to admit that a situation is happening – even in the presence of proof – is one of the most frustrating experiences. Before one becomes seasoned with the tactics of addicts (who will do anything they can to protect the anonymity of their problem), it’s easy to get swept up by the hurricane of distracting behavior.
Stepping away from the chaos
I myself have been lured into the storm too many times to remember. Many times I would even invent brand new, intricate ways of catching lies that would put CIA agents to shame. All without stopping to think,
Wait, maybe I could just…not go down this rabbit hole. Maybe this isn’t even my fight. Perhaps I don’t have to run this race or step into this storm. Instead, I could calmly realize that if things are not adding up, something is wrong and I should remove myself from the chaos rather than being caught in it. I need to instead set consistent, firm, healthy boundaries and settle on the fact that if I am right, the truth will expose itself eventually. What use is it to work this hard to nail down a confession? Have I proved one point so far that turned things around? What can I do if I am right? The person denying the truth will just get better at disguising it next time. To a degree, searching for answers is a must, but just like a song plays itself out on the radio…at some point I know when that tune has had its run. I cannot walk in the kindest version of myself if I am in a long, drawn-out dogfight to expose something.
At some point I have to step back and allow nature to take its course. Truth always comes out eventually. What a relief.
“In times of war, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” ~Winston Churchill
Since 2003, Allies in Recovery has addressed substance abuse in families by providing a method for the family to change the conversation about addiction. We use Community Reinforcement & Family Training (CRAFT), a proven approach that helps the family unblock and advance the relationship towards sobriety and recovery and to engage a loved one into treatment. Learn about member benefits by following this link.