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 most likely obsessed with their addicted loved one. Their energy is depleted, negative, and always being directed at someone or something else. Their emotions are constantly in turmoil over what someone said or didn’t say or did or didn’t do or how someone is feeling. One of their main goals is to take care of their addicted loved one and his or her feelings.
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 filled me up with worry and obsession every minute of every day. It gripped and paralyzed me for everything but serving his needs, while 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 and take care of 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”, which gets a bad rap at times. 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’s being responsible for your own welfare and making decisions without ulterior motives or the desire to control others. It means you learn to love and care without going crazy and destroying your own well-being. It’s 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 listen to your loved ones and allow them to be who they are – to become responsible for their actions and grow. When you can actively listen, without jumping in to rescue, control, or fix them, and set healthy boundaries to do what’s best for you, you are detaching with love.
I did so much for my son he didn’t have much opportunity to become responsible. I was his enabler, rescuer, and fixer most of the time. He never stuck with a sponsor because he had me as his confidante, rescuer, 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 all of the time. 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 your mood is 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.
Now, thanks to years of recovery, I can usually separate myself from others and their problems. With a little humility 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 tough love, but honest and healthy self-love.
I have benefitted from the most difficult situations anyone could imagine and tried to learn from them. Detachment with love is a gift of well-being and peace for those who seek it.
Mary Cucarola – 4/8/21