A while ago, I was going through my newsfeed on Facebook, when I came across this proclamation:
If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.
I thought it was one of the most brilliant pieces of wisdom I’d ever heard—so of course I immediately stole it and shared it on my own Facebook page too. And I’ve been using it—with clients, with friends, and with myself—ever since.
How many times have we all tried to manipulate situations and relationships to make them work out the way we wanted? How often have we tried to control people and things we just simply had no control over? Raise your hand if you’ve ever done this—once or maybe a hundred times over.
Sometimes if we try as hard as we can—when we are forceful enough or persistent enough—we can get the outcome we want. Or so we think… But how many of us have had the experience of getting that desired outcome, for a time, only to have it blow up in our face? Why does that happen? Because if it doesn’t open—or if it takes too much manipulation or scheming or controlling to keep it open, it’s truly not the door we’re supposed to walk through.
And at times like that, it’s best to cut our losses and focus on what is ours to do, instead of what isn’t.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re the loved one of an addict, and you desperately want him (or her) to stop using drugs. You don’t seem to be in control of that situation, which both saddens you and scares the hell out of you because that just makes you feel even more powerless. You don’t want to believe there is nothing you can do, that’s just too hard to fathom—it feels like cruel and unusual punishment, far too much to live with on a daily basis.
You love this person so much—even while you’re angry with him for doing what he’s doing, even while you’re totally frustrated and want to do something terrible to him, even while you’re terrified you may have to end up burying him. So you try everything you can to ‘make’ him stop.
You threaten and cajole and coerce him to go into detox, yet again. You spend a lot of money to have an intervention done or to get him into treatment—only to have him leave treatment early or to relapse soon after completing the program. You let him come home again—with few, if any, stated expectations or boundaries, just hoping he’ll see the light and start living a different kind of life.
But alas, to no avail. None of this works.
Why is that? It’s a great question to ask—and there actually is an answer to it. The answer is:
Because it’s not your door.
This is a planet of free will. We all have free will. Every one of us makes our choices in every nano-second we’re alive. And perhaps short of holding a gun to someone’s head, we can’t make anyone do anything, unless they are actually willing to do whatever that something is. This is a very hard concept for a lot of people to grasp—especially for those who love people who are making dangerous choices for themselves.
As the loved one of an addict, it is not your job to try to make someone stop using the addictive behaviour. As the loved one of an addict, your job is to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the person to remain in active addiction. When an addict is uncomfortable enough, they make a different choice and the behaviour changes—more often than not.
It is never a loving act to enable an addict to stay in active addiction. The message we need to send is: “We love you. We love you so much that we are no longer willing to support you to continue your addiction. We will be here for you when you truly want help to stop—so feel free to let us know when you’re ready for that. Until then, we will not be doing anything that supports your addiction. And that is because we love you, not because we don’t love you.”
Then and only then, the door becomes the addict’s door to open, not yours.
You cannot open a door meant for someone else, it’s just not possible. But you are meant to open your own doors. The best thing you can do as the loved one of someone with an addiction is to stop trying to open the addict’s door, and to instead focus on your own life. That will be the healthiest and most respectful decision you can make—both for yourself and for the addict you love.
If you find yourself becoming confused in this process and wonder whose door it really is, just remember that as hard as you may try, and as many times as you try—the simple truth is this:
If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.