Talking about addiction is really hard. Having a relationship with someone who has an active addiction is even harder. People will compare addiction to any other disease. “What if they had a brain tumor? Would you leave them then?” “What if they were paralyzed in an accident? Would you quit then?” I’ve had a lot of time to think and process those comparisons and the relationships that I’ve had with addicts and I’ve had a lot. My mother was an addict and lost her life because of complications brought on by her addictions. My father is still an addict. My soon to be ex-husband is an addict. Although addiction certainly strains relationships because of the addiction itself, it’s the actions of the addict that make those relationships either maintainable or unbearable.
My relationship with my mother was terrible. There were highs and lows and I loved my mom for the fact that she was my mom, but that’s about the extent of where that went. Our relationship was strained, she was a narcissist and a sociopath I believe. I can openly admit that I have my own set of codependence surrounding my relationship with my mother and more often than not end up in relationships with people that have similar personality traits because of my “mommy issues.” My mom passed away in 2010 from complications from cirrhosis and Hepatitis C – which could have been treated had she chosen to seek treatment to stop drinking and doing drugs but her addiction consumed and eventually ended her life.
My father and I have also had a very strained relationship. His addiction to alcohol and drugs, now just drugs, has led to violent behavior and poor life choices. The details aren’t all necessary but for some reason despite his abusive past and issues with controlling his anger, I always knew that he loved me at least. And even though my childhood was not ideal, it had its good moments and eventually I was able to leave that situation. I still have a “relationship” with my father and I still love my father but wonder what it would have been like to have a dad that wasn’t addicted to drugs.
Which leads to being in a romantic relationship with someone with an addiction. The red flags we ignore. The rose colored glasses we wear. The blind eye that we turn. It doesn’t matter how much love there is in a relationship where there is addiction. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, love is not enough. Love is not all you need. Even with the best of intentions, if the person with the addiction is unwilling to get better, it makes a functioning relationship nearly impossible. Being with an addict is possible, if the addict is willing to work on sobriety.
Alcoholism is a disease. That’s what we’re taught, right? That we should treat people with addiction as we would any sick person. Except we don’t, do we? Outsiders will tell us how to stay in our own lane, how to avoid conflict with our addicts, how we can support them without leaving them. But when someone is fighting a life threatening disease our families and our communities come around us to support us. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some amazing support and I also know that those meal trains eventually run out, but it felt like I was expected to fix him and stay with him despite the fact that he didn’t want to get better, refused to get better and continued to hurt and drag down our family.
Have you ever seen someone who is drowning get saved before? If you watch carefully, a lot of times they will claw their way onto the person trying to help them, dragging their savior down below the surface with them because they are in such a panic. Other times, they will just be dead weight, so heavy from their exhaustion and the fact that they have given up their fight that they are worse to save than the person who is still fighting. That’s what it’s like being in a relationship with an active alcoholic that doesn’t want to change – who REFUSES to get better. They’ve given up on their life and instead of fighting for the things that used to matter to them, they push those things away and drag the person trying to help them, trying to save them, down below the surface with them. And that is exactly what happened in my marriage.
I was hell bent on not writing these words. On not bad mouthing my husband, soon to be ex-husband. I truly hope that these words don’t come across as an attack on him. While I do believe he very much has a personality disorder, I believe his disease took over and all that was left of him was a shell of the man that I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with. No matter what I did, how many al-anon meetings I attended, church services I went to, therapy I dived into, no matter what ultimatums I gave, the fights, the indifference, not our kids, not me – nothing was enough to beat that addiction for him. There was no help coming from anyone in our circle… no interventions were given. Plenty of enabling has and still occurs though.
It seems like there is a lot of guilt put onto loved ones of those with addiction, putting a stigma on leaving the person with the addiction. I understand if you’re looking at this strictly as a disease – not leaving someone who is trying to treat that disease. A friend gave the comparison of this to another taboo disease – depression. If you’re treating the disease and you’re having a hard time or there is a bad period, it’s easier for your partner to work through that with you. If that person goes completely off their meds, refuses to take them again and quits treating the disease, things will become more chaotic and unhealthy for everyone involved. In these situations, leaving to preserve the safety and well-being of those involved ends up being the only choice that is left.
However, telling someone that they shouldn’t leave an unhealthy relationship when the person struggling with addiction is choosing not to treat that disease is even more unhealthy. I love my husband but our family was shattered. All I could do was leave. I’ve never been in a relationship with someone suffering from a medical disease so I’m not sure how they go through the stages of that. What I do know is that the stages of addiction were not healthy for him or me or our family. So while people may say that I didn’t do all that I could for that relationship, I really fought my hardest, in every way I could think of, for a very long time and getting out to save myself and my kids was a tough decision I had to make. To end a relationship, a marriage, that I thought was going to last forever, was not an easy decision.
The real reason I wrote this is because I saw a beautiful video today of a woman caring for her soldier that was now paralyzed from the neck down. It was a music video and the song and images were so striking and it made me so sad. Sad because of the guilt that I’ve felt over leaving that I’ve put on myself and that others have made me feel. I shouldn’t feel like what I did wasn’t enough, I shouldn’t feel guilty for my ultimate decision to leave, that my love wasn’t enough just because I left. It might not have been what he needed to find the inner strength that he needs to better himself, but it was enough to help myself, it was enough to leave so that my kids can have a better life. Because in order to break the cycle of complete childhood trauma you have to show your children that they can love someone from afar.