ASK ABDI: HOW TO DEAL WITH ADDICTIONS OF A PARTNER?
QUESTION: A relationship of more than four years that ended back in January has left me questioning a lot about myself. When I first met him, he was honest about his alcoholism. He was still drinking at the time, but soon after stopped drinking and started going to meetings. I was impressed by his efforts to deal with his issues and wanted to be supportive. I moved countries to live with him. He wasn’t drinking for most of the time we were together, but he wasn’t really sober either. He was always (and probably still is) juggling addictions to weed, sedatives, anti-depressants, cigarettes, coke, food, and porn. It all hurt/s, especially the porn. Much of my focus and energy was spent on his issues, and in the end, I was angry and resentful particularly when I had to accept that he wasn’t on the road to recovery. Maybe I still haven’t accepted it, because I struggle between feelings of bitterness towards him and seeing this as an opportunity for healing and growth. I’ve had times where I’ve thought maybe this experience has been more about my journey than his, but it’s hard to hold on to that thought. I didn’t believe I was at the time, but mine was the role of caretaker/enabler in that relationship.
I’ve been going to psychodynamic group psychotherapy sessions weekly since February. It’s hard. There’s a lot of resistance. I’m good at minimizing my own issues; I’ve had years of practice. I find it very difficult to speak in groups, and often my mind goes blank. I’ve wondered if that’s because I find it much easier to focus my attention on others? I’ve noticed my codependent behavior with others in the group.
Where am I right now? I’m afraid of being addicted to sadness, and I’ve no idea of how to tell the difference between grieving and what might be wallowing in self-pity/feeling like a victim. How will I know? I would like to be in a relationship again (not right now, but one day) but I don’t know how it will be possible, because I feel I’m not good enough and my experience with my ex has really reinforced that belief. Maybe it’s not important to be in a relationship, it might just be okay to feel good enough?
ANSWER: The first thing I would say is for you to realize that your partner’s addictions and its consequences are his and not yours. As clear as that might sound, it is not so to our inner being that feels hurt and rejected. The part that we do have to own is our abject fear of intimacy, which makes us choose someone who is not present. Addicts fit that bill perfectly. So we have to look at, take apart, and evaluate our need to be in the caretaking/enabling role. His use of porn, as painful as it was, had nothing to do with you. It was no different than alcohol, sedatives, etc. It was numbing his pain. The question for you is what were you getting out of him not being present? That part is all yours. Not pleasant to look at, but true. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. The bitterness, the anger, and the occasional gratitude. It seems a bit early just to have the gratitude without the pain. Look at it and keep asking how early in your life you were taught to confuse caretaking with acceptance and love. Your group work is a powerful place to observe these patterns and work on breaking them. You are working on yourself, be gentle, as this is truly a process. We might wallow in self-pity at times, that is okay. You have been through a painful episode in your life. I am sure your group partners can help you ascertain the line between grief and getting lost in self-pity. Work on your own sobriety from caretaking and hiding behind that painful mask. Learn to feed yourself instead of holding up others. Learn to spend time alone without numbing. All these steps will help you heal, so you can be in a different type of relationship down the road. It all starts and ends with our relationship to our self.