Addiction and Relationships: Why the Root of Your Problem Isn't Where You Think
Being a human here on this planet and having a life means that you were probably exposed to some kind of experience at some point that may have given you some kind of unpleasant memory or issue.
Of course, when you have someone in your life with addiction, this is pretty much guaranteed. And also, a lot of the time, those issues from your past can mesh with the issues from the addiction in your life and create some kind of strange double-whammy.
Take me for instance. When I was little, oh I don’t know, maybe around 6 or so, I was really close with my grandparents. Long story short, they ended up getting divorced, which is fine, but in an effort to keep me from getting hurt my family didn’t really talk about it or the reasoning behind it, so to me in my young age I processed it as my grandfather just deciding to leave one day and never come back. Since we were so close I assumed this had to have something to do with me, and so I then became closed off, quiet, sad, and developed a complex around vulnerability and getting close to other people, especially boys. This meant that growing up I had no boyfriends and was more of an introvert who was friendly with everyone but only actually friends with a select few.
When I met my partner, we really hit it off, and so I latched on to that sense of closeness and friendship, and it was after meeting him that I first came into contact with the word “codependency”.
I’m sure we all have some familiarity with that word from being in contact with the world of addiction, with a lot of us probably relating to it, and with that word comes enabler, and some others that you can add yourself.
We all have our own stories, our own characteristics, and our words that we would use to describe ourselves or our lives. And I’m sure we like to use them as an explanation for how we are and how we act, and might use that as the reason for our emotions that we deal with now.
But that’s not the point of this article. The details like that never are the sole focus. What’s important is what you do about it.
I’ll use my example again. For me, when I first discovered the word “codependency”, I rolled my eyes and thought it didn’t apply. As time went on, though, and our therapist told me I had it, I started to believe it more and more and see how exactly it came into play.
As a result, I dove into it and added it to my identity, which also added to my negative feelings about myself, and researched it as much as possible so I could find out how to deal with it.
Now, I’m not saying anything against research and learning more about yourself. But for me, with the extent that I went, it just kind of stressed me out and hurt me more because I got so wrapped up in the details and the identity of it that I was overwhelmed.
How did it start? How did I get it? How do I live with it? Do I really have it forever? Do I need to work a program just for that? Do all partners of addicts have it? Is it as bad as addiction?
And honestly, that just made me stay trapped in my thoughts more, which is never a good thing. And too, from there, I was just worried about how to “cure” it. Anytime I wasn’t completely focused on it I worried that I would become lazy or passive and make it come back, or that I had to constantly focus on it to prevent it from getting worse.
I would also think about all the times that I thought my codependency "made" his addiction worse or our relationship suffer, which made me feel guilty and start to make myself my own enemy again.
But here’s the thing that I learned that worked for me: stop going backwards.
(Well, also, put yourself first and do the inner work, but I’ve already said that so many times that it’s pretty much an unsaid rule)
I know that we all have a huge list of things that aren’t going right, or that cause us pain, or that we feel made us the way we are now. I’m not saying anything against that, and whatever you are experiencing is part of your story and that is perfectly normal.
But, I am saying that we shouldn’t rely so heavily on that for our identity, or as an excuse to stay how we are and not improve. And, we shouldn’t constantly go to that to find out how to move forward.
For me, getting wrapped up in the details of codependency, how long I had it, or how to get rid of it and prevent it from coming back just made it stick out more prominently. This caused me to focus on it so much that it became it's own cycle of problems that brought more of what I was trying to solve.
Ok, so what do we do about that?
The trick is to turn your focus from the whys and how's of your problems into the simple act of living.
Which means: Do the work you need to on yourself, and live your life in a much better an positive way.
More specifically on this topic: don’t keep track of your slip ups, the time spent on a lower level, or things you could have done in the past. Also, don't worry as much about labeling possible characteristics or experiences you might have, especially if they come with a negative connotation. There’s nothing you can do about the past now, and going back so often in your mind only makes you miserable in the present.
Your happiness today doesn't rely on the details of yesterday, last week, or 5 years ago, and getting trapped in that mindset of analyzing the past only keeps you stuck in the same patterns of behavior. Just like the sayings say, “Don’t look back, you aren’t going that way”.
Now for me, I could read all that before and think, Ok great, you say that the past doesn’t matter but didn’t I cause a lot of upset and hurt? Didn’t I make things worse sometimes? Isn’t my past and my experiences with others what makes me unhappy today?
Yeah, if that’s how you want to look at it, of course. And that’s the point: it’s how you want to look at it.
No two people have the exact same perspective on any topic, and you are 100% in control of how you want to view things in your life.
If you want to stay stuck in negative patterns and mindsets, then yes, look back on memories and experiences with the perspective of messing up, being miserable, and ruining everything. I did for a long time, and all it did was make me (surprise) miserable. I felt guilty for everything I did, and I felt even more hopeless to change.
But if you want to do what I did, and change how you see it by working on yourself and the way your thoughts influence your life, you can be much better off.
What if instead you looked back on the past and saw learning? What if you saw yourself strengthening yourself, gaining lessons, and figuring out what you want in life?
Once I saw all of it, even the experiences with his addiction, as an experience that helped both me and those around me, and as a positive thing instead of a negative one, I became much more happy and ready to move forward. I felt more sure of myself, more eager to continue learning, and more adaptable and resilient to whatever life brought to me. And the funny thing is, I didn’t see things as being difficult as much. What used to bring me down and tear me to pieces now brought me clarity and a calmer mind.
And another funny thing: I don’t even remember as much as I used to anymore. I used to have such ease in remembering painful or traumatizing memories, especially those relating to his addiction and what that brought to us, and would bring them up to him and others to relive it even more fully and make myself feel awful. But now, I don’t have the desire to even try and remember things as they were and how they affected me. It doesn’t matter where I am in life, and I know that what I am experiencing now and will experience in the future is much more fun and fulfilling to focus on.
So focus on finding the joy (no matter how small) in the everyday, the things that fill you with gratitude, the situations that make you glad to be alive, and the progress you make everyday. There’s so many things that you have to be thankful for right now (no matter how scary the present may look), and so much that you have learned that can influence your future and make both today and tomorrow better than before and continue in that direction.
And if you feel that your past weighs you down, try to stop getting so caught up in the details of it. Instead, redirect your focus, and just keep looking forward.