The Toughest Part of Tough Love: Where They Have 12 Steps, You Have One

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

In the addiction field, we often speak of tough love. This terminology was born in response to the typically enabling role of family and friends. These enablers usually don’t intend to advance the disease of addiction. However, because they also have emotional investment in the addicted individual and a general lack of knowledge regarding the disease, they easily confuse helping with enabling.

Helping an active addict consists of one step: let go.

That is likely the toughest part of tough love. And, for the record, it is not merely tough on the active addict. Family and friends struggle with the idea that there’s nothing they can do.

For them, the act of doing nothing while someone they love stands seemingly willingly on a railroad track in front of an oncoming freight train is far too painful. The urge to violently shove them out of the way becomes too great. Often they succumb, only to watch in shock and awe as the active addict not only dusts themselves off and jumps right back on the track but also victimizes themselves and complains about the violent way in which they were shoved.

Of course, family and friends are expected to attempt a few interventions. It is the normal course of caring deeply for someone. But, at some point, everyone must realize the only way an active addict might stop standing on a railroad track in front of an oncoming freight train is if there is no one left standing there to shove them off just in the nick of time.

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