The most important assertion behind AA’s notion of attraction rather than promotion is that the autonomy of the addict needs to be respected and enhanced rather than trampled upon. For one thing, it’s a matter of basic human dignity. Wanting to control the addict’s behaviors and to force her to take responsibility is a natural response to addiction, but abstinence under duress is not a sustainable basis for sobriety. And having to be the enforcer is not a healthy situation for anyone to be in.
The only decision that can turn the key is a decision on the part of the addict herself. To not honor the intrinsic autonomy of the addict is to exacerbate the problem. Trying to get other people to do what we want them to do often backfires. On the other hand, accepting people for who they are tends to bring out the best in them. This is especially true with addicts who are often already feeling unacceptable. Adding to that already crushing burden will only make things worse. Detachment and unconditional love are two sides of the same coin. If we really get what detachment is about and diligently practice it, we will come out on the other side and find within ourselves the capacity to love maturely and unconditionally. Tough love only gets it half right (i.e. the not enabling part). If our tough love is fueled by anger, we’re not detached.
Acceptance begins with self-acceptance. We can understand something intellectually yet be unable to accept it. We can even recognize the blind spots created by our own denial and yet still be unable to get rid of our own defense mechanisms. Getting to acceptance is a process that often involves working through the emotions associated with grief. It takes time. Being in a hurry tends to only slow things down.
Many families find themselves having to endure the ravages of addiction for years. Sprinting to the solution doesn’t work. A pace has to be found that is about conservation of energy, maintaining a non-anxious presence, and not allowing ourselves to become so depleted that we’re not ready to act whenever the window of opportunity opens.
Addiction is a force of nature. If we find ourselves in the path of a hurricane, it never occurs to us to try to persuade the hurricane to treat us with respect, to not disrupt our lives, and to leave our stuff alone. It’s not about us. Hurricanes are incapable of taking our feelings into consideration. Believing otherwise is superstitious. It may be an affront to our sense of self-importance, but we don’t matter to the hurricane. By the same token, our feelings, wants, and needs matter about as much to a using addict as they do to a hurricane. It’s not personal.