Sunday 3 November 2013

The time has come to practice emotional detachment

Emotional detachment or detachment with love is something that's practiced within the sphere of addiction i.e. carers or loved ones of individuals who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, whatever. It is the point where you detach yourself from attempting to protect them, to change their behaviour or do things for them. (Termed 'enabling'.) It is the point where you make the conscious decision to ignore that phone call for you to pick them up from the pub or where you refuse to pay the fine for your addict child with the result that your child is forced to spend some time in jail.

Detachment with love is not about abandoning your loved one; it is about knowing where to draw boundaries about what ultimately will help them and what won't; what is practical, positive assistance and what is destroying your own emotional and physical well-being by taking control when, actually, taking control may be preventing them from learning to stand on their own two feet - and experiencing the consequences / difficulties / challenges of doing so. When a carer constantly 'enables', both parties suffer. The addict fails to take ownership for their own actions or non actions, and the carer burns out emotionally and physically. It is a lose / lose situation.

Over the past few days I've been juggling thoughts and emotions around in my head, knowing that I was finding it punishingly hard to be Ben's 'manager', if you like, and devoting all my emotional and physical energy and resources into his well-being.

Or at least what I hoped would be his well-being, if he actually did what is required of him over the next few days / weeks / months.

Because, after all, I can't do it for him. Only he can do this.

And I was feeling cr*p: exhausted, burned out, depressed and hopeless, longing to arrive at that point where the 'old Ben' would emerge and the legacy of the four-year eating disorder / post-eating disorder would disappear. Where Ben would look the same and act the same as he used to, surrounded by dozens of close friends who admire, love and respect him - and who adore his company. When the old Ben would be back for good and I could take a back seat knowing my job was complete.

So, late last night as my mind descended into another low mood, I Googled "How do I stop loving my son?"

Now of course I didn't strictly mean that; I will love Ben until the day I die, but it was the best way I could describe what I was feeling i.e. the need to distance myself emotionally at this point - and thankfully I found what I was looking for, and it was this: detachment with love.

Although it seemed to be related to carers, partners etc of addicts, this kind of approach seems to be exactly what is required in our household at the moment.

Or look at it another way...

I am the harbour pilot who has carefully guided big ship Ben out of the tricky port and into the open sea / ocean. He now has the tools to negotiate that ocean, even when the weather is stormy, and is up to him to help himself, to learn how to pick himself up when things don't go as planned, without relying on mum to rush in and rescue.

As regards settling in at university, last week I set in place everything that will allow Ben's life at university to work, as long as he engages with this and does what he needs to do.

If he doesn't, then I can't rush in again to fix it, because it wouldn't be helpful for him.

He needs to find his own way now. Of course I am here providing support and love at a distance, but I will not firefight or rescue, because I have done everything that can be done, and can do no more - without hindering Ben's growth and emotional / social development.

It's a kind of "tough loving", if you like, yet with a bit more compassion.

I have taught my fledgling to fly but I can't fly for him. Only he can do that.

Time to take a back seat.

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