Yes, you are in a relationship with an addict, but in order to love him, you do not need to stay down in the storm with him. You can rise above the dark clouds. You can serve as an example of health and happiness. Not only is it possible, but it is the best thing that you can do for yourself and for the addict.
It may seem like an impossibility to separate yourself from such a difficult situation. You may convince yourself that it would be irresponsible—that if you’re not right there in the middle to attempt to salvage what’s left of your loved one’s job, his reputation, and his self-respect, that everything will just crumble around both of you and be destroyed.
Here’s the tough reality—things need to start crumbling around him in order for him to realize his need for help.
I know that you believe that you’re doing the right thing when you help him to save his job, or help him to stay out of jail, or save him from whatever horrific thing is getting ready to happen. But it’s not helping him, it’s helping his addiction. You’re making it easy for him to continue drinking or using, because the consequences aren’t bad enough to convince him to stop.
Think about how much you despise the addiction.
It’s like an evil demon that has taken over your loved one’s body. You claim that you’re willing to do anything that you can to get rid of it. Instead you become an accomplice to it.
Having spent time listening to other people share their stories in family recovery meetings, I have noticed a common thread amongst us spouses. As our loved ones progress in their disease, we fall into our own downward spirals. We manipulate situations in an attempt to control the outcome. We learn to avoid functions because of our fear of embarrassment. We find ourselves lying on a regular basis to friends, family members, judges, probation officers, and, sadly, to ourselves.
Because we can no longer rely on our husbands, we gradually take over all of their manly and fatherly duties. We change the oil in the car, mow the lawn, build the new deck, teach our sons to play catch. We may even become the sole breadwinner of the household. Meanwhile, we leave our husbands responsible for nothing—all out of the hope that we can somehow control our crazy circumstances—that we can somehow hold our marriage and family together all on our own. It’s no wonder that we grow resentful.
It is a difficult thing to let go and allow him to face the consequences of his actions, mostly because it affects your well-being as much as his.
You don’t want your life to become more stressful. You don’t want your husband to lose his job and leave you broke. You don’t want to admit to your family and friends how bad things have gotten. So you do everything in your power to keep the outside world from finding out.
When it comes to the other people in our lives, especially the addict, we must learn to let go.
We can’t make their choices for them. We can’t control what they do and the more we try, the more out of control our own lives become.
Here is a quick visioning exercise that can help when you are having a difficult time letting go.
I first experienced using this visualization when listening to Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway™ in the audio program, Empowering women (Hay House). I’ve made a few changes, but this exercise has helped me to let go on many occasions.
Read through it first and then try it with your eyes closed.
- Imagine that the addict is standing right in front of you.
- Notice that there is a thick cord that ties the two of you together. Every time he moves he pulls you with him. If you try to move in the opposite direction, he overpowers you, making it too difficult. So, here you are being forced around wherever he chooses to take you.
- The more you resist the tighter the cord gets, causing you to feel suffocated.
- You are left with two choices.
- You can surrender and become his prisoner or you can cut the cord and let him go. Imagine pulling out a large pair of scissors.
- Now, cleanly and swiftly, cut the cord.
- As soon as you do, you feel a release.
- You are no longer constricted.
- You are free.
This is a great exercise to try anytime that you are feeling caught up in the addict’s world. You may find that there are times when it seems impossible to mentally cut the ties, but the more you practice letting go, the thinner and weaker the cord between you will become. When an argument starts to break out, or at times when you are feeling resistance, you can quickly imagine cutting that cord, and simply walk away.
Detachment is really about doing what you can to distance yourself from the troubles of addiction.
It is about letting the addict deal with the consequences of his actions. You can begin to detach immediately. It does not mean that you have to make the decision to pack your things and move out—maybe you will never need to leave. But by putting a stop to enabling behavior, you can improve the odds for positive change.
For example, if he passes out on the bathroom floor, leave him there. What happens if you spend half of your evening trying to get him up and into bed? Not only do you lose out on your own well-needed rest, but when he wakes up, he will probably never remember that he passed out on the floor in the first place. Your stories of hauling him to bed and cleaning up vomit off of the bathroom floor will just sound like exaggerated whining to him.
There are many examples of enabling that happen in an addict household. I offer the following scenarios as examples of how enabling behavior happened in my own home, and the changes I made. You know your situation better than anybody, and only you can decide what changes are safe to make.
I personally reached a point, that if Dean passed out on the bathroom floor, I left him there. What would have happened if I spent half of my evening trying to get him up and into bed? Not only would I have lost out on my own well-needed rest, but when he woke up, it’s likely he wouldn’t have remembered passing out on the floor in the first place. My stories of hauling him to bed, and cleaning up vomit off of the bathroom floor, would have just sounded like exaggerated whining to him.
Instead, by leaving him there and going to bed on my own, I woke up refreshed, and he woke up on a cold hard floor with a stiff neck and a dose of reality.
I decided that enough mornings like that, and he might start to wonder if his addiction was getting the best of him.
My husband used to have a nasty habit of kicking our kitchen garbage across the floor when he had been drinking and was upset about something. He did this on more then a few occasions. We would be arguing about his drinking and he would give the garbage can a full-blown kick, causing the disgusting contents to fly all across the kitchen. After that he would take off, leaving his mess behind. I would then spend the next hour cleaning it up so that the reminder of his tantrum was completely gone by the time he came back home. How silly of me. What possible reason did he have to stop doing this?
So one night he did it again, but I didn’t lay a finger to clean it up. I wasn’t sure how he would react, but I knew that I was done with this ridiculous game. I was asleep by the time he got back. When I woke up the next morning, the kitchen was clean, and it never happened again.
If Dean didn’t get up to go to work because he got too wasted the night before, I did not call his work for him. Of course, I don’t think I could have followed through on this boundary if I wasn’t working myself. If he had ended up losing his job, and I had no income coming in, where would that have left our finances?
This is why it is so important to get some financial independence of your own.
The dynamics of a relationship when only one partner has an income can be difficult for even the healthiest of marriages. When you mix in your husband’s addiction problems, it can leave you in a vulnerable position.
Many times financial burden is what keeps us bound to our current circumstances. Most of us can’t afford to walk away from our homes and jobs in order to start a new life. I believe that this is one reason why celebrities tend to end their marriages so quickly. It is not that they are less committed than the rest of us, but rather that they are making high-dollar paychecks. When they find themselves in the middle of an unhealthy relationship, they have the means to get up and leave.
While most of us may never have millions of dollars in the bank, we are all capable of our own financial independence. As you make your way toward that goal you will no longer feel like a prisoner.
I was home for eight years with my son, and although I would never give that time back, I know that it kept me mentally and physically stuck. I had no income of my own to fall back on so I put up with a lot more than I probably would have if I had had my own paycheck coming in. The mistake I made was in believing that I could not be at home with my son and make an income at the same time. But making your own money does not necessarily mean that you have to find a job outside of your home. Consider the benefits of a home-based business.
There are so many options and literally hundreds of books and online resources available that can help you to get started on the right path. Start by asking yourself, what are you good at? I would bet, whatever it is, there is a way to make money at it.
Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
- Avon Representative
- Cake Decorator Caterer
- Childcare Provider Cleaning Service
- Computer Trainer Dog Trainer
- Event Planner Fitness Trainer
- Freelance Writer Gardening Consultant
- Hairstylist Home Healthcare
- House Sitter Jewelry Designer
- Laundry Service Manicurist
- Mary Kay Representative Massage Therapist
- Music Instructor Pet Groomer
- Pet Sitter Photographer
- Professional Organizer Resume Service
- Seamstress Website Developer
These are just a handful of the hundreds of home-based businesses that you can start up. Some of them require certificates or special schooling—some don’t. Many of them entail almost no startup costs. The opportunities that exist are vast. Self-employment allows you to control the hours you work and the tax write-offs are incredible.
Maybe starting a business is not for you.
- What do you see in your future?
- Is there a career that you have always dreamed of having?
- Would you like to go back to school to pursue that dream?
Even if you just take one class at a time, it is a step in the right direction. If you think you can’t afford it, contact your local community college. You might be surprised by the financial support that is available.
If you are already working for a company, then you should be looking at the opportunities that they offer. Many times just letting your supervisors know that you are interested in moving ahead will open their eyes to your potential. If you are working for a company that offers you no hope for advancement, then you may want to look at other options for employment.
As you start to focus on your future, be sure to learn as much about finances as you can.
Be smart with your money. This can be challenging with an addicted partner, but there are ways to keep your money out of harm’s way. For example, you can set up a savings account that takes the money directly out of your paycheck. The harder it is to get to the money, the better.
Read books by financial experts such as Susie Orman. It doesn’t matter if you only have twenty dollars in the bank. The more informed you are, the more empowered you become. Do What You Love; the Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar, is a terrific book, especially on tape. Marsha is very compassionate and wise. The Automatic Millionaire, by David Bach, teaches you how easily you can start to build wealth through simple changes. For example, you can buy an espresso machine and make your special morning coffee at home, instead of purchasing that five dollar Grande Mocha Latte every day.
In one year, five dollars a day adds up to $1825.00. Now imagine if you found a couple more opportunities and you turned five dollars into fifteen dollars. At the end of the year you would have $5475.00—and that’s without any interest. It may be hard to give up little splurges, but as the money starts to grow, you will appreciate the security it provides far more than some temporary pleasures.
You deserve special treats, and I am not suggesting that you give them up, but how can you shave down on their costs so that you can start saving that extra money for yourself? If you’ve structured your relationship in a way that has left you a financial prisoner, you must start looking for opportunities to free yourself from that trap.
If you don’t have your own career or source of income, then now is the time to start thinking about your future. You cannot count on an addicted partner to support you financially. You have no control over the choices that he will make and, unfortunately, those choices could leave him jobless or in jail.
As your loved one witnesses the changes in you, it will frighten him.
The addict in him will desperately look for ways to pull you back in. His addiction may worsen. He may fall into depression, leaving you very concerned. Just know that this is his addiction attempting to con you and draw you back in.
When you find your emotions falling back into anger or sadness, it is a warning that you are entering the storm of addiction. You can make a conscious decision to stay back.
As you move in this new direction, you will find yourself growing more and more confident. You are putting your focus back where it belongs—on you. You may find that you are not so emotionally attached to the addict anymore. You learn to allow him to make his own choices and to face his own consequences. It can help to remember that with each mistake he makes, he is one step closer to realizing his need for help.
In the meantime, you start making healthy choices for yourself. You are setting a good example, not only for him, but for your children as well. You are focusing on your positive future (with or without him). You are getting strong and that is the real goal of detachment.
Write about the different ways that you have helped to enable your loved one’s addiction.
- Do you make excuses for him?
- Lie for him?
- Have you taken over many of his responsibilities?
- What might have happened if you hadn’t done these things for him?
- Would he have lost his job?
- Lost his driver’s license?
- Ended up in jail?
If you can learn to let the crisis happen for him, it might just save his life. The consequences could be bad enough to scare him into recovery.
Most importantly, as you learn to let go of his problems, you are taking steps toward your own mental health.
There is just one life for each of us: Our own. - Euripides
This article is an excerpt from Lisa Espich’s book: Soaring Above Co-Addiction and has been published with the author’s permission.
About the authors
Lisa Espich is married to a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. After nearly two decades of living through the turbulence of an addictive relationship, she created a plan to gain back control of her life. She discovered, through the process of making her own improvements, that her husband began to make positive changes as well. Eventually, he admitted himself into treatment, and they are now enjoying a healthy marriage. With her newfound strength, she knows that regardless of whether or not her husband remains clean, she will continue on her path of happiness and success.
Lisa lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she is surrounded by a loving and supportive family. She is a successful manager and coach for a Fortune 500 company. Soaring Above Co-Addiction is her debut book. After creating her own personal program for recovery from co-addiction, and witnessing the remarkable transformation by her husband, she is now passionate about helping other families to heal from the devastating effects of addiction.
Lisa’s husband, Dean, runs his own millwork business. Once consumed by his addiction to alcohol, crack cocaine, and prescriptions pills of all kinds, he is now clean and sober, and has a new outlook on life. He shares Lisa’s desire for helping others who are struggling to overcome the effects of addiction. Together, they facilitate workshops based on the principles in Lisa‘s book. Click here for more information about the workshops.
To know more about Lisa, visit her website www.soaringabovecoaddiction.com.