Love in Heaven and Hell
Saint Augustine said:
“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That’s what love looks like.”
If only love could be that simple. Alas, it is not -- especially when you love someone with a substance use disorder. Helping hands and hastening to the needy can be detrimental when not carefully calculated. Such behaviors could actually feed the addiction rather than the poor and needy, and that could prolong and exacerbate the problem.
I’ve said repeatedly that there are perhaps fewer relationships more complicated than those that involve an addicted loved one. The confusion surrounding what is helpful behavior drives loved ones into all sorts of desperate actions in sincere and frantic attempts to do the right thing — the loving thing. While a springboard of love can never be disputed, the actions that love exhibits can be. In addiction, those actions are not necessarily what St. Augustine described.
I’d like to rewrite Saint Augustine’s quote from the perspective of those who love someone who is suffering from addiction:
What does love look like? It has the hands to hold a loving mirror. It has the feet to walk away in times of conflict. It has eyes to see beneath the lies. It has the ears to patiently withstand defiance. It has the mouth to lovingly speak the truth. That’s what love looks like.
Be strong. Persevere. Above all don’t forget that when you are in a relationship with someone in active addiction, you are dealing with a disorder — not your friend or loved one. You must see past the outbursts, the lies, the manipulation, and the hysteria and confront the demon addiction. Your responses may have to be firm and might even seem contrary to what you envision love to be. You can be a solid, guiding, unyielding presence, while still loving. You are likely to be met with resistance. Stay the course. In the end, love will have the last word.