I can hear your calls for help, I can hear you screaming.
I can hear your love.
It's big, it's huge.
Your son, your best friend, your little brother is reaching crisis point with chemsex.
He begs pleads for help with one hand, rejects it with the other.
And it goes on.
It's been going on for years.
Last year you thought it was crisis point... but it got worse 6 months later, with another rock bottom.
And another at 8 months.
And another, and more.
And the cycle goes on. No help has seemed to work.
How do I help my friend? My brother, my son, my boyfriend.
It’s heartening to hear how much you care, and how big and loving the support is available to him even if he might be resisting help from you, from his mum.
(Except in crises of course. He'll reach out for help in a crisis. But only then.
That’s how the addictive cycle works, and why it hurts so much.)
I empathise. I do, I know that cycle.
And I’m not sure if what I have to say here will be very helpful; I think you know the challenges.
The golden rule of drugs work, is...
You can’t help someone who isn’t ready to help themselves.
It really is, THE Golden Rule.
Firstly; emergencies. If your loved person is in immediate danger; if they are about to violently cause harm to themselves or others, you have the right to call the police or an ambulance. When I say danger, I don't mean, danger of spiraling, I don't mean danger of psychological harm; I don't mean danger of addiction, or of leaving a safe space. I mean, an immediate threat to themself or others; in that case, you have the right to call an ambulance or the police, and they can attend and assess if they are a danger to themself or others. That is a very informed and qualified assessment, and if the emergency services feel that is the case, they can intervene forcibly. This forced intervention typically holds them in safe custody for a typical 24 hours, with medical/medicinal attention. Usually they will be calmer after 24 hours of expert forced attention, and released freely unto their own devices, with information about support services. Sometimes this is a shock that instigates change, sometimes it is just part of the cycle of problematic addiction.
Other, less extremely forced interventions happen too, when a family get together and insist the person attend drug use support. This rarely has the outcome people wish for; and usually drives a deeper wedge between the people wanting to help, and the person in question. It's so important that you don't create any wedges; your loved one will reach out to you for help one day (if not today).
But one day.
Your loved person; he'll be less likely to reach out if you have created a wedge.
Don’t do that.
Problematic chems use (if it is that) is a complex, complex mental health issue, and I truly truly wish there was a medicine or therapy that could fix it in one dose, but most often, it is a very upsetting, long journey.
Your love, even from afar, does a great deal for a person lost in this cycle.
It’s like a candle in the window.
The way out of addiction, that journey, is better when there are people who care.
So never doubt that your love is wasted on him.
It’s a candle in the window for him.
But he needs to come to you. Not have you respond to his crises, at his window, when it suits him only.
That only enables the addictive process. He learns that you are a pushover, he weaves you into his addictive cycle as a rescuer when it suits him, and the game goes on.
I know it’s not a game. It’s very serious. But boundaries, consequences and choice save a person from this complex addictive cycle. A boundaried loving candle in the window saves that person, not a rescue.
One thing I know, one thing I have absolute faith in; the resourcefulness and resilience of drug users. They manage such extreme chaos daily, hourly, that I trust them to survive and cope in the most impossible of circumstances.
Your friend has that resilience, that resourcefulness.
I don’t doubt that for a moment.
You know it too. His ability to get out of impossible situations, to reject help when it doesn’t suit him, to take it briefly when he’s desperate, but just for long enough until he the desperation is gone.
Then he’s gone.
He’s resourceful. I have a never-ending respect for people who get lost in harmful drug use cycles. They are resilient. They are brilliantly capable of coping when no help is offered. When things are completely desperate, they find their way to a hostel, or to A&E, or to an addiction support service, to a sexual health clinic. They are brilliant, desperate and resourceful.
And so is your friend.
So my advice is… trust him to his own journey.
Point him in the direction of a support service when he comes to your candle in the window; and in the meantime.. let his journey play out. Let him take responsibility for every action he takes, let him experience the consequence of those actions, without a short term and ultimately ineffective rescue.
If you choose. I know that's a hard thing to do. If it hurts too much... ignore this advice, and do whatever you need to do for your friend. That's kindness, that's human nature, that's gorgeous. Do what you need to do. But in principle; be kind and loving, and send them in the direction of appropriate support. It IS ok to say no.
It IS ok to not help this time. It doesn't mean you don't love him. It's just communicating a boundary, and lovingly send him in the direction of more appropriate support services.
It hurts to set boundaries sometimes, but boundaries keep us all safe. We model them for children for good reasons, we protect ourselves at work and in relationships with firm, fair boundaries. Boundaries are especially important in your friends journey, though it may hurt to apply them sometimes.
It’s good you’re there for him as a friend. Loving friends, and caring conversations are always helpful, as long as they are boundaried. No rescues. No cleaning up of consequences; the consequences of his actions will eventually bring him to the door of a hostel, or A&E or his GP, or an addiction service. And that’s good. The right people, with the right skills, the good care and the pathways to support are all there for him.
That’s our candle in the window.
We’re here, we’re qualified, we have the right skills, and we know he’ll get here eventually. We’re ready. Every mini-rescue he gets along the way slows that process. He builds coping mechanisms to continue using drugs, to avoid stopping; friends and family get woven into these coping mechanisms, with every mini-rescue, and the giant web of coping mechanisms and people who enable this behaviour, slow down his journey toward seeking the right help. The qualified help.
Be loving, be kind, be a friend. If he’s resistant to support, or change… don’t pressure. One of these days, he is likely to have a 'rock bottom'; a situation where he will reach out and ask for help. Either from you, or from an a support organisation of his choosing. Trust in that. When he asks for help; just squeeze his hand, smile. Point him in the right direction, to this website, to a drug service to a sexual health clinic. Don’t take him, just point him in the right direction. No rescues. If he is sincere, he’ll do it on his own. It has to be the right time, he has to be 'ready' or it won’t work.
Ok, so this bit is hard. Yes, some people die of addiction. But the percentage of people who engage in chemsex that actually die, is very very low. Nearly all pull things together when the circumstances are right, and I trust that your friend’s moment will come, when he asks for that help, and begins his complicated journey toward recovery.
I’m sorry to raise that subject, but I thought it might be somewhere on your mind.
And I hope it brings you some comfort; that is the intention.
Let his journey play out. You can’t rescue him, either can addiction workers.
I give you permission… to step back. Get on with your life. Let him know you're there, always loving, always without judgment. Be strong, remain resilient, so that when he reaches out, you are rested and at your best, and full of the loving kindness he needs. I give you permission… to step back, and allow his journey to play out.
It doesn’t mean you don’t love him;
it simply means you know how to self-care, and your friend will appreciate that if it is modeled for him.
I hope some of this is helpful. It is very heartening to me, to hear of friends and mums and dads and boyfriends and big sisters who continue to care when that care is not always seized with the enthusiasm we would hope for.
Here is some more information from ADFAM an organisation that helps family & friends of people using drugs/alcohol. Their website has some really helpful tips about how to care.
I’m sorry I can't help more. I wish you and your loved beloved one a happier future.
I know there is one. Friendship is like that. Family is like that.
Good luck, and thank you for being a good friend.