Love the Addict
The People We Love
My brother called me a couple of weeks ago. He's going to be a father, the first grandchild in our small family, and the reality of bringing a human to earth has sobered him. It's unusual for him to call me. He's warm and loving and forgiving of my flaws, but neither of us is one for talking on the phone.
We spent most of our time talking about the new baby. He's also newly married, so I'm still figuring out the parameters of that relationship. My family entangles each other without boundaries, and I want to make sure I'm respecting his new wife. New husband, new family, new baby, new life.
But this brother also wanted to talk about our youngest brother. He feels largely responsible for the emotional well-being of our mentally ill father and the physical well-being of our obese mother. When I prod him about starting his life, he says, "You left," and I can't disagree. I did leave. At 17, I moved out of the house when he was just a baby boy. Not even a decade later, I moved across country, to go to grad school but also to develop a self outside the tethers of our family's need. He's right. I left.
I think my middle brother is worried like me that this late start in life won't end, that our youngest will find himself trapped by the burden of a family always in need. We're scared because we love him, and we can see the potential and kindness and intelligence radiating from his heart all the way across a room.
During our phone conversation, my middle brother asked, "What about you? What could anyone have said during your worst times that would've changed what you were doing."
They could have said nothing but I love you.
By the time I got sober, I'd pulled my outside life together enough that most of my friends were surprised by the news of my alcoholism. One friend asked, "Are you sure this isn't just another thing you want to fix about yourself?"
But in my mid-20s, my best friend met me for lunch at an Arby's with her small child. While the baby played with her fries, my friend tried to explain all the ways she was worried about me. I'd fallen and ended up in the hospital recently, and she knew I was getting blackout drunk more than I let on.
I turned red inside in that moment. Not only had I been seen, but it was enough to drag my friend with her baby to a restaurant so she could talk some sense into me. Did I thank that friend for her love despite my behavior? Did I tell her that it meant a lot to me that she cared ? No. I got pissed, defensive, and superior, my go-to responses for any situation that made me feel vulnerable and exposed. I got pride by the pound.
I say this not to suggest we all shouldn't try. We just keep saying I love you. We keep showing up and showing love, waiting for the day that something clicks and our loved one is ready to hear it, accept our love, or pull themselves out of addiction if they're still active. We keep doing what is good and healthy for us because we can't do anything about how another person feels in a situation, and their reaction so rarely has anything to do with us. My best friend shared her heart with me, and if I had been able at the time, I would have shared mine back. I wasn't able.
A woman wrote to me recently to ask about loving an addict? What can we say or do to help? This depends on so much. Is that loved one actively in some kind of recovery? Are they dry or clean but white-knuckling it day to day? She sounded loving, kind, like she wanted to do the helpful thing. My guess is that she is already doing everything in her power, of which there is little in the situation. We are all powerless over how another person feels about anything we say to them. We control our intention then let it go.
I'm a firm believer that we need to talk to people like us while we go through this. It doesn't have to be AA or NA, structured programs in which not everyone finds their fit, but there are still ways to connect with other recovering addicts and alcoholics that don't have to involve those programs if a person is opposed. But I do believe in the value of having people for whom it is perfectly acceptable to call or text and say, "I had a fucking awesome day today! I want to get loaded." Because that other addict is going to get it in ways that no one else can (thank god) without an emotional stake in the outcome, and that person can act as a mentor on how to navigate daily life, which is really fucking hard. If your partner already has that, he's on the right track.
This goes for you, too. Find people who themselves are connected to addicts. It is so important that each of us have people who can hold up our mirrors because we get wrapped up in our stories. Find your tribe of support, whether that's Al-Anon, an online community, or super understanding friends. But to offer support to your partner in a meaningful way, you must first take care of yourself in a meaningful way.
I think one of the hardest things to do is let go. Have faith that what your partner is feeling or doing or being in the moment is his path. If he is moving forward in his own recovery in some way, this new pain is part of the lesson. Being a loving person, you want to help, but you have to trust in the Universe (or god or the Force or whatever) that this moment belongs to him. It is his path. You are not there to change it but to bear witness and love him.
Here's the most important part of this. The most essential thing you can do for your partner's recovery is take care of you. Yes, I mean that. Make sure your nutrition needs are met, you have activities to relax you, you fill yourself with whatever nourishes and replenishes your light. Make sure you're taking quiet time to fill yourself back up, however that looks. For me, I have to get up and write every morning, or I can't see my shit clearly and the stories I tell myself start to warp. I have to prioritize nutrition because I will live on candy and ice cream and wonder why I'm exhausted. I've also upped my bath game: epsom salts, essential oils, some yoga station on Pandora, and candles, so I can just sit in there and watch my breath. I have a friend who boxes, another who paints her apartment, another who walks, like, a lot. Whatever the equivalent of these things are for you, schedule them, prioritize them, believe they are the most important thing you do for anyone in your life.
And finally, reach out. Call someone who understands. Text them. Email. Comment on blogs or Facebook groups because we're all out here, and we're all struggling, and most of us our trying our best just like you.