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Carry the Message:
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By Patrice Alexander, MS, LPC
Clinical Director, MARR, Inc.

At face value, the word detachment has a negative connotation and conveys a sense of loss. It is hard to imagine being “detached” or “separated” from someone we love. It is human nature when we see a loved one hurting to want to offer help to comfort and ease his or her pain. This is especially true for family members whose loved one struggles with the disease of addiction.

Addiction is a family disease that traps every member of the family. As the disease progresses, it starts to govern the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of every family member. The natural human responses of showing love through generosity, support and compassion become unhealthy responses in addiction. I have witnessed the disease of addiction turn the most loving bond between family members into a very dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship. Detachment is not easy; however, in order for the family to learn healthier ways to show their love and support without enabling the disease to continue to wreak havoc in their relationship, it is necessary. Through detachment, family members discover how to trust and open their hearts in safer ways. Detachment helps each member move toward personal growth, which can prepare him or her for healthy relationships.

I encourage family members to consider detachment as a decision to avoid participating in negative emotional connections, rather than a decision to abandon their loved one. In this sense, it can allow them to maintain boundaries, protect their values, preserve their integrity and steer clear of the undesired impact. As such, it becomes a deliberate mental attitude which can help them avert engaging in the emotions of others.

Detachment is choosing to allow other people to live their lives without giving them advice, even when there is a great degree of difficulty and possible danger involved. Most of us are not taught how to detach; it feels counterintuitive. Detachment is embracing our individuality and taking responsibility for our own lives instead of waiting for someone else to do something different so that our lives can be okay.

Admitting and accepting that we are powerless over other people and their decisions allows us to practice detachment. The Al-Anon book, Courage to Change, states, “Detachment with love means that I stop depending upon what others do, say or feel to determine my own well-being or to make my decisions.” Without detachment, it is much harder—if not impossible—to create an atmosphere for healing so that the gift of recovery can be discovered and passed on/shared with others.

Patrice Alexander, MS, LPC began her career in 1995 working with adolescents as a mental health technician for the Deveraux Center of Georgia. In 1996, she went on to pursue a master’s degree in Counseling from Georgia State University and has since worked in a variety of capacities related to counseling and addiction treatment. Her background includes individual, group and family counseling, facilitating parenting education groups, conducting research, developing professional presentations for local and national conferences, and providing training and supervision to interning students and other clinicians.


Carry the Message:
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5 Comments

  • Salena Summerall says:

    This article was rigjt on time. I have made a decision to detach for all these reasons that are being explained. I did feel a sense of guilt for thinking this way. I felt like i failed as a parent , as a friend, and that was not sitting well with me. The bondage and abuse that I have endured from the ones that say they love me has destroyed me. I am numb. I feel dead. I mourn the loss of my family and watch them walk around me. Its very confussing. So I am stuck in a space that has no joy. Time to detach. ❤

    • Rachel Muth says:

      Hi, my name is Rachel. I have 2 grown daughters who are addicts. I am also an addict with another disease called codependancy. I understand all the problems codependancy causes. I had a sponsor in AA who said codependancy was going to kill me faster than any chemical I took. The guilt of not helping when I shouldn’t but do anyway or the guilt of not helping to draw boundaries is a hard choice for me. I have allowed my daughters to spend $1000’s on the wrong things. I supported one daughter and her entire family for 3 years. I still help them. The husband hadn’t worked in years. I supported their habits for years. This has cause me and my 14 year old to not have as much to live on. Guilt again. I live in a remorseful world. So unhappy!!

  • Billie Beckworth says:

    Thanks so much i had been letting a granddaughter abd her 2 little ones live with . it was very hard she is diagnosed bipolar wont take meds because how tbey make her feel . but i kno she does pot and pills .Finally had to tell her to lreave because of her outbursts an hyper for days then dleeping for 3/4 days i was feeling guilty because she has done better with me for herself and kids i felt like i failed her thanks again

  • Barbara says:

    I have stuck it through with my has band for 4 years on drugs. He has every resource available to him. He even went to jail twice in drug related charges I bought a house left my family my friends my daughter and granddaughter and he is STILL doing drugs. I. Am done with him. The money our money is going and he just doesn’t understand that I cannot accept this behavior. He says it’s my fault because I knew what he was. Amazing g really. I am detaching myself totally very soon

  • Sandy A says:

    Thank you it is so hard to watch family and friends destroy themselves, and extremely hard to let go,but I know I must turn them over to God. And pray for them.

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