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So many questions.

When dealing with a loved one’s addiction, particularly if the addict is your child, the list of questions is endless.

How did this happen? Can’t he see what he’s doing? Why won’t she stop? What did I do wrong? If I had done (xyz), would this have happened? When did this start? What did I miss? And perhaps the worst, most misleading question of all: How can I fix this?

Anyone who loves an addict has tormented themselves with all the above questions, and more. Addiction so profoundly changes the addict—to the point where they are often unrecognizable to their loved ones—that family and friends almost always believe they missed something significant that could have either prevented the addict from choosing that path, or kept the addiction from escalating.

They’re wrong.

The only person who can stop an addict is the addict him/herself. Much as we want to save the one we love from the scourge of addiction, we can’t. And I’m including myself in this, as I asked all of the same questions and experienced the same feelings of loss, regret, pain and sorrow during my son’s active addiction.

It took me a long time, but I did realize that there was one simple question I could ask myself that could make a small difference in the daily battle of addiction that had taken us all prisoner: What CAN I do?

Four words, but with the emphasis on the word, “CAN.” Not what do I WANT to do, because what I wanted was for addiction to disappear. Not WHAT DIDN’T I do, because that no longer mattered. What CAN I do? What is within my power to do to make this situation even a little bit better, either in the moment, or to greater effect?

The answers to that question may range from calling a therapist or a recovery facility, to attending an AA meeting, to taking a nap—and all are legitimate. What we CAN do during active addiction is limited but must include steps we take to nurture ourselves as well as support the addict.

The goal when treating addiction is healing, and that can begin for family members by eliminating questions with no answers and focusing on the simple things to not only support the addict but themselves. Keep it simple, keep it focused. Take one small action step to make things better. That is what you CAN do.

Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist. Visit her at Her latest book, “The 15 Minute Master—How to Make Everything Better 15 Minutes at a Time,” can be found on Amazon.