“Detachment doesn’t mean not caring. It’s taking care of yourself first and letting others take responsibility for their actions without trying to save or punish them”
I heard a statement recently and I feel like it can be applied to a lot of things. I think I heard it in regards to parenting, but it’s basically meant to make sure you take care of yourself first before you try to help anyone else. It goes something along the lines of, “Make sure you put your oxygen mask on first before helping your kid put theirs on.” It’s meant to be taken broader, as in, make sure you are taking care of yourself in your own right, otherwise you aren’t very much help to others (in this case your children), and it’s in the same sphere as “You can’t pour from a cup that is empty”, or “Seriously you need to worry about what you’re doing for yourself before you worry about where he is for goodness sakes it’s 2am please go to bed.” It’s not selfish. It makes sense.
Let’s take a look at my life for some helpful examinations.
When I first met him, I was a closet codependent. I had no idea what that meant, and it never really manifested in my life, so I was completely unaware. But I sure found out what it meant when I found out he was an addict and was calling every rehab within a 50 mile radius in the parking lot of my work. (You can probably guess, too, that this is definitely not something he asked me to do).
These tendencies didn’t end there either. I was always trying to contact him once he was actually in the rehab, making sure I could do everything I could, wanting to know what was happening all the time, and hoping I was being the best support anyone could ask for.
Years went by and it was the same thing. Where is he? What is he doing? Is he taking care of himself? Is he working a program? Is he eating healthy? Is he practicing self-care? Is he mentally healthy? Is he...is he...is he?
Meanwhile my mental health and general stability in life was going down the toilet.
Is that his fault? No of course not. But, hey, that didn’t stop me from building up resentment. (But that’s a different post).
What I realized much later on, was that I was asking the right questions, but about the wrong person.
What it should have been was:
Where am I? What am I doing? Am I taking care of myself? Am I working a program? Am I eating healthy? Am I practicing self-care? Am I mentally healthy? Am I...Am I...Am I?
Sure, if you aren’t used to that, it sounds selfish. Why should I care that much about myself if someone I love is hurting and in trouble? If you are used to being (under the illusion of being) in control, it sounds irresponsible. If I don’t care about him/save him/do anything who will?
The answers are 1. You can’t help anyone if you are just as hurting and in trouble, and 2. They will. And if they don’t, well, I’m sorry but that’s on them.
What a strange way of thinking isn’t it?
But let’s switch it up with an easy, even if not equal, example:
I’ve tried working out and eating healthy many times in my life. Sometimes I was really motivated, and other times I just did it because I felt like I should. None of these trials lasted long. And they lasted even shorter when I felt pressured. Stop forcing me to go to the gym, stop forcing me to eat healthier, please just stop. Sure, sometimes it helped to be held accountable, but if I wasn’t doing it for me, it all just fizzled out. It wasn’t until I was actually ready to do it and motivated truly by my own desire to get healthy and strong that it stuck. And now I’ve been working out and eating mindfully for almost a year, excited to keep going.
It’s basically the same idea.
You can’t force anyone to do anything that they don’t want to do, and even if it looks like you succeeded for the time being, it won’t stick.
But it’s easier said than done.
It’s not the most fun thing in the world to hear that the only reason your loved one made it through the night alive was because someone in the halfway house prayed over their body while they slept and made sure they continued to breathe every few seconds. But it’s even less fun when you realize that you’ve done that in the past and yet the job still needed to be filled by someone.
It’s also not fun to try and talk to them after they ignored you all day, so you go to the halfway house with your daughter in the car to see them and they can’t even look you in the eyes because “they” aren’t actually here in their mind, so you leave crying so hard you can barely start driving.
That’s what detachment is for. It’s not so that you can abandon them, or watch them die. In fact, not letting them experience the terrible life they are living is actually doing more harm. Continually saving them and allowing them to keep being saved from their bad decisions is what will keep you both sick.
It wasn’t until I shut off my phone when I went to bed, busied myself with finding my own faults and remedying them, and realizing the only thing I could do was help myself, that I realized that was really all I could do, and also had the added benefit of being the only way to actually help him.
That’s when I started having boundaries, that’s when I made the decision to leave and not speak with him until he was able to make calls in a treatment facility, and being clear about what I wanted out of life, myself, and my relationship with him.
And he had a choice.
He could either continue on his destructive and dangerous path, alone, and figure it out himself. Or he could change the direction of his life and grow both in his own individuality and with me.
Thankfully, he chose to get help.
But I realize that not all situations end up that way.
The thing is, though, that the end goal of working on yourself and taking care of your life isn’t for them to get better. That’s just another way that your faults come up and manifest. That’s still doing things for the wrong reasons.
The goal is to better yourself. That’s it.
Of course you give a better foundation for your relationship if they begin recovery as well, but it’s also to give you strength to continue on if they don’t. It’s to give you the motivation to be content and continue being happy if you can’t continue your journey with them. And it’s to give you the reassurance that you did the right thing for yourself and others if things don’t end up how you thought they would.
Even now, with him in recovery and me still working on myself, I still have to detach from situations and expectations in how he works his recovery and what our future will look like. And still, I have to detach from and accept that people will still have opinions on how our lives are going. It's an ongoing practice that takes place every day.
Letting go seems hard, and wrong, until it’s the only answer you have left.
But I really encourage you to sit and take a look at yourself and your situation, because no situation is too hopeless and no person still with us is too far gone.
Sure it might be hard at first. Difficult, scary, embarrassing, depressing, anxiety-inducing.
But I can tell you, it’s so, so worth it.