Sometimes we have to create distance from those we love in order to protect ourselves. It is also the most loving thing you can when someone is on a downward spiral of self destruction from refusing to get help for a mental health and/or substance abuse problem. This is because it helps offer the gift of desperation. If you have never heard of that, it is the feeling someone gets when they finally realize they have hit rock bottom and have nowhere else to turn. While that is not a pleasant gift, it is sometimes the only thing that will motivate someone to save his or her own life.

Hitting rock bottom is where most people finally pick themselves up and make better choices, such as getting sober and becoming functional and healthy – or learning to manage their mental illness in a way that isn’t adversely affecting others. “Rock Bottom” is different for each person. For some it could be losing the support of loved ones, or losing a romantic relationship, a job, health, a roof over his or her head or ending up in jail – or a combination of all of these things.

It’s sad that it takes hitting a bottom in order for someone to choose a better life. The hard truth is that for the majority of people, changes aren’t made until it becomes too painful to remain the same.

If you truly love the person who you need to distance yourself from, and your hope is that they will choose to get well and healthy, it’s important to detach with love. That means, don’t say things such as “I’m washing my hands of you” or “I am giving up on you”. Instead, use statements such as “I need to distance myself from you until you make better choices”, or “I cannot help you now because I love you too much to contribute to unhealthy choices”.

Make sure your loved one knows you will be there for him/her when the decision to get help is made. This will give your loved one hope that when he/she finally decides to get well, there is someone to reach out to. Never underestimate how powerful that hope can be, even if it seems that it’s the last thing on your loved one’s mind when you are detaching from him/her.

There are a number of ways to detach with love and they are all about setting boundaries. For example, “You are not welcome in my home until you get sober” is a boundary. Other boundaries may include, not giving your loved one money, or even cutting off all contact. Even the hardest boundaries can be done with love and don’t have to be a drama filled confrontation. Say them kindly, clearly and firmly and then walk away instead of argue.

It’s important to take your time to consider the boundaries you feel you need to set in order to make sure you are going to be able to keep them. This is critical. If you don’t think you can carry through on asking someone to not contact you, then don’t do it. If you need help, reach out for it. There are resources and others in your situation who want to be there for you.