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Addiction and Relationships: There's No Mistakes, Only Lessons (The Pancake Analogy)

Updated: Jan 27

there's no mistakes only lessons (the pancake analogy)

I made breakfast yesterday as it was Sunday, and that usually calls for pancakes, among other things.

And while I was mixing the batter together (it was a healthier mix but one of those “just add water” ones, because sometimes I’m lazy) I realized that I’ve been making pancakes in one form or another for about 15 years.

It’s one of the first things I learned to cook, and one that I’ve had a lot of practice on. So much so that I don’t even use measurements anymore. Even if I make them from scratch, I just eyeball it. I know the consistency that I want, how long to cook them to get them golden brown on each side, how high to keep the fire, and the little things to make them better, like adding a little dash of vanilla or cinnamon.

And while now I can basically make them with my eyes closed, I also remember how things used to be.

I remember one time when I was younger I offered to make pancakes for dinner to give my mom a break, and even got so adventurous as to add chocolate chips. I was so psyched! I felt so cool, so helpful, so adult.

They ended up being raw on the inside, and not cooked enough on the outside.

But they were able to be put in the pan and cooked a little longer, and all was well.

By this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with addiction. And I get you, it really doesn’t seem to make sense, huh?

Let me explain.

I have my own experience, while also hearing a lot of stories about us as partners, of the different things we do to help our loved ones and the feelings we have about our choices and actions:

We don’t know how to make boundaries, or we make the wrong ones.

We enable but are conflicted on how to stop or what to do to make healthier choices.

We know we are suffering mentally and emotionally but don’t know what to do and feel like when we try it’s not helping.

Sound familiar?

Along with that, I would have arguments with my partner (while he was in active addiction or sober) and I would say hurtful things or speak my mind, and wonder if this affected his cycle of use. What if I said something that made him hurt more and caused more use and for him to fall deeper into addiction? What if I pushed him away and caused him to eventually leave our relationship?

These kinds of thoughts can circle around our minds all the time, and we can end up really doubting ourselves and making ourselves feel guilty for things we did in the past. And really, it’s because we didn’t know what else to do or we didn’t know any better at the time.

But what does this have to do with my pancake story?

I found that my history of making this simple breakfast staple connects to our lives and relationships with our loved ones with addiction issues because in a way, there’s really no mistakes that we can make.

I know that in the moment, or even years later, we can look back on things we did, things we said, ways we acted, how we let our emotions out, and think, “I should have done better”.

But just like my undercooked pancakes, or any of the other times I added too much water or too much mix, I learned along the way, found ways to make the best with the situation I found myself in, and had better ideas of what to do next time to avoid the same thing happening again.

So it is with our lives both with addiction and outside of it.

Life happens, whether we are dealing with our partners or not, and whether or not they are in active addiction or recovery. We make mistakes, we enable, we go back on a boundary we set, and other things that may not be the “right” thing to do. Or, we do things that are right for us, but maybe not so “right” for our peers or those who care about us. Also, we may be doing everything that seems right at the time in all areas, but as time goes on we decide to adjust some things so that we still stay healthy and positive while our outside and inside lives change and we adapt with it.

The important thing is to not bury ourselves beneath the guilt, sadness, stress, or doubt that we can get along the way of our journey. If you did something that you think may not have been the right move, then just appreciate the learning experience, and remember it for next time so that you know what to do instead.

Even if you think it was the worst possible thing you could have done, in the end, it’s something that has happened and there is no way to change it now. Just accept the situation and don’t let it be in vain.

For me, I had been through the cycle of active addiction and recovery for so many years that I had a lot of time to try as many options as I could ever want to. And every time I would beat myself up over my choices because I thought afterwards that if I had done something different that maybe that time it would have ended the addiction and all that came with it.

But that’s never the case. We don’t get to control or truly and independently influence when our partners stop using. Of course we can get to a better place to support and show love in a healthy way, but to truly change the outcome is out of our control.

For me, at the end of the last cycle we went through, I finally found that I had reached the end of my options. I had no other choices to choose from in how I helped my partner, except to stand back, fully focus on myself first, and let him find his way. I still made it clear that I supported him from my own set boundaries of course, but I stopped trying to control everything and let my attention go to bettering myself first.

But not everyone is at that point, and that’s ok.

Just like the batter that took years for me to get down and practiced enough, our recovery can take time to grow and settle into what we know works best for us. What I think are awesome, perfect, hearty pancakes might be too doughy or thick for someone else. But what we can both agree on is that we love a stack of them on a Sunday morning.

You catch my drift?

We all know that recovery and good health on all fronts is something we all need, and that to be our best selves is our best option for success and happiness for both us and our partners (and everyone else in our lives).

But how exactly we get there is entirely up to us.

So, never forget to do what’s best for you, and never forget to relax and remember that there’s no such thing as perfection, and that we don't need to get it "right" the first time, every time.

And also, that there are no mistakes, only lessons.

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