A while back, I received an e-mail from a concerned mother. In it, she described her son’s addiction. She spoke about several experiences that were similar to my own when my brother was in active addiction some years ago. She told me about how she had done this and that trying to help. She was scared she was going to lose her son.
She then asked me a simple question: “What do you wish you had done differently?”
It was a tricky question. Some may even say it was a trick question. Looking for the silver lining has been the quest of every person who I’ve spoken to on this topic. In fact, it was even my quest for many years while my brother struggled with his alcohol addiction until 8 years ago.
For a while after she wrote, the woman’s question remained in the back of my mind. It caused me great anxiety. I simply didn’t have an adequate answer.
What do I wish I had done differently? At first, I thought of all of the little mistakes I made. Perhaps, if added up, they would have made a difference. Maybe some of the small changes might even have prevented some of those difficult times or maybe not. Yet, this response did not satisfy me. After a few weeks of deliberation, I finally discovered a better answer.
“I would have learned to listen.”
First, I would have learned to listen to my brother more. What does an addicted person really have to say worth listening too? All along through his words and actions he told me there was nothing I could do to fix him. But as a family member I thought that it was my job to fix the situation. . That’s what families do, we fix things. I spent years of trying to fix him, despite the fact that he was telling me not to.
I would have also learned to listen to counselors and other family members who had simular experiences.
“Listening” is very different than searching for answers. Getting answers to questions or “what to do” solutions assume that there is a single answer or methodology that will awaken not just you but also your addicted loved one from their preceived nightmare.
I would have learned to listen to my own internal struggles about what I am told. What have I heard, what do I feel and why am I scared? My emotional reactions were a result of unresolved internal struggles.
Finally, I would have learned to listen to my heart and my head. Most of the time one or the other wins. My heart reminds me that where there is life, there is hope. It allows me to love someone that by all accounts seems to be unlovable at times. Yet my head reminds me of the reality of addiction. Heart verses head is not a win/lose struggle. Your heart and your head should work together. It is possible for your heart to accept that your loved one may die. It is also possible for your head to understand that there may not be an answer for addiction and loving for just today is all you get.
Listening is hard. After all, nobody will ever love your child or family member in the unique way you do. As a parent you fed them , changed them, raised them and provided for their every need.
Listening to your child or loved one is hard when loving and caring for them has always been an instinct.
So quite simply …What do I wish I had done differently? I wish I had learned how to listen sooner.
By listening you “learn”, by listening you minimize “assumptions” and by listening you demonstrate “respect”, not only to your loved one but to yourself!
To help listen you must practice asking “open ended questions” such as using How, What, Where, When and Why. Avoid asking yes or no questions as it immediately stops the open conversation required for a proper listening experience.
For any questions or suggestions on this listening practice please feel free to contact me or leave a comment so I can help you further.
Listening with kindness
Brother /Counsellor/ Humanitarium