Addiction and Relationships: On Jealousy, and How This Can Help Us Take Our Power Back
“Jealousy is information. It tells you what you desire, what you admire, what you despise in yourself. You could learn from the person you envy if you weren’t so blinded by resentment. Learning feels better than loathing.” The Stoic Emperor
I’ll be the first to admit when I have something I’m either working on or had a problem with in the past. Afterall, I do enjoy working on myself because I see the helpfulness of it now, and I like to explain what I’ve gone through as a learning point for others.
In this case, I’ve had a number of years where I saw a lot of this in myself.
And I get it, really I do. Like a lot of characteristics and experiences that being in a relationship with someone with addiction can bring, jealousy seems pretty par for the course.
But it wasn’t always like this, like only in this context. It started even before I met my partner.
Growing up, I never really had a lot of friends. Not because I wasn’t likeable of course (really), but because I kept people at an arm’s length at all times due to my chronic fear of people leaving. You know, why get emotionally invested when I’m going to end up alone anyways? Fun times. And when you grow up like that, it kind of makes it hard to dip your toes into the world of teenage relationships and all of the new experiences young adulthood has to offer.
So I would convince myself that I wanted this life I had, where I was withdrawn and unbothered, happy for my peers who lived their lives unrestrained by past narratives but secretly longing for the same. I would reinforce these beliefs when times were difficult by downplaying them, calling them trivial, and telling myself that I was above these things and I already knew it was all a waste of time.
As time went on, these ideas stayed but morphed to fit my new environment. When my partner was in the cycles of active addiction and sobriety, I would toss around the possibility of breaking up when things were bad, or eventually getting married when times were good. We were engaged after all, but nothing felt solid enough to start planning, and the threat of embarrassment and not being taken seriously was too high to risk it.
So what is a person to do in that situation? If you’re like me, you tear down other people who have what you want, even if it’s only in the dark recesses of your mind.
I would see my friends, classmates, acquaintances, all over social media, their happy families smiling back at me like a slap in the face.
Oh look, so-and-so is getting married. What a waste of money. Haven’t they only known each other for a year? Why don’t they plan better? Why don’t they focus on something else for a while? I’m tired of seeing every post be about how happy and excited they are.
You know how it can go.
Everytime someone around me had a win, I would immediately pick it apart and tell myself it was stupid and how I should never want a life like that. How restricting it was, how I could do better, how I focus on what’s more important. Who wants to live in their own place anyways? I was much more noble living small and without hope.
What is “martyr”? That’s it! $500 to you, one more and you could win this episode of Jeopardy.
Anyways, yeah, among others I had that martyrdom belief on lock, and I could play it while I was sleeping.
But really, looking back I understand why I did it, and it’s why anyone uses coping mechanisms, no matter how unhealthy or negative they are. I was struggling, and feeling every emotion that comes with it.
I felt helpless, and in this case like the only way to take my power back was to resort to dirty ways to trick myself into believing what wasn’t true. I tried my best to persuade myself to think that I didn’t want a happy life, because it seemed like every time I thought I did, the whole idea and hope that came with it was “taken” from me and I was left feeling sad, resentful, and humiliated.
But what’s the point if I still felt so miserable at the end of the day?
And that awakening was when I started to change the script in my head.
Because just like with all of the other beliefs I became more aware of, I realized that it wasn’t helping me, and in this case it didn’t make my life any better to be so scorned while thinking that I was forced to live this life in the shadows with no hope of that white-picket-fence existence.
All it was doing was causing me to further my retreat into misery and hopelessness, and isolate myself even more with each passing day.
So what did I do about it?
Well, honestly the same thing I did with everything. I just took one of the many routes available to anyone to start changing all the beliefs that I had. And while it took some work to change them, and I’m still working on it to this day on a variety of topics, once I got the ball rolling it got easier and easier.
I brought attention to the fact that I was the one at fault here, and I was the one holding myself back from what I really wanted. None of these people on social media had any sort of control over me or my life, and if anything, I should mentally thank them for bringing attention to a sore spot that needed some extra love and healthy focus.
And while I couldn’t force anything outside of my life, like controlling exactly how my partner would need to behave to get us on the fast-track to marriage and stability or who needed to act accordingly to make me happy and at ease, I could be in charge of how I felt inside and what actions I took in my life, and that’s what really mattered anyways. I was the one that was fully and completely responsible for how I felt and how my life was playing out, and to think that the change needed to come from others or something outside of myself was just holding me back.
The sooner you realize that you are the one in charge, the sooner you will be heading in the right direction, and the happier you will feel as a result. That’s how you get the motivation to start the inner work, to focus on yourself, and take charge of where you go in life, and what you will do when something less than ideal happens.
Anyone can sit and feel like a victim of circumstance, or say that they were just dealt a bad hand and they are “doing the best they can” with what they have. But if they aren’t holding a mirror up to themselves and taking active change to feel better and have some accountability, then that’s on them.
And those might be the people you used to be drawn to when you were still playing the negative cards. They were the people you vented to, complained to, and who repeated back to you the same beliefs that kept you in the cycle. You might even be around them still now, only, they don’t seem supportive of you anymore, and try to bring you down from your new level of improvement.
But just as you were hurting at one point, they are, too. And I (obviously) know (from the experience of being that person) that they don’t truly mean any harm. They are just struggling with their own beliefs, and to see someone around them improving may seem like an attack to the parts of them that are still hurting. Just as we give ourselves the chance to grow and work on ourselves, so too should we give that to others as well.
Which brings us to our final points here.
Everyone, including ourselves, deserves empathy and understanding. We go through a lot in being in a relationship with someone with addiction, and sometimes, there are times and experiences where things don’t go as planned or how we wanted them to go.
But at the end of the day, we are responsible for our own beliefs and how we live our lives. You can choose to blame others, mock the people who are living happy lives, and deny yourself the life you dream about and the happiness that you could have because you think it’s better to suffer and safer to think it’s just not possible for you. Or, you can stop identifying so much with what happened to you, stop blaming others for the way your life is, and take accountability for yourself and the life you have so that you can start building better, and gaining the strength and clarity that you always wanted but could never truly grasp.
Life with someone with addiction isn’t a death sentence, no matter how often it's played to be, and that goes for either of you. You are not destined for misery, and there is no one way your path is supposed to go. There are endless ways of finding clarity and fulfillment in your life regardless of how it looks from the outside or how hopeless it may seem, and there is always the chance for you to be as content and satisfied as you want to be.
And it all starts with you.