When you have a family member with an addiction, it’s easy to feel like things are hopeless, that your loved one is never going to change. You probably even have evidence to support this idea. Your loved one changes for a while, but eventually falls back into old habits of abusing drugs or alcohol. You might feel like you should just give up. Does this sound familiar?
Loving a person with an addiction is hard — your patience, caring, and kindness toward your loved one can sometimes run out. When you feel like you’re running on empty, it can be helpful to reconnect with your values in the relationship. Taking time to reflect on and find ways to re-engage in your values can help you refuel your emotional “tank.”
What are values?
Values are the ideals, principles, and guidelines that we choose to make important in our lives. Values are a little different from morals or rules we learn and follow from our family or community, although sometimes they overlap with them (for instance, helping out others who are less fortunate may be both a moral rule and a value that you hold). Values represent how we want to live our lives and the kind of person we want to be.
Values are directions.
We can think of values as directions rather than destinations (e.g., heading west). We can keep traveling in the direction of values, but never reach a specific place or end to them. For example, there are no limits on being loving. You will never reach a point where you say, “That’s it! I’m a completely loving person and there is nothing else for me to do or learn to be a loving person.” When it comes to values, the journey never ends. If values are like a direction, then goals are like signposts along the way. For example, if you value being a loving person, you may have goals that are consistent with this value such as “renew our commitment vows” or “spend more time with my children.” The value tells you which direction to walk in, and goals are markers along the way.
Values are about action.
Values are active. Values are actions about what we are trying to move toward or be. They are not about what we are trying to avoid or get rid of. When thinking about your values, try to choose ones that are active and alive (being loving) vs. passive or avoidant (not being anxious).
Sometimes we lose touch with our values…and then we can reconnect.
Sometimes loving a person with an addiction can be so painful that we lose contact with who we want to be in that relationship. We can get so focused on the addiction and on the emotional pain we are feeling that we forget what’s most important to us. Part of what makes reconnecting with your values useful is that is can provide a starting point for the hard work of loving and helping someone with addiction. It can help you to remember why you are doing the hard work of being in a relationship with this person. Your values can give you the fuel you need to keep you going. They also provide you with direction when you feel lost or don’t know what to do.
There many ways to reconnect with your values, below we outline two ways to reconnect with your values and your motivation for being in this relationship with an addicted person. It’s best if you do these exercises when you have a few spare moments alone so you can really imagine these situations and reflect on your values:
Values Exercise #1: Reconnecting With Love
This first exercise involves a take a few moments to float back to some memories. In this exercise, we’d like you to think back to a time when you felt a strong sense of love toward your loved one who now suffers from an addiction.
If this is a romantic partner – you might think back to the time you first noticed that you were in love with him or her.
If this is a child, you might think back to their birth or some other time when you felt a strong sense of love.
Take a few moments to really remember this time.
- Who was there?
- Where were you?
- What time of day was it?
- What sights, smells, and sounds were there?
- What were you doing?
- Notice your feelings in that moment.
Allow yourself to really get in touch with these feelings. If you can allow these feelings to come up, see if you can remember what was truly important to you in that moment. See if you can reconnect with any promises you made to yourself (e.g., “I promise to always love you”). Identify what are the important qualities of this memory and the important qualities that you had at this time; these important qualities may represent your values or start to point you toward your values.
Once you finish this exercise, get out a piece of paper and write about what is important to you in this relationship. Try to focus on the kind of person you want to be in the relationship. If you were really going to honor this love you experienced at these times above, how would you act? What qualities would you bring to your interactions with your loved one?
Values Exercise #2: Visiting your future birthday party
In this exercise, we’d like you to imagine visiting your birthday party ten years in the future. This is your birthday party where all your friends and family attend. It’s a time to honor who you are and what you’ve stood for in your life. Please take some time to really get into this image.
- Who’s there?
- Where are you at?
- What type of party is it?
- Notice the sights, sounds, and smells of where your birthday is being held.
- What are you doing?
- How are you feeling?
We’d like you to imagine that between right now and ten years in the future, your loved one has been able to turn their life around. They are no longer addicted to alcohol and drugs or suffering from the consequences of using. And part of why they were able to turn their life around was because of your help. At this party, your loved one is going to give a speech to honor you and the difference you made in their life. Imagine how he/she would talk about what qualities you have that he/she admired:
- What did you stand for in his/her eyes?
- Let yourself hear their words, their descriptions of you.
After you complete this scene in your head, get out a sheet of paper and write down some of what the person said about you.
What qualities did they most appreciate? What did they say that you stood for?
Some of what you wrote might point you toward your values. After completing this exercise, what have you learned about what is important for you to stand for in your life? Write that out.
Values Exercise #3: Values card sort
Another option is an exercise called a values card sort. The values card sort is an exercise that helps you sort through and prioritize your values. To do the card sort, you can either make the cards yourself by printing out this file or do the exercise online. In the exercise, you take the cards and sort them into three columns according to how important each value is in your relationship with your loved one. Once you have sorted all the cards into the categories of “Very Important to Me,” “Important to Me,” and “Not Important to Me,” then you are ready to go to the next step.
Put it all together and take action.
Now that you’ve done some work to get in touch with your values as they relate to your loved one, it’s important to make some priorities. Now that you’ve identified your values through the above exercise, take each value and rate it from 1 = most important, to 10 = least important. Consider for a moment what these scores say about what is most important for you in this relationship.
Then pick your top 3 values and write down specific actions you can take that will bring you a few steps closer to your values. Make sure the actions you create are ones that you can do and that you have the resources (emotional, physical, and financial) to do.
Finally, it’s up to you to do the actions! Take some time to figure out exactly when and where you will do each one. Make sure that your actions are reasonable and something you can follow through on. After you take each action, take a moment to reflect on your experience. Did it bring you closer to your value? Did you encounter difficulties in doing the action? If so, how might you do it differently next time?
(photo by AtomDoc)