When We Love an Addict – Courage and the Limits of Compassion

When We Love an Addict – Courage and the Limits of Compassion 1

13th October 2015

By Jack Adam Weber

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

At some point in our lives, we are asked to show up for an addict. When we love or are attached to this person, the ride can be rough for us, for the relationship, and everyone involved. Addictions most often conceal emotional pain, some form of despair and self-dislike. They either numb physiological pain, or distract the addict on a psychological level. Most often, both physical and emotional denial and numbing are at play.

The damage that addictions cause is usually more damaging than what one feared facing in the first place. When we face a challenge, or pain, we fear dying. But the challenge usually presents a death and rebirth experience from which we can emerge more whole and healed, not a literal death threat. While we may fear the death of our sense of self, and avoid that reckoning through addiction, ironically, our addictions are what actually kill us. What the addict does to counteract fear is scarier than what he avoids. Presented with an opportunity, the addict misunderstands the opportunity and takes it as a threat to his survival, and ends up killing his life.

For our part, it’s one thing if the addict we love has addictions, is in denial, and defensive. It’s another if they are humble to it and see the problem, genuinely want to work on it and heal, and follow through with consistent action. For this we can keep our hearts open, we can make available our compassion without sacrificing too much of our wellbeing. And it can be a rewarding experience, to be there for someone else and watch healing take place. When we feel that our energy is being used for good, to build another’s confidence, strength, and integrity, it also builds our own. And it gives us hope for humanity generally.

When our goodness is not used by another for more goodness, it’s not worth our effort. There are plenty of other worthy places to spend our good energy, towards fruitful results. When our efforts are appreciated, not left to wither away by the denial of an addict before they get a chance to land in their heart, they can create a revolution of awareness to displace the negative cycle. The weeds that have grown too tall for too long begin to recede. Then we all get to watch flowers sprout, which presumably, is why we help.

A compassionate life is one in which our resources are used to optimum effect. Just as we need to know when and how to give ourselves fully to a task, so we need to know when and how to stop and rest. ~ Stephen Bachelor

Hanging In There

But when denial gives rise to defensiveness, and the addict or denier begins to attack and displace their unresolved emotional baggage onto you, especially if you mirror the health and integrity they wish they had, your compassion will question whether you should hang in there.

This is when I usually ask, where does self-compassion begin and generosity for another end? I have to face this issue all the time as a physician, and sometimes with friends who are in denial. I find each case to be unique, depending on how close they might be to breaking through, how strong their denial, and honestly, how violently they treat and mistreat me. As I get older, I seem to have less tolerance for bullshit, and I more carefully pick my battles, reserving them for longer-time friends and family, with the aim of forgiveness and resolution. At the same time, others’ displaced frustrations don’t faze me as much as they used to; I’ve become more resilient.

Each day shows us where our tolerance and balance lie. Sometimes our patience and generosity is short, sometimes longer. And sometimes what looks like letting go of an addicted love turns out to be the most compassionate thing for both of us. Sometimes this wakes them up; sometimes it sends them to rock bottom, where the only way is up. Sometimes it means they don’t come back up. But that’s not our fault; we gave what we could, and not everyone is within our reach to save, or even help. So, we can mourn the loss and forgive ourselves for any unnecessary guilt we feel. And we reckon with our shortcomings, what we learned in the process, to keep our own heart clean. This way we grow in integrity, which is why we can help at all.

After all, we got to our own integrity through hard work. We stayed the course. We didn’t turn to drugs, workaholism, apathy, or shut down our hearts to cope. This way, we represent the path they can’t bother with. And they often know it; it frustrates them, if their humility is low. I think this is one reason that when we try to help an addict we get verbally or physically attacked by them. They are envious.

No matter how tough we are, when we love someone we are deeply affected by them. It’s hard not to take things personally, especially when we are sensitive to our own hearts. So, until an addict or denier humbles out and resolves their own muddledness, we won’t get far with them and will bear some brunt of their abuse.

Everyone has a breaking point, a threshold beyond which we won’t go for another, where what was once okay is now not okay. At least we should, especially when our help falls in limp hands. Especially when our good will can’t be recognized by the other and their entitlement and arrogance sets in. To boot, sometimes our efforts are not only under-appreciated, but we get punished for them. As my mother likes to remind me, tongue-in-cheek, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

We know it in our own body, our own heart, our own mind when we’ve hit our limit. Then, it’s time to make some changes and make our own wellness a priority. Addictions of all kinds are a darkness that create more darkness in a vicious downward cycle, often driven by a healthy dose of victim consciousness.

Addictions hide the light of our true nature, which surprisingly, can be the hardest thing to enjoy when we can’t clear our pain and we feel undeserving of goodness. In a sense, then, addicts possess a tremendous potential light, maybe even brighter than many who hover in the mid-range of life’s passions, neither too high or too low. Think of all the great artists and geniuses who self-destroyed themselves. They had tremendous talent and tremendous angst, neither of which they could bear.

So, it takes a special person, a strong light to help that person through, and out, to shine. May we be strong to help, and wise to back off when necessary, especially when our efforts are in vain. And when we can’t go any further, may we be humble, wise, and loving enough to tend to our own broken heart. Best to you and any addict you love.

The Nourish Practice

The Nourish Practice for Deep RejuvenationJack Adam Weber’s “The Nourish Practice” is an easy, guided meditation-Qi Gong practice in radical gratitude and self-love. It is an Earth-based, body-centered practice — at once physiological and ecological — that is deeply relaxing and replenishing, especially for modern-day burn-out syndrome, and requires little physical effort. It “resets your nervous system” and fosters a rich inner life.

You can purchase The Nourish Practice as a CD or Digital Download here.

Previous articles by Jack Adam Weber:

About the author:

Jack-Weber-150x150Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac. is a Chinese medicine physician, author, celebrated poet, organic farmer, and activist for body-centered spirituality. He is also the creator of The Nourish Practice, an Earth-based rejuvenation meditation. Weber is available by phone for medical consultations and life-coaching.

You can connect with Jack Adam Weber at:


If you've ever found value in our articles, we'd greatly appreciate your support by purchasing Mindful Meditation Techniques for Kids - A Practical Guide for Adults to Empower Kids with the Gift of Inner Peace and Resilience for Life.

In the spirit of mindfulness, we encourage you to choose the paperback version. Delve into its pages away from screen glare and notifications, allowing yourself to fully immerse in the transformative practices within. The physical book enriches the learning process and serves as a tangible commitment to mindfulness, easily shared among family and friends.

Over the past few years, Wake Up World has faced significant online censorship, impacting our financial ability to stay online. Instead of soliciting donations, we're exploring win-win solutions with our readers to remain financially viable. Moving into book publishing, we hope to secure ongoing funds to continue our mission. With over 8,500 articles published in the past 13 years, we are committed to keeping our content free and accessible to everyone, without resorting to a paywall.