When Compassion Gets Confusing

So what exactly do love and compassion look like when you have an addicted loved one?  This is something that really blows the mind of most friends and relatives.  We are taught to be good people, to help others, to love and have compassion, but when we apply most of the usual acts of kindness to a person who is dependent on drugs, we may actually be hurting the person way more than we are helping.  To quote an addict now in recovery:  “My mother nearly loved me to death.”

I’ve heard compassion defined as being “to suffer with.”  There’s little doubt that friends and relatives suffer with their addicted loved one, so we in fact do have compassion whether or not we are doing anything at all. 

Dictionary.com's definition is:  a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”  Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.  We “desire to alleviate the suffering” of our afflicted loved ones, and we believe that when their suffering is lifted we too will be free from our pain. 

That all sounds sensible enough.  We visit and comfort and care for the lonely, aged, sick, and dying.  We take injured people to doctors and hospitals.  When people are hungry, homeless, and naked, we feed, shelter, and clothe them.  So naturally we want to jump right in and do something for the person afflicted with the disease of addiction.  It’s what we humans do — we care.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple when chemical substances are entered into the picture.  Now we’re not dealing human-to-human so much as we’re dealing human-to-chemical substance which has hijacked our loved one’s brain.  The words coming out of his mouth are not the words he would say if not under the influence.  The behaviors are not the same.  The desires are not the same.  The judgment is impaired.   Above and beyond everything, the afflicted person’s brain is telling him to “feed the baby” — the baby must survive.  The baby is the addiction.

Without truly understanding any of this, friends and family try to love the addicted person back to reality.  That seems like the human response, but that would be like loving a person into starvation.  Why are you eating?  I love you!  How can you do that to me?  It’s really funny, but it’s very true.  There are various ways to respond, and we will get to those in future posts, but for now we must try to understand that a lack of responding in the typical manners to a hijacked brain is not — is definitely not — a lack of compassion.  

Confucius said:  “ Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.”  Wisdom and courage are going to be much more useful when dealing with addiction.  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”