By Mary Cucarola – 4/8/21

“Detachment is not about refusing to feel or not caring or turning away from those you love.  Detachment is profoundly honest, grounded firmly in the truth of what is. ~Sharon Salzberg

Have you ever asked someone how they are feeling and they tell you how someone else is feeling or asked them what they’ve been up to and they tell you what someone else has been up to? The entire focus is on someone they care about or something else other than themselves. They can’t tell you how they are feeling or thinking because they don’t really know.

They are mostly obsessed with other people and are almost always invisible shells of themselves.  Their energy is depleted, negative, and always being directed at someone or something else.  They are so obsessed they can’t read a book, play with their dog, or go for a walk.  Their emotions are constantly in turmoil over what someone said or didn’t say or did or didn’t do.

The sad story is this was me several years ago, when my son was in the depth of his addiction – waiting and waiting for him to get sober in that gut-wrenching, hand-wringing anxiety that never seemed to go away.  It hit me in the stomach, filling me up with worry and obsession every minute of every day.  It gripped me and paralyzed me for everything but serving his needs and neglecting my own.

When you are obsessed, you can’t get your mind off of that person or problem.  I didn’t know what I was feeling or thinking, but I knew I wanted to do something to help him.  I could think of nothing but fixing him, controlling the problem, and making it go away.  I wasn’t even aware there was another choice.  I loved someone who was in trouble and out of control, and I thought I reacted to it justifiably.

There is another choice and it is called “detachment with love”.  It doesn’t mean you become hostile, withdraw, and totally unaffected by your loved one and their problems.  It involves present moment living and allowing life to happen instead of forcing and trying to control it.

Detachment involves accepting reality – the hard truth.  It doesn’t mean you don’t care.  It means you allow others to learn from their mistakes.  It is being responsible for your own welfare and making decisions without ulterior motives or the desire to control others.  It means you learn to love, care, and be involved without going crazy and destroying your own well-being.

It is not about giving up on your loved one or being selfish or cruel.  It’s about being able to make good decisions on how to love people and be supportive in a healthier way. You keep your hands off other people’s responsibilities and tend to your own responsibilities instead. You listen to your loved ones and allow them to be who they are – to become responsible for their actions and grow.  When you can really listen, without giving advice unless asked, you are detaching with love.

I did so much for my son that he didn’t have much opportunity to become responsible.  I was his enabler, rescuer, and fixer.  He never stuck with a sponsor because he had me as his confidante and guide, which was to his detriment and mine, too.  I needed to stay out of his way and let him do the work of recovery.  He needed to experience the consequences of his actions in order to grow and mature, while I stayed close to him, but didn’t interfere.  I eventually learned how to detach with love, but it was difficult for me for a very long time.

Detachment is a healthy neutrality, writes Judi Hollis in her book Fat is a Family Affair.  I love this definition more than any others I’ve heard.  If you’re up when they are up or you’re down when they are down, detachment neutralizes those fluctuating emotions.

You are free to care and love in ways that help others and don’t hurt yourself. I know people who have serious problems with an addicted, mentally ill, or disabled loved one, yet they learned to live with the circumstances despite the problems.  Most are spiritual, believe in the natural order of things, and are able to release their burdens to the God of their understanding. They let go of the negativity, don’t ask the world to change before they do, and give themselves the freedom to enjoy life in spite of the unsolved problems.

I’ve learned over the years to detach from people I love, like, and those I don’t like.  Now, thanks to years of recovery, I can usually separate myself from others and their problems.  With a little humility, surrender, and effort on my part, I try not to get overly attached or involved anymore.  I understand life is unfolding exactly as it needs to for others and for myself.  It’s not at all tough love, but honest and healthy love.

I have benefitted from the most difficult situations anyone could imagine and learned from them.  Detachment with love is a gift of well-being and peace for those who seek it.

Mary Cucarola – 4/8/21

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