Why Loving an Addict Can be so Hard

When someone we love falls to addiction, it can become increasingly difficult to continue to interact and connect with that person. The reason often goes far deeper that trust. This is my story as a daughter of an addict and a shaman. 

by Sarah Petruno, Shamana

I was 19 and a freshman at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I already had a job at one of the top research centers in the country, well on my way to becoming a professional scientist, a goal my father wished I would achieve.

It was an evening in late spring, close to finals, and just getting warm in Wisconsin. It felt like summer in my 13th floor, non-air conditioned dorm room.

My phone rang. It my twin sister, currently going to school at University of Nebraska, and my mom. An impromptu phone conference.

They called because things had gotten serious at home. They’d discussed it, and decided it was time to bring me, Daddy’s little girl, into the loop.

My father started drinking on a nightly basis about 7 years prior, shortly after he graduated from Law School. He studied patent law at night while working as a materials science engineer during the day.

For a long time, no one seemed to mind or see it as a problem. Before he drank, he had a hot and out of control temper, which was set off often, unexpectedly, and many times for no reason.

On nights he was drinking, this never happened. He was kind, loving, and compassionate. Really, the father we always wished he would be.

I was his favorite child, and because of this, I was buffered from most of the rage filled outbursts, but not all.

I loved being the favorite daughter, and filling that role, meant that I chose not to see the problem that the drinking became.

Once my sister and I went to college, it escalated and escalated fast. Our father lost his job as an attorney and was blacking out on a nightly basis, all while we were away at college. Our mother and younger siblings were still in the home.

On that warm spring night, my mother and sister called to discuss next steps. Things we could do to get him the help he needed. Without our father working his high earning job, we had no money to get the treatment he resisted and my sister and I were also out of luck when it came to having a way to pay for college.

We tried so many things. Interventions. Individual and group attempts to beg him to stop. Calling the police on him on several occasions in an attempt to have him involuntarily committed.

Our father’s side of the family completely stepped away and refused to acknowledge or help. We had no money. We had no way to save him, and he didn’t really seem to want to save himself.

During the course of the next 2.5 years, our parents separated after nearly 30 years together and my father, my once idol, became a complete, embarrassing stranger. I lost all hope that he would get well.

I began to accept that he would die and he would die soon. I went to therapy. I started a campus support group for other students like me. Other students with one or more alcohol addicted parents. And I emotionally separated myself.

I loved my Dad, but the person I knew was no longer inside that shell. It wasn’t him anymore, it wasn’t anywhere close, and the more I tried to reach out, the more painful it became to see him.

So I stopped. I stopped visiting home and I stopped answering most calls.

My dad was no longer my dad. I loved who my dad was, but I emotionally and physically could not love the person he was now.

No matter how many times we tried to help, he didn’t ever follow through with promises.

A mere two and a half years after that initial phone call, my father died alone and with none of his family by his side from complications of alcoholism.

I was a senior in college.

At the time of his death, my father was far fetched from being the person I loved and adored.

He was a completely different person, and if you’ve ever loved an addict, you know this story all too well.

Once addiction grabs a hold, in almost all cases, the people we love become completely different.

When someone we love falls to addiction, it can become increasingly difficult to continue to interact and connect with that person. The reason often goes far deeper that trust. This is my story as a daughter of an addict and a shaman. 

In part, this is because of the drugs.

But in another part, it’s something else.

When addiction takes over, it isn’t a passive act. On some level, the addicted individual allows this to happen.

They’re suffering, internally, in most cases and are seeking for a way out.

Succumbing to addiction is a way out.

But what many people don’t know, and I didn’t at the time, is that when an addicted individual uses drugs as a way out of their life - they’re also stepping away from their life.

Some may call this giving up. Others hopelessness, and others, despair. In all cases, when an addict chooses drugs over facing their life, they’re stepping out on life.

This act of stepping out is the Spirit leaving the body.

Each of us has a human Spirit. This is the essence of who we are, our emotions, thoughts, feelings, personality, and experiences. It’s the Spirit that transcends death and exists after the physical body dies.

Physical death isn’t the only time that the Spirit can leave the body.

It can happen in trauma, in stress, and in cases of giving up.

It happens when an addict becomes an addict and walks away from their life.

The reason that you don’t recognize your loved one anymore, once they become an addict, is because it truly is not them. Their Spirit is gone.

And unfortunately, in some cases, Spirits who are deceased AND Earthbound, otherwise known as ghosts, can step into the body of our loved ones and take over their behavior.

In the cases of addicts, it’s often deceased addicts that do this, with the intent to feel the effects of their drug of choice once again.

Loving an addict can be so difficult because it’s no longer the person we once loved living in that body.

That person, their Spirit, stepped out long ago and awaits the time when the individual chooses to come back to their life.

There’s nothing we can do to coax another person’s Spirit to come back into their body without the consent of the individual. With consent, however, it can be done and there is hope for recovery.

In recovery programs, with consent, there is a period of withdrawal and sobering up, and then a healing period which hopes to address the reasons why the addict walked away from life in the first place. With a commitment to healing, their Spirit can return and your loved one will return, too.

However, relapse rate remains high and one of the primary reasons for this is that traditional recovery programs do not address the potential spiritual takeover that has gone on while the Spirit was away.

If a deceased addicted individual remains attached to the still-healing living individual, it becomes extremely difficult to avoid the influence of this attached spirit, who is still desiring their drug of choice. (Read more about attachment spirits here).

To be healed, freed from addiction, to get our love ones back, there must be a holistic healing. One that includes healing of the emotional wounds, of the medical withdrawal symptoms, and of the spiritual issues as well.

Until that time, know that your difficulty to continue to display love and compassion towards your suffering loved one is not a fault. It truly is no longer them in that body. The only thing we can do is continue to try to offer the olive branch towards healing. To continue to give the option towards light, as much as we are able.

In the end, we couldn’t save my dad.

Years later, I understood a really important lesson:

The only person who can save you, is you.


LAST UPDATED: April 14, 2015

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