It Takes Courage To Speak Up
Centre yourself, be intentional with your language
In such a sensitive conversation, take special care to monitor not only what you say, but your tone and body language as well. Even though a mental health condition or addiction may have dulled your loved one’s perceptions, they may remain highly sensitive to emotional and interpersonal cues.
It’s important that your loved one sees that you are speaking to them in good faith and are not trying to make accusations, shame or blame them. This risks provoking defensiveness and shutting the conversation down. If you enter this conversation in a moment of anger, frustration or stress, things are likely to veer off course. Your loved one may shut down, or shut you out, before you are able to share your perspective.
A great way to frame our speech in a non-confrontational manner is to use “I” sentences instead of “you” sentences -- to share observations and concerns rather than make accusations. “I’m concerned about…” “I’ve noticed....” “I feel like…” etc.
Ask questions and give them space to respond, rather than lecturing or delivering a monologue. “Have you noticed…” “Do you feel like you can stop…” “What scares you about stopping…” “would you be willing to….”
Put your own oxygen mask on first
Having a friend, family member or loved one who’s struggling with addiction and mental health issues can be a uniquely anxious and lonely experience. It’s likely a position you never expected to be in, and for which you may find yourself entirely unprepared.
Often, when we’re in this situation, we risk falling into the trap of letting our care and concern for the individual and the situation come before everything else in our life. Desperate to help and feeling a deep sense of responsibility, we may blame ourselves for the ongoing behaviour, or even unwittingly slip from supportive behaviour into enabling behaviour. Boundaries can be difficult to set, and even more difficult to hold to.
Sometimes your need to put your own oxygen mask on first. This means making sure that you have the support, grounding and expertise necessary to provide meaningful help, learn when to let go and priotise your own self care. Seeking support and speaking with healthcare professionals who have gone through this before can be a deeply rewarding experience, and will temper feelings of isolation and anxiety.
At South Pacific Private, we offer a one-day workshop – our Family Education Day – designed to provide friends and loved-ones with the support and information they need to for their own personal growth journey. We also encourage family members to attend Alanon or Naranon meetings. (12-step meetings for friends and family members of addicts and or alcoholics.)
Be ready for a range of outcomes
It’s important to be prepared for a range of outcomes, and to know how to respond effectively.
If your loved one gets to a point where they are open to seeking help, being able to make and agree on a clear plan will be important. Do your research on potential healthcare professionals, local Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings or residential treatment programs.
While a loved one may be tempted to say they can end the addiction on their own, the truth is that professional support is often necessary and often leads to better outcomes, especially in resolving underlying issues. Ending substance use can also trigger strong withdrawal symptoms, and a medically supervised detox may be required (Learn more about our residential treatment program here). Please seek medical advice before commencing a detox at home.
If the conversation is difficult or your loved one seems overwhelmed, pause the conversation and offer a breather. If they ask for a delay, it may be an excuse to avoid the issue, but may also be because they need the space to make a decision or feel backed into a corner.
If things are going nowhere, you can end the conversation by asking what options they will consider, and what action they are willing to take. If you encounter outright rejection, it may be that they’re just not ready to face their situation. Denial is a strong protective mechanism and can take time for people to work through.