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A Safe Distance

A Safe Distance

It’s often the very first question asked.  After I share my story with an audience, with or without Jacob at my side, a hand goes up from the back of the room.

“My sister has a son who’s been in and out of treatment.  He’s 34 and he’s still using.  He lives with her and she has no idea what to do with him.  It’s making her sick.  What can I tell her?  What can she do?”

I usually reply with how “powerless” we are over addiction.   If we love someone who is actively using, it does, indeed, make us sick.  Being “powerless” means you can’t control the addiction, nor cure it.  It’s up to the individual.  When he or she is “ready” to stop, that’s when recovery can begin.

When the questioner looks crestfallen that there’s not a better answer, I quickly add that you don’t stop loving that person.  But you, alone, will not get him well.  Meanwhile, you need to take care of yourself.

Recently, at a talk for an area synagogue, a young woman in the crowd responded to this question.  In her early twenties, her knowledge of addiction was hard-won.  Not only was she in recovery, but she’d lost an older brother to the condition.  In a voice far more learned than her youthful face belied, she told the audience this….

“Your sister needs to take care of herself, but that doesn’t mean she gives up on her son.  She doesn’t desert him.  He may be powerless, but he still can make choices, whether to use or not.  He may need space to make his own choices, and she needs to give him that.  What she needs to do is to keep a safe distance.”

From a young, but practiced voice of experience, come the words to heed:  keep a safe distance.

 

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