Addiction…The word itself causes a lot of feelings from sadness to hope to judgment. I’m going to suggest another one: compassion.

Now I know this can be hard to do for a disease that causes such pain to others; even the fact that addiction is considered a disease is a hotly debated topic by some. I understand these feelings because I myself held them at one time, and it wasn’t until addiction touched my family personally that I learned about compassion; even then it took years…

I will be the first to admit that I used to think that addiction was not a disease and would argue that position passionately with anyone who tried to convince me otherwise. As a matter of fact, my husband (who will soon have 15 years of recovery) and I used to argue about this a lot when he first got out of rehab;  keep in mind though that he had 6 months of inpatient treatment and education about his addiction, I had nothing .

Back then, I used to think that addiction was a choice. You chose to pick up, you chose to abuse your substance of choice, and you chose to keep using despite the pain it caused yourself and your family. In my mind, addiction was a very selfish choice and if you really loved yourself and your family you would just stop. I remember being so angry at my brother, sister and husband for their addictions because I truly thought they didn’t care about anyone or anything but themselves; it broke my heart.

It wasn’t until several years into my husband and sister’s recovery, and my brother’s death that I started to open my mind to the possibility that addiction could be a disease. When I would talk to my brother and he sounded so sick, or we would get the call that he was being rushed to the emergency room yet again for complications with his liver; or I would hear my sister talk about how sorry she was for causing such pain to our family and her children; or my husband would talk about how devastated he was at missing the first 11 years of our daughter’s life… How could I in good conscious think they would ever choose any of that?!

Why Compassion is Necessary

You know the old saying “don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes?” Well that is exactly what I did until I walked miles in the addict’s shoes and it was a very long, grueling journey. Because of this I now have an understanding and a compassion that I would never have had I not gone through this with my family.

Compassion means having concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. – Oxford Dictionary

When you experience addiction firsthand and you see all the pain, destruction and in my case, loss of life it can cause, you develop a deep concern for the sufferings of others who are dealing with this horrible disease and you want to help in any way you can. You want and need to learn as much as you can about this ‘thing’ that completely takes over your life and the ones you love and changes it into something unrecognizable.

Once you come to learn how addiction re-wires the addict’s brain and how it works, you realize they do things they would never do if they were sober. That alone should give some perspective of how out of control addiction can make your loved one and hopefully give you some sense of compassion when dealing with them.

I also know it’s a lot easier said than done to show compassion to someone who has stolen from you, disappointed you countless times, destroyed any semblance of a relationship you may have left and may have even physically or verbally abused you. But again I would remind you that the person who did those things to you is not the person you know and love, it’s the disease of addiction masquerading as your loved one and as hard as it is at times to remember that, you have to.

When you look through the lens of compassion at addiction, it makes you more tolerant, more understanding, and more forgiving but it doesn’t make you a pushover! When you show compassion to a loved one that is suffering, you’re letting them know that you love them, you support them and you understand (or at least you’re trying to).

When your loved one knows they are not alone in their battle against addiction, it can be very powerful and make all the difference in having successful long-term recovery and that is what we all want!

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

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