I’ve been really lucky to have a supportive partner throughout my journey of recovery, but I know that this is often not the case when it comes to people with substance disorder and their spouses. We’re not easy people. We want to get better – nobody wants to be sick and miserable and scared – but sometimes we don’t have enough resources and support to do so. So we fail. We promise and we break promises. We try hard but as with any disease it’s in some cases more severe than we’d like it to be. We relapse. We try again. And we relapse. And try again… And, eventually, people might leave. They leave because they get exhausted, and they don’t understand why it is that we’re so bent on destroying ourselves. It is, in fact, impossible (for them and for us) to understand how your brain (and body, and in case of those who believe, your spirit) is keen on killing you.
Sometimes people leave because they want to protect other members of the family – such as children – as it is in case of violence or negligence. There are many reasons why people leave and some are valid reasons and some are, well… everybody has their limits. People with substance use disorders excel at pushing limits.
Here’s what I know doesn’t work when it comes to addiction: threats don’t work, punishment doesn’t work, anger (however it seems justified) doesn’t work, and shaming doesn’t work. A person with substance-use disorder already feels terrible—physically, mentally, emotionally; they are in the throes of something that seems impossible to fight based on sheer will. And how often do people with addiction hear: “if you really wanted to, you would quit!” That’s like saying: “if you really wanted to, you would be happy!”
In other words: if you really wanted to, your life would be great. Show me a person who will shrug their arms at this and say, “nah, thank you, I prefer to die.”
In his popular TED Talk titled “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong,” British journalist Johann Hari talks about addiction and its underlying causes and comes to the conclusion that: “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.”
So also what recovery is not is isolation, abandonment, punishment, resentment… Recovery is not your family putting your belongings out on the front porch—it is, instead, embracing and loving and letting you know that you have support. Maybe you’ve burned too many bridges to deserve good treatment (especially if you’ve harmed someone and are indeed a danger to your family), but if you’re still trying, if you’re still willing… I really hope that you have people who can hold you up and carry you through the worst of it.
If it wasn’t for my wife, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today. She was there from the beginning, attending support meetings and making sure there was no alcohol in the house. She informed and educated herself. She put her anger aside and she treated me like I was someone in need, not someone trying to make her life difficult. She saw me struggle and she held me up.
I’m not telling you this to brag but I want to tell you that if you have people who love you, in your life, please share with them what you’re going through, ask for help, ask them to get involved. Addiction is sometimes referred to as “family disease” and it really is, and everyone needs to heal. We start by connecting, by forming a united front, not a war field—our chances of staying healthy and winning this unfair game are better when we are together, when we are educated about what’s going on with us, and when, above all, we have love and support.
And there are many reasons why people stay.
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