Our reader is sharing her very personal experience with you…
I’ve always hated drugs. The images of the impact of drug use bothered me. At least what I thought those images were. They were dirty people. Long stringy hair, whose shoes didn’t match, skinny with scabs on their faces. They don’t shave. And they don’t wear socks. No jobs, they didn’t own cars, and had no place to live. Only change in their pockets.
I don’t know how or why this was my image of a person using drugs, it just was. Years ago, I heard my aunt was arrested for drug possession. I felt bad for my grandma who told me about it. Beyond that I didn’t much think about it. I wasn’t particularly close to my aunt at the time, and it didn’t much impact my life. But it was the first time I thought, hmmm, different from who I thought did drugs. She was young, pretty, and well educated (she was a lawyer). She must have classed up the party. Maybe she was getting high because she had MS? I moved on.
I am a self-help book junkie. Got a problem? Get a book. I got pregnant, and after the shock (the shock was not how it happened, just that it did), I ran to the book store. I was clueless about being a parent. I hope today my son doesn’t feel the same way. I bought “What To Expect When Your Expecting”. I was actually looking for “What To Expect When You Don’t Expect To Be Expecting”, but the other one got me through.
I lost my mother when I was seventeen. I got a book. I got divorced, lost my job, and ended a bad relationship. Book, books, and more books. You get the point. Cliché as it sounds, knowledge is power.
Back to drugs. And relationships.
I needed a book. I was in and out of a relationship with an addict. Sure I was able to find books on breaking up, and books on addiction, and codependency. But I always felt there is something missing to help explain how I was feeling. As I was coming out of the relationship, and for the most part, while I was in it, I needed to understand what the hell was going on. But all the information I could get my hands on didn’t connect all the issues. I read about addiction when he went to treatment. I read about codependency because that is what my therapist told me I was. I read about breakups, because that’s what I did every time he used and would be gone for days. I tried Co-Anon meetings (on line support group for friends and family of addicts). I read like crazy. I was convinced he had to be a sociopath. There’s a book for that.
Nothing connected the dots. I understood it all. Addiction is a family disease. Breakups suck. Codependency is my issue to work on. It was a trifecta of issues for a great book – “Codependents breaking up with a drug addict”. What a great title for a book. Well, maybe not, but I liked the concept. Like I said, breakups suck. But when you love an addict, there is such a strong sense of mistrust, helplessness, anger, and despair that goes beyond the normal “He Is Just Not That Into You”, (another great book).
There is one thing in common with breakups and being in a relationship with an addict. Extreme loneliness. Breakup books offer wonderful, supportive advice. And so do your friends. They tell you:
Just get over him.
You are better than that.
You’ll find the “one”.
Put it behind you.
Celebrate being single.
It’s his loss.
All these things apply to ending a relationship with an addict. However, along with the heartache of a breakup, you have to overcome the pain that comes from the lies, manipulation, worry, anxiety, fear, and emptiness of being with the addict. I wasn’t breaking up with him because I no longer loved him. I had to try to love myself more. I had to convince myself to stop loving him. That’s hard.
It took me a long time to understand his disease. The first time he went missing (with my money and car), I called area hospitals, his friends, and police stations. I couldn’t focus, so I left work and found myself in the fetal position on the couch, sick with worry. He surfaced twelve hours later. Remorseful, pathetic, and broken. I went from crushed to pissed-off in about 2.5 seconds.
How could he do that to me? He had to go. That lasted 24 hours.
When you are in a relationship with an addict, you are competing. It’s you or the drug. How you act during that competition varies. When he was using, or when he surfaced after a binge, I would cry, plead, beg, threaten and yell (sometimes all at the same time). When he wasn’t, I would tip toe around the problem, navigate carefully with my words and actions not to make him angry so he wouldn’t leave and use.
I had to take a good, hard look at the way I was acting. This didn’t feel like me. In the past, when faced with a problem, I was analytical, thoughtful, and used my common sense. I tried to come up with solutions that worked for everyone. Friends, coworkers, bosses, and generally people who know me refer to my calm nature and call me as the voice of reason.
Then I read about addiction as a family disease. What? I had a disease? I didn’t use drugs. But the impact addiction was having on my life was very apparent. An article from Co-Anon stated, “We begin to focus all of our attention on the addict and make attempts to take control and fix his life. This is our form of the disease.” We obsess over what they are doing. We worry and have anxiety. We get angry at them for using, stealing, lying. When they promise to never use again, and again, and again, we live in denial.
It took a while to sink in, but a former friend (who got tired of my irrational behavior dealing with the addict) said to me, “What happened to you? You would never had put up with that crap in the past…ever.” That crap she was referring to was the chaos, lying, stealing, arguing, and his vanishing for days. She said to me, “If I was in this situation, what would you say to me?” I somehow had to go outside myself and the situation, and look inward. Something I was normally good at.
All the self-help books I have read advocate journaling. Write down how you were feeling. Are there triggers that make you think of him? When do you feel sad? Or weak? Or angry? Or happy? Blah, blah, blah. I was not a fan of this therapeutic recommendation. Journals are meant to be a point in time reference, a reminder of how the relationship made me feel. At the time, I didn’t want to remember how it made me feel.
One day, at a lunch meeting with the president of the company I work for, it hit me. Out of nowhere. It had been four weeks since I had talked to my boyfriend. I got an image of him walking into the restaurant where I was with my boss, and I would have to make that introduction and tell my boss “our story”. It took every ounce of my strength to subdue the panic and pretend I was listening to him talk.
I realized for the first time I was ashamed.
I am a very transparent person. People know exactly what I am thinking and feeling. If I was a book, my title would be “Beyond Open”. Most people close to me know what I have been through regarding my relationship. They have heard the stories of the lying, stealing, him moving out, moving back in, missing for days, and all the tears and worry that go along with it. But there were a lot of things that I decided to keep secret. Why? People were tired of hearing about it. Ever hear the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome? That’s what I was living.
I also kept secrets because along with shame, I was embarrassed. I’ve had the police called to my house four times. Not by me by the way. It was the irrational behavior and thinking of an addict. One time, he called the police because he wanted to leave, his laundry was upstairs and I wouldn’t go get it. They came, and arrested him for an outstanding warrant for traffic court.
After that incident, how do you answer the question Monday morning at work, “So, how was your weekend?” How do you answer the question, “Why do you put up with that?” Or, “You know you deserve better?”
Shame kept me silent. Combine my shame and his disease. He was sick. He had an addiction. I loved and cared for him. He promised to stop. You have to support his recovery. Relapse is part of the disease right?
Logic and common sense would tell you that after experiencing all that goes with a relationship with someone with addiction, that the breakup should be easy. Why wouldn’t be? No more lying, worrying, stealing, emptiness, resenting, anger, lack of trust, etc. Clearly he was the source of my suffering.
Is a breakup in this case easy? Yes and no.
Yes, because of all the things mentioned above. The chaos stops.
No, because I was in a relationship. I loved him, cared for him, welcomed him into my home, my life. I confided in him. I relied on him for companionship. He was my playmate. We shared a bed. And he was sick.
It was messed up.
He wasn’t the only addict in the relationship. I was addicted to him. My fix? Reuniting with him after the many breakups. His relapses were happening about every three months. I didn’t see it coming at first. He would use, be gone for days, move out. Then he would surface with remorse and regret. He would stroke my ego, tug at my heart, and I missed him.
The relapses would become more predictable. He would become increasingly irritable, evasive about where he was or where he was going. His drinking increased, more and more often. If I tried to talk to him about my feelings, it would cause a fight and he would become defensive and aggressive. Oh no…payday is tomorrow. I knew it was coming. I was usually right.
I would try to reason with him or get him to understand the impact his drug use had on me, emotionally and financially. “I’m only hurting myself,” I’m told. Really?
Here is a typical scenario.
Act One. Sunday morning, “Hey I’m going to go help my sister paint. I’ll be back in a couple hours.”
Sunday night. His text message reads, “Sorry I’m an @#*! Coming to get my clothes.”
Here we go again. House is on lock down, his clothes are packed outside (I didn’t always pack them so nicely). He is high, drunk, or both. He is mad and irrational. He calls the police because I won’t answer the door. Fortunately, they quickly get him to leave.
Act Two. A lot of silence, weeks go by this time. Then he wants to talk. I tell him no. He sends a nasty email. “Every time THIS happens you don’t care what happens to me when I leave your house.” The THIS he is referring to is what is described in Act One.
In his mind, this is how Act One should play out.
Act One. Sunday morning, “Hey I’m going to go help my sister paint. I’ll be back in a couple hours.”
Sunday night. His text message reads, “Sorry I’m such an @#*! Coming to get my clothes.”
My response reads, “That’s ok honey. Trust, respect, and honesty are so overrated in a relationship. See you whenever you decide to come home. I’ll be sure to give you money for gas, cigarettes, and lunch tomorrow since I’m sure you ran out today. Love ya.”
When he tried to tell me I didn’t care about what happens to him, I finally saw the manipulation. In the past, I would feel guilty (I still have a small amount). In the past, I would put on my codependent super cape and mask and save this lost soul. But this time, my first thought was “Where is his personal responsibility?” I was proud of myself.
I truly believe that God brings people into your life for a reason. He also takes them out of your life for a reason. Why did he and I collide? An addict and a codependent. I knew nothing about either one three years ago. I now know that they are a perfect match in the beginning of a relationship, but impossible to sustain without real, healthy changes. In short, an addict needs lifelong treatment and a codependent needs healthy boundaries that include imposing personal responsibility.
Regarding breakups, they still suck. Breaking up with an addict taught me one of the best life lessons I could have ever asked for. Breaking free from the shame that was binding me was truly a gift. I was not responsible for his disease. I didn’t cause it and I can’t cure it. During every one of our breakups, Google was my best friend. We spent a lot of time together.
“How to get over a breakup?”
“How to get over a breakup with an addict?”
“How to break up with an addict?”
I thought if I changed the order of the words, I would find something different that would help stop the pain.
Here is what I learned. Go easy on yourself. Deal with the heartache of the breakup the best you can, but let go of the shame that comes with loving an addict. No amount of love or support can fix him. Impose the personal responsibility of his healing where it belongs. With him. In the words of my wise Aunt Joanne, “He needs to work his own program. And you need to work yours.” Whatever your program may be.