When I first met my partner, he was at the end of a cycle of active addiction. And I, being very uneducated on addiction and not knowing I had issues of my own, jumped at the chance to help him and “get him better”. And I mean sure, I had good intentions. I wanted to see him well and happy, and I didn’t think that helping was wrong.
As time went on, I still kept that same energy, but I started to also feel as though more was owed to me, or that he should get better now because of our family, or because it was making me sad and I didn’t want to live like this anymore.
On top of that, I wanted to be acknowledged for all that I was doing. I mean hello, I was keeping this family together and above water, and I was making sure he stayed alive.
I’ll give you another chance dude but you better see how gracious I’m being.
And I would sit and stew in my discomfort and resentment at how he didn’t see all that I was doing. Which would then make me even more upset with him, and distant, and sad. And that cycle would then continue on top of everything else.
It makes me think of that Halsey song "You Should Be Sad". Now, I’m not much of a Halsey fan, but this song makes its rounds in the groups I’m in enough to have some familiarity with it, and based off of that too I know that a lot of you can relate to what I’m writing about on this topic.
Basically, beyond the cheating or whatever else she was singing about, she (and we) feel that we are unjustly in this position where we have so much to give that is unnoticed by an unreceptive partner.
But have you ever considered the thought that maybe it’s unnoticed, or perceived by someone who gets labeled by us as ungrateful, because it wasn’t asked for?
Now I’m not saying that it’s our fault, well, I mean kinda, but let me explain. It’s not as mean as it sounds right now.
Whether it’s our partners in active addiction, our partners in recovery, or anyone in any kind of relationship with us in life, there is an element of authenticity that needs to be present in our interactions.
Meaning basically, we can act on our own authentic impulse, or we can act while coming from a place of wanting something in return.
Take this example: being nice to someone because you have something to gain from it, and not just because you want to be a friendly person. Or, giving money to charities or those who are less fortunate only because you want people to notice and comment on your character and notice you, not because you want to actually help those in need.
It’s the same for our relationships with our addicted and/or recovering partners. While it’s not that we don’t care, we sometimes act in a way that is not completely without motive.
We sacrifice ourselves, our health, our well-being, our mental state, our finances, in an effort to save them and get them into recovery, and feel cheated when the recovery doesn’t stick.
But we have to ask ourselves, did they ask for it? And even if they did ask for help, are we focusing too much on the expectations of the end result and not helping for the sake of helping our loved one?
Even in recovery we can continue the extensions of ourselves into their lives by trying to control or influence too much.
For me, when my partner was in active addiction, I would find rehabs or detoxes, find sober living houses, detox him at home, micromanage his life, basically enabling on all fronts.
And when he was in recovery, I would print out meeting schedules for him, make sure he was taking his meds, organize his entire life, and do all that I could to make things “easier” for him.
But did I ever ask him what he wanted? Did I ask if he wanted my help? Did I do what was best for him, or did I do what I thought was best for him or what I would want in that situation?
Because there’s a big difference.
We can’t operate as if they are the only ones who need caring for, and we can’t let their addiction and recovery take over our entire lives. Their well-being, while incredibly important and hoped for, cannot be the reason for our existence, the driving force of our lives, or the only way we can be happy.
Having that mindset only sets us up for failure and for future resentment, anger, and sadness. We can find ourselves without direction when they are well, and on a power trip when they aren’t.
So, now what? How do we deal with the active addiction and recovery in a healthy way on this topic?
Really, it comes down to this: be aware!
You know, like conscious of what’s going on. Observe what is happening and see what the next step can be.
Obviously, if your partner is living in a sober living house away from you, not answering your calls, and has no desire to see you, showing up with your kid in the car to pick them up to go to the gym isn’t a good idea. (Not that I would know.)
If they aren’t in the right headspace to ask for help or accept it, you overexerting yourself will get you nowhere but farther from where you want to be and nothing but emotions that aren’t fun to have.
Instead, use that time to focus on yourself.
Yes, it’s hard.
When they are out and missing and you can’t contact them so you think they are in the worst possible situation 24/7, it’s hard to journal or paint your nails. But it’s possible, and incredibly needed in order to keep your wits about you and move forward. Practice that self-care, gain more understanding about yourself and how to be stronger and healthier on your own, and you’ll be in a much better off place to help if you can down the line. Either way, it’s for your benefit.
If your partner is in the right spot to ask for and accept help, ask them what you can help with that is within your sphere of influence. Don’t do anything that is enabling or that is under the guise of help but is actually, for lack of a better word, a trick. You know what I mean? If it feels off, don’t do it. But if they ask for a ride to rehab, sure! Let’s go. You’ll know what to do that works for you and is healthy for both of you.
Now, in recovery, those same things can apply. Don’t do things that they can do for themselves. But, help in ways that you feel comfortable doing and that isn’t overstepping your limits. And don’t do so much that you start to feel resentful or that you start taking a backseat again.
You don’t have to do everything you think you should, and you should always be your first and highest priority. The point is to help because you want to, and not because you are depending on their status to find happiness, or because you want to be a martyr or want some kind of badge of recognition.
I can see the ribbon now: “I gave up myself and my life for my addicted partner.”
Sarcasm aside, trust me, you don’t want that trophy.
Instead, swap it out for one more along the lines of this:
“I live consciously and happily, and I love myself first.”
Now that's a badge worth having.
And that’s not to say you don’t also love your partner, either. But when you have yourself as your first and foremost priority, you set yourself up for happiness and comfort no matter what happens, while also putting yourself in the best position to actually help and be a teammate with your partner.
And when you have that, what else can you ask for?