Being in a relationship with an addict of any sort is extremely testing and, ninety-nine percent of the time, heartbreaking. Trust is inevitably shattered, promises are constantly broken, and continuous hellish relapses are replayed over and over, as your loved one habitually attempts to regain control over themselves and over their addiction. Of course, these attempts are always in vain, as an addiction can be never truly managed without professional help and a lot of self work. Therefore, the loved ones of the addict, often feel like they only have two possible choices: either cut ties with their loved one to protect themselves and others, or stay for the ride and mould their entire life around the erratic behaviors of their addicted partner or family member. Of course, there is another choice – to enlist professional help to stop you from having to shoulder all the burden, but often families are so deeply entrenched in the addiction, that they can’t see this as an option, or fear it if they do.
As human beings, when we engage in a certain type of behavior or action for a substantial amount of time, we will eventually form new routines or habits as a result of those repetitive actions. This is true for all of us but is the most unfortunate consequence of reality when concerning the partners and loved ones of addicts. As a loved one of an addict, in order to adapt to the calamities of life and addiction, your life slowly becomes sculpted around the addict and around the ramifications of the addict’s behaviors and poor choices. What you do, say, think and believe eventually become overshadowed by the incessant demands of your addicted loved one. You will gradually begin to accommodate them in all areas and continuously sacrifice their own needs for theirs. i.e. socially, domestically or financially to name but a few. You take on all the extreme pressures that come with being emotionally involved with an addict. You may even receive physical and emotional abuse on a daily basis, until it either becomes normal or simply accepted. Often after a period of time, you may too become dependent, not on a drink or a drug, but upon your new reality, and the role in which your addicted partner plays within it.
Eventually, you may begin to rely upon their partner and their addictive behavior for a sense of warped normality. All the years of chasing them around and being their sole support is all that you come to know. It is your identity, your purpose and your job all at once – you literally know nothing else. On top of that, the lies, the abuse and the dysfunction of the relationship also become a part of your normal life. As a result, you, yourself may begin to develop deep emotional and psychological issues, whereby relief may only be found through certain behaviors and actions found only in your dysfunctional relationship.
It can get to the point where, even though the dynamics of the relationship are clearly unhealthy for everyone, the drama begins to become necessary. So now, just like the addict needs drugs to escape their problems, most of which are caused by drugs; your addicted loved one is the cause of your pain, but also the only remedy to it. The longer the relationship continues, the more solidified this way of life becomes and ultimately, the more dependent you will become on each other and on the destructive relationship as a whole.
The years and years of threatening to leave if your loved one did not get sober, somehow transforms into a very real fear of them doing exactly that. What would you do if your loved one got better? Where would you go if you no longer had to look after them? And how would they fill your time if your loved one left for treatment?
The construct which you have built, and the reality which you have created, could literally fall down around you, and your identity and purpose would also be lost with it. Your true interests, likes and dislikes would be unknown to you, as these aspects of yourself have been neglected for so many years. More importantly, and more worryingly in addition to that, scores of unaddressed issues and problems would begin to surface as your addicted loved one and dysfunctional relationship would no longer be there to remedy the problems which they had initially caused. You may feel vulnerable and frightened, and too far out of your familiar bubble which has kept you safe for so many years.
This could perhaps be compared to a convict leaving prison after 50 years while still being entirely dependent upon prison life and the routines which were created inside of there. Prison and prison life would have been all that they knew, and once they were released, they longed to return to the life in prison that they knew and understood. Or parallels could be drawn to the parents who say goodbye to their youngest child as they leave home. The parents’ purpose, roles, habits, lifestyles and priorities would change overnight, but change to what? Who are they if they are no longer parents with dependents needing them? Who or what will they become now? How will they cope? It would be unfamiliar and scary. In a similar way, the same fears and worries are all comparable and can relate directly back to the relationship between you and your addicted loved one.
So what would one actually do after having been in a relationship with an addict for so many years? What would you do if you suddenly found yourself lost and alone, as your loved one finally leaves for treatment? How would you overcome the potential feelings of abandonment, abuse, resentment, uncertainty or general lack of purpose?
Well, this is the point where you finally have the choice to move forward in your own desired direction. You can now pursue personal happiness, set individual goals and practice your own self-love. This is the point where you finally have the opportunity to turn the focus upon yourself, without having the strain and stress of your addicted loved one dictating every situation or circumstance of your life. However, as liberating as this may seem to an outsider, these drastic changes would no doubt be frightening and completely alien, and it would be extremely difficult for you to break ties from your dysfunctional relationship and the life which you have been used to.
However, just as the addict would have to restructure and transform their life within treatment, so would the loved ones of the addict. It would not be easy and would be daunting to say the least, but after years of being in a toxic and addictive relationship, all parties involved would require a great deal of help and assistance to overcome the unhealthy habits which were forged in the depths of addiction.
There are various paths available for you to take so that you can regain purpose and direction. You could engage in hobbies and interests which you were previously unable to pursue due to the restrictions of your relationship. Or you could take your experience to groups such as Al-Anon, which have been set up to provide help and support to friends and families who have been directly affected by addiction. Your experience could help others who are going through similar circumstances, while at the same time receiving valuable support and healing.
In summary, it is quite clear that any addiction takes a drastic toll on all of those who are exposed to it. The truth is that addiction takes just as much of a toll on the close family members as it does on the addict themselves. Everybody will break, everybody will scar, and everybody will be eventually changed forever. This is when the journey of recovery begins, not only for the addict, but for all of their loved ones too.