When you live with an addict you are likely to experience anger, frustration, fear, shame and guilt. These feelings may become very overwhelming. They stand in the way of a happy and peaceful life and make it hard to make calm and conscious choices. There are ways to deal with such feelings, and you have more control over them than you might expect.
Let me explain this with an example. When you are watching a nature movie on TV and you see a lion killing an antelope how does that make you feel? You may think “O, how sad. But this is how nature is.” or you may think “Why does God allow such cruelties to happen”. And you may end up feeling sad but serene, or angry and frustrated.
What really happens is that upon the perception of the image described above, the human mind attributes thoughts (labels) to what is perceived. Thoughts such as “lion”, “antelope”, “pain”, “cruel” and so on. These labels come from our minds, either because we learned them as words for people, places and things (lion, antelope), or because we compare and mentally imagine what we perceive to what it would do to ourselves. We imagine the pain of the lion’s claws and teeth going into the skin of the antelope (or of ourselves). We also mentally make a judgement about what we perceive according to what we believe to be right or wrong, good or bad, etc.
However, it isn’t until we have these thoughts that emotions arise. If we could simply perceive without thinking/judging, we would not experience emotion.
The fact of seeing the addict in your live use alcohol or drugs, or behave in a certain way, is in the strictest sense not at the root of how it makes us feel. It is the thought that we attach to what we perceive that causes the emotion(s).
This is an important and helpful piece of information. It means that we have control over how we feel, by controlling our thoughts. As soon as you sense an emotion coming up, such as anger, this is a warning signal. It tells you that you can change your thoughts and thus avoid feeling bad.
A very effective way to avoid having thoughts that cause negative or depressing feelings or moods is not to judge. By not judging and accepting the addict’s behavior the way it is as it occurs (or your own behaviour for that matter) , you can control your thinking more easily. Instead of judgmental thought, you could simply describe what you are seeing without judgment. You may think “I see someone having a drink” and end the thought right there. See yourself as an observer, as a witness, and not as a participant. You will notice that it will keep you calmer, thus allowing you to make a conscious choice in the situation. You may for instance choose to retreat or change your behaviour.
Dealing with addiction is all about controlling the way you think and withholding judgment.
PS: The “no judging” technique does not only work in dealing with unhealthy habits. You can try to apply the same technique especially with people or situations you dislike. The results may surprise you.