Let Go? Are You Kidding Me?

By Lori Bolen, ACC, CBFRLC

mother yelling at daughter who has head in hand

‘It is Important to Let Go Without Giving Up or Giving In’
The BALM® (Be A Loving Mirror) Family Recovery method teaches families how to ‘be there’ for their struggling loved one through its solution-based curriculum and group and individual coaching opportunities. For the next 12 months, we will share all 12 of the BALM® Principles for family members to learn from and apply to their relationships.

BALM® Principle 3 says “It is important to let go without giving up or giving in.” What on earth does this even mean?! What will happen if I let go of all the things I’m controlling right now … who will make sure the house is clean, food is cooked, bills are paid? Who will make sure my struggling loved one gets up for work or school; clean up their messes (physical and emotional); monitor their alcohol or drug intake; push them to seek treatment? Who I ask? Who if not me?

The focus of this principle is on developing a sense of consistent inner calm despite any outer circumstances. Contrary to what many people believe, letting go is not doing nothing; it is doing the right things in the right manner at the right time.

At the core of our need to control all the outward factors is an inner fear of losing our loved one. A very real and ever-present fact is that people with SUD have a markedly higher probability of early death. I used to have nightmares that I was called to identify my daughter’s body. We can’t control whether our loved one lives or dies, so we desperately try to control everything else. And we make ourselves, and those around us, crazy in the process. 

I don’t think any of us were born into this world in the crazy, chaotic condition we are in when we first begin to pursue family recovery. Some of us meet the cunning, baffling, powerful disease of substance use disorder on our journey, and are forever changed by it.

I tried to control my loved ones’ SUD and when that didn’t work, I tried to control everything else – myself, other people, appearances, environments, etc. Can we say OCD and perfectionism?! But internally, I slowly slipped into an out-of-control state; becoming angry, anxious, and ashamed. The more I tried to control everything and everyone, the more I failed, and became even more angry, anxious, and ashamed. It’s a vicious cycle and the stakes are life and death.

What is letting go without giving up or giving in?  We let go of the need to control; of obsessive thoughts; of playing out the overdose scenarios in our mind; of ______ (fill in the blank with whatever your own obsessive thoughts are.) 12 Step programs call this “admitting we are powerless over_____.” Powerless does not mean helpless or hopeless. We have help in our recovery community, and we have hope in our Higher Power. 

In the BALM®, we learn to be the peace we wish to see. We realize that peace lives within each of us and we need only to access it and activate it. We learn the power of one – if only one person in the family works a recovery program, it can and often does spill over to the rest of the family. We really can be our loved one’s best chance at recovery! We learn the importance of self-care; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually so that we are at our best when we are interacting with our loved ones. We learn we can stop contributing to the SUD and start contributing to recovery. We learn to love unconditionally; to accept our family member where they are; we realize we are always at choice. We can choose how we act, think, speak, and behave.

You may be thinking, “Ok. Ok. I get it but How?” Great question! 

First, you didn’t get here overnight so please don’t expect to change overnight. Part of self-care is giving yourself grace; recognizing every step of progress; and celebrating wins, no matter how small they may seem.

Next, I invite you to engage your Higher Power- whatever that looks like in your personal spiritual discipline. For me it is God, and a pivotal moment in my learning to let go happened one day when I was praying. I found myself envisioning my daughter in my arms as I extended them (and her) up toward heaven and saying, “I am letting go of her and trusting her to your arms.” Others have taken a photo of their loved one, and placed it in a God-box as a symbolic gesture of letting go. It’s whatever works for you but finding a physical symbolic gesture is powerful in anchoring the concept of letting go.

Now that you’ve let go, how do you not give up or give in? First, don’t give up on yourself and don’t give in to self-sabotage or defeating self-talk. Find what brings you joy and peace and make time for it. If you’ve been dealing with the family effects of SUD for a long time, you may need help finding peace, finding joy, finding purpose and that’s ok. A BALM® coach can help; a therapist can help; a spiritual leader can help. Notice the theme? Ask for help!

And don’t forget your physical self. Make an appointment for an annual physical, a dentist appointment, an eye doctor appointment, etc. Whatever you’ve been ignoring, do that.

Don’t give up on your loved one either. There is hope for them. People do recover. In the BALM® we learn how to communicate with our family member from love and peace and calm. We don’t cut them off. We simply learn how to communicate.

It really is possible to let go without giving up or giving in. And just as I found anger, anxiety, and shame replaced with love, joy, and peace, you too can ‘Be The Peace You Wish to See’ in your family in the midst of the chaos of substance use disorder and ‘Become Your Loved One’s BEST chance at recovery!’ 

Lori Bolen is certified by both the International Coach Federation and the BALM® Programs. A wife, mom, and grandma whose life has been profoundly impacted by SUD, Lori works with families facing a loved one’s struggles with SUD and other co-occurring disorders. She works as a contract coach and administrator for the BALM® Program as well as a faculty member in both the one-year BALM Family Recovery Program and the BALM® Family Recovery Life Coach Training Program. For more information on the BALM®, call 1-888-998-2256 (BALM). www.balmfamilyrecovery.com