If you have been around the Alcoholics Anonymous program at all you have probably heard the title of this post as a preamble to the reading of the 12 Steps. In the life of every alcoholic, drug addict, video game addict, sex addict, there are times where they make attempts to change their behavior. Usually they try to cut back. Or they even quit for a period of time. Or they only engage their addiction on a certain day or a certain time. They say things like, “I was drinking too much so I only drink on the weekends now.” They may tell you that they only smoke weed now and gave up the “hard stuff.” The ways of “cutting back” are endless and creative. When we hear these things, as a loved one of the addict, we are encouraged and hopeful that there is going to be real and lasting change.
A couple of years ago I saw my sister and brother-in-law heading back down the road of alcoholism. They had quit drinking for a couple of years but had never actually entered recovery. Let me pause here to make a quick distinction: quitting does not equal recovery. There are individuals who have the ability to quit for a period of time, often early in their addiction, but without a plan and method to recover from whatever sent them down the road of addiction to begin with, they are in grave danger of returning. When they return they find that their addiction continued even while they had quit. It is the demon returning to find their home swept and in order so they invite hundreds more demons. The next occurrence of their addiction is more terrible than the first. This was the case with my sister and brother-in-law. When they went back out it started slowly and everyone was convinced it wasn’t a big deal. Actually, no one was convinced, they were just hopeful in the face of fear. Having the education in addiction that I have I knew how it all would end. I could see the end and I knew the terrible future that awaited. It was two years of torture watching the slow train wreck of their lives. At one point I wrote a letter to them letting them know their lies weren’t fooling anyone and that they were on a slippery slope. They acknowledged they had a problem and wanted to change. Over the next year or so there were several attempts at change. But the attempts were half measures. If I’m being honest, even my letter was a half measure on my part.
Half measures give us hope. When my sister and brother-in-law acknowledged their problem and that they were going to change I was hopeful. Even though I knew better, I thought there was a chance they could change. After all, they had stopped drinking before. But what they had never done is enter or make any attempts at recovery. What is important to recognize as family or friends of someone suffering from addiction is that any attempt of willpower is a half measure. Just as recovery requires complete honesty on the part of the addict or alcoholic we must be completely honest about what we see in the life of our loved one. Accepting their half measures will only help them stay sick. Let’s call it what it is: half measures are lies and manipulation designed to get you off their back. Their demons are comfortable where they are and will do anything to keep you from interrupting the good thing they got going on. That’s why, when you try to stop them, they fight like hell.
Recognizing half measures for what they are is a big step towards getting your loved one help. If you can no longer be manipulated then you can set clear boundaries. The reality is that when someone close to you is sick, their sickness effects you too. If you are also sick, chances are you will keep them sick. In order for them to get well you must also get well. You also must not employ half measures. For example, if you set a boundary where your loved one is not allowed to sleep in your house if they have been out drinking or getting high then you need to stick to it. If they come to you after a night or day of partying and it is either sleep in your house or the sleep on the streets you need to let them sleep on the streets. If you allow them to stay in your house then your boundary was a half measure. Remember, half measures avail us nothing. In other words, they don’t work. In fact, they do the opposite. I know it’s hard to tell a loved one that they have to sleep on the street but what if that is the only way they will get well? By allowing them to stay in your house you have robbed them of the chance for a new life. Think about that! Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get your loved one well? Or do you want to stay sick with them as long as it is a little more comfortable? Wouldn’t you sacrifice a few days of terrible for a new life of awesome? Or do you want to stay in this life of mediocre misery? There is help. There is recovery. There is a good life. Others have it. Others have done it. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.