Addiction and Relationships: The Affection Connection
Alright, so we all know that this is a blog, site, etc on having a partner with addiction issues. And if you didn’t, well, you know now.
But I was thinking, why not branch out a little, too?
Having a partner with addiction can be overwhelmingly intense, and getting into the swing of things once recovery starts can be challenging as well, but what about after? Or the seemingly unrelated parts of life that can be called into play in certain dynamics and situations?
Surprisingly, it’s not all cut and dry. “If I could only take out the addiction then everything would be perfect” is not a true statement after all.
Who’d a thought?
Now, once such topic (at least for me) is the whole umbrella term of intimacy.
I’ve touched on this a few times in the past but it was in passing, something that may have been mentioned but not really gone in on much.
The reason I bring this up is because it has been an issue for me for years, like, not even in my relationship with my partner, I mean like, when I was a kid kind of years. But even though it’s been around since before my beginnings with my partner and his substance use, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t continue to be an issue, or that it doesn’t relate to it at all.
Let’s get into it and you can see what I mean.
So back when I was a kid (you’ve probably heard this story from me before), I was really close with my grandparents because my parents worked and I was with them a lot. Unfortunately, they ended up getting a divorce, and unfortunately still, no one really clued me in on that. I was young, and I don’t think they wanted to upset me, but still, it made things not make sense. One minute grandpa was my best friend, all smiles and hanging out with me everyday, and the next, he disappeared and no one could tell me why.
Being a little kid with no information, I was prompted to come to my own conclusions about what happened, and since he was with me all of the time, he must have deemed me “bad” in some way and so he left. Little me determined it was my fault. And since no one communicated anything, no one could fix this, and tell me it wasn’t true (side note: this is why I was really proactive on making sure we communicated as much as age-appropriately possible to our daughter about his addiction because I didn’t want her creating the same false beliefs).
I held onto these beliefs throughout the rest of my childhood, into adulthood, and this is how I related to the term codependency, and how that tied into my partner’s addiction (but that’s another blog post).
The reason I bring it up here, though, is because it relates to the idea of intimacy and affection, which is something I never really considered to be that much of an issue relating to his addiction and our lives as a whole until more recently.
Why, you may wonder? Honestly, that whole topic was one I never really learned.
It’s something that doesn’t really get taught like information, but is more experienced and shown through social situations and peers. And being that I had beliefs that everyone that I held close would abandon me, I never allowed myself to have any kind of romantic or even close friend relationship where I could really learn and understand these kinds of things while learning to be vulnerable and open. What became natural and second-nature to everyone around me continued to be foreign and uncomfortable to me, which then in turn caused my guard to go up even more. But even still, there was a part of me that longed to know what it was like, to be able to feel safe and trusting towards those who cared for me or who could care for me if I was just able to let them in.
Once I met my partner things didn’t really change much either, at least in the beginning. We started off as friends, so it wasn’t that different from what I was used to, but we quickly became closer than any friend I had had before. Still, after we started a relationship and even into getting engaged, I wasn’t able to shake my old beliefs and ways of living that I had used as a safety net before.
It was hard to show affection in public, and even the simple, small ways of showing closeness were difficult and awkward for me. And on top of feeling like some kind of weird social failure, I also felt guilty for not being able to show my partner how I felt.
What if he felt like I did before, and like this was somehow his fault?
What if he got tired of me being like this and left because of it, making my fears a self-fulfilling prophecy?
It was, understandably, a lot to deal with for me. But then you take all that, and also add in the addiction factor, and it became even more intense. Because then I would worry about stuff like:
What if he uses drugs as a way to cope with being in the relationship?
What if the drugs make him realize that he would rather be with someone else?
What if he gets sober and realizes he’d rather be with someone else?
And then, this is good I swear, we see how we get to the golden answer that I have also used for years (on and off but it got more frequent towards the more recent years there):
Let’s cover it up with ANGER.
Because you see, even though I knew I had issues with closeness, I couldn’t figure out how to unlearn the behaviors and coping mechanisms I made as a result of it. And once I had the relationship with my partner I had an enormous amount of guilt and frustration about it on top of everything else I was dealing with. Now, looping around, since I had issues with closeness, vulnerability was basically off the table on every level, so it was hard for me to express my feelings of frustration and guilt, and in that case, the only option was to cover it up and bury it under anger.
Anger being anger obviously, but also resentment, irritability, isolation and being closed-off, being quick to start arguments, stubbornness, the list goes on.
And these traits and ways of coping just continued to loop around into its own cycle of unpleasantness that I found it difficult to acknowledge, let alone get out of.
This made it hard to recover. For both of us.
He expressed in therapy that he felt frustrated, because why would he want to try to fix anything if I was always going to be unhappy anyways? And on top of that, he felt that his drug usage helped him to cope with how miserable I was, and in his mind, that made sense and was his only option.
And on my end, I saw his continued use, his inability to commit to sobriety, and my own problems as more of a reason to dig my heels in and resolve to never let my guard down because it would all fall apart anyways.
How could I show myself as being comfortable and okay in my relationship if I was embarrassed of how it looked on the outside? How could I feel secure and confident when my life was falling apart and we could never get out of the vicious cycle?
Well, there is an answer, and it’s what comes around towards the end of most of my posts because it’s honestly the truth, and it's literally what worked for me, 100 percent without a doubt:
I had to work on myself.
Shocking I know.
But hear me out, because even then I’m not done yet.
When my partner’s addiction was in the worst-of-the-worst-that-anyone-had-ever-seen, I finally had enough, and on a multitude of levels. I was like, okay, this is it I can’t do this anymore. It’s bullshit. There, I said it.
And so I got to work.
And in doing so, I realized that I had A LOT to take responsibility for in myself as well.
And since then, it’s been really nice. Lots has happened, lots of stuff has been improved on if not released completely, and it’s an entirely different way of living. I feel like I have become much more accountable and understanding in the process, and it has really helped our relationship for the better. So many things that used to bother me or scare me in the past or that would drive a wedge between us doesn’t even make me blink anymore.
And it bothers me that it bothers me. Like, okay, I know that perfection isn’t a thing, and to think that one day everything is going to be all flawless and euphoria-inducing is completely unrealistic and downright damaging to think, but I guess I still feel guilty about it.
I know that I’m still healing, that I’ve had the foundation of these beliefs since before I met him, and also that maybe the intense emotions and situations I went through as a result of his addiction that relate to this maybe haven’t quite cured yet. Maybe all those years I build up walls around my heart to save me from the increasing reality of losing him for real and in a harrowing, terrifying way means that it’ll take just a little longer to break them down. But it still hurts, and it still makes me feel like something is missing. And it brings in new fears that maybe I’ll just be stuck like this forever.
But I know I can’t let myself fall into that trap of thinking. Otherwise, what was it all for? I know how to recover, I know how to heal myself, and I know that I don’t want to continue with only one foot in the water of my connection and commitment to him and what we're building together. I know I want to be here in this relationship, and I know that I’m not scared anymore like I used to be.
So that’s where I am now, right now in this present place. Which is odd, because usually when I post about a topic, I feel like I’m already over the crest of it. I like to be on the other side so that I can show how it all played out, and feel like it’s something worth sharing.
But I know now that it’s also good to show the places I'm currently struggling in, because again, not everything is perfect and fixed. You never get to a place where you are fully satisfied and without anything to change, no matter how huge or minor it may seem.
So I’ll continue to be here, doing the work and digging deeper into my inner workings, and I’m going to keep moving forward like I’ve always done.
Because that’s what recovery is, right?
And I hope that in doing so, I’ve given just a little bit of help on something you might be struggling with, too.