Yesterday, in part one of my super long story about my relationship with an alcoholic. We left off with my partner at the time finally admitting that she was an alcoholic.
Talk about relief. Everyone always says the first step is admitting you have a problem. I got this huge surge of hope, and my first thought was “Okay, this is salvageable. This situation is something that I can now handle.”
It’s no longer “I’m going to try to drink less”. She’s admitting she has a real problem. She’s admitting she wants to fix the problem. And that’s something that I admire. I thought this was her rock bottom. She was in the hospital after spiraling out of control with the drinking and the depression and the self-loathing. There became a new layer with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
You’re here, you know how I feel about mental health and what an advocate I am because again, I’ve been there. We don’t leave people who are sick or ‘damaged’. We don’t contribute to the stigma that it’s okay to throw people away because of mental illness.
Mental illness sucks. It’s hard for the person who has it and it’s hard for the people that love them.
I credit the fact that I’m here and healthy and alive because I had a support system and people who didn’t give up on me when I was being self-destructive.
So here I am, finding myself pulled back into the situation. I’m all about self-care. I’m all about mental health. Maybe I was put into her life to help. And maybe, just maybe, I can find that person that I found in the beginning. And if she’s really serious about sobriety? Then I’m convinced that person, that side I fell in love with, is going to show up. It feels like a chance.
I am an eternal optimist. I don’t back down from the hard stuff and I’m not going to let anything scare me.
Aaaaand the cycle repeats itself.
There’s more lying this time though. I think she’s sober for a full month (she isn’t). I think she’s making all of her therapy appointments (she’s not). I think she’s still planning on finding a sober living house (she’s doesn’t). She finds a roommate but she’s still drinking and still being irresponsible and I’m still putting financial burdens on myself that aren’t mine to carry. But there’s that glimmer. Things are getting better because instead of drinking almost every day a week it’s only once or twice, and she seems to be genuinely disappointed when she can’t keep up the sobriety. Things aren’t any better though, not really, but I hold on to that “she’s trying”.
Progress happens in inches, right? But it doesn’t get better. It slowly gets worse again.
Months later she has a breakdown and she decides to move to a different city, hours away, with family, trying to get better, trying to have a new start.
And I am relieved.
I start to move on with my life again.Her family gets to step in and be the caregiver, it’s not my responsibility. The weight is lifted off of me. At that point, it had been a year and I tell myself it’s time to move on. I’ve got to let this situation go. It’s toxic, I know it’s toxic, but there’s this loyalty in me (Hufflepuff forever) that feels that I somehow need to take responsibility and remain in control.
I realize this is where my inner work is. Savior complex.
That’s not all. I have a need to be in control. Trouble letting go. Difficulty in setting boundaries. Enabling. Making excuses. Yep, that’s all on me. And those anger issues that I had spent years working on? This entire situation brought them back. I was so frustrated and angry all of the time. When she was drinking it wasn’t a one-sided argument anymore.
I told myself this is where I need to walk away. Again.
I try to open myself up to dating. I try to re-focus my energy on me-things instead of being so consumed with trying to “fix” someone else. I start to make progress, just a little bit.
After a few months, her new start goes badly. She starts using drugs instead of just drinking. She’s hospitalized again for her self-destructive behavior and the spiraling out of control and I get a phone call from her.
This time is rock bottom. This time she really wants help. This time will be different if I just help her.
I tell her no.
And that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It made me sick to my stomach but I couldn’t imagine putting myself in that role of taking care of her again. Not only did I always end up being responsible for her bills, but of physically taking care of her. Her drinking was doing damage to her body. She had bleeding ulcers. She’d sometimes get jaundiced or end up in the hospital because she was so dehydrated. The only reason she wasn’t drinking every day was that her binge drinking made her sick for days afterward.
Cut to the next day. Her therapist at the hospital calls me, with her permission. We talk about trauma and issues. We talk about options. If I give her a safe place to stay they can find her a rehab in a few weeks to a month. She’s stabilized. She’s on medication. She feels safe with me and if I give her a place to stay rehab can happen and rehab makes me hopeful so I say yes. Hope is the thread that ties all of this together. I have the hope that one of my actions will change the outcome. I have the hope that things will get better. And there’s that savior complex.
She comes back to stay with me. There’s an after-care plan. There are appointments for assessments. There are appointments for therapy. There’s medication. There’s an open spot in a rehab just a few weeks away if she just does the things that she needs to do.
She doesn’t do them.
Instead, I yell at her to go to appointments. I physically make her go while she’s screaming at me and telling me she hates me. I’m on her every day to take her meds, to drink water, and to do the things she needs to do. And I wonder where is the person who wanted to help herself?
She starts using drugs again and this is a whole different beast to deal with. Something I have absolutely no experience with. Instead of getting angry drunken texts like I’m used to, she disappears and turns off her phone for days at a time. I have no idea where she is or what’s happening. This happens four or five times. I walk away multiples times, trying the tough love approach. “If you can’t be sober you can’t be in my life” approach.
But I’ve always sucked at tough love.
Every time she disappears I spend days feeling/knowing/worrying that she’s dead or overdosing. So. Much. Anxiety. When she reappears with promises of sobriety *this time* I’m so happy that she isn’t dead that I can’t not help. But it happens again. The cycle repeats. Always this endless cycle. I keep telling myself if I completely cut her out of my life then there will be nothing stopping her from full-on self-destruction and I don’t want that on my conscience.
I need to be able to live with my choices. It’s not easy when you’re in the middle of the situation. When someone is thanking you for not giving up on them. When someone is telling you that they want to get better because you’re the one that believes in them. And logically you know this is manipulation. She’s getting a place to stay when she’s not off using drugs, she has someone buying her food and making sure her bills her paid.
But you also see someone who is in an unbearable amount of pain.
I’m in pain too, but it’s different because I can handle it. I’m the strong one. My anxiety is on an insane level. It literally gets so bad I’m having trouble eating and functioning but I’m not self-destructive, right? My saving grace is self-care. I treat myself so gently. Every day is a day where I’m asking myself what I can do for myself to lessen the anxiety. But I know I’m not doing the big self-care. The “creating boundaries and walking away from this situation that is putting so much pressure on me” self-care.
This was also the point where I started to feel really isolated from the people in my life. Only two people in my life really knew what I was going through and they were tired of me complaining about the same issues over and over again. They were tired of seeing me in a constant state of anxiety. “What do you expect? Cut her off. Stop enabling her.” They’d say, and I’d rankle under that. Where’s compassion? Where’s the understanding and belief in fellow human beings?
Those were all things that I’d tell someone else in the same situation but it wasn’t something I wanted to hear myself. So I tried to stop talking about it with them. I joined online support groups. I read a ton of books about addiction, including Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.
I make more excuses.
When I’m not in her life things always seem to get worse for her.
If I can just get her to go to rehab everything will be okay.
If I do something better it will trigger a change in this situation.
Savior complex. I know logically that people have to help themselves. I know logically that change doesn’t happen until people are ready for it to happen. I know all of these things on an intellectual level. But this heart of mine refuses to give up on her in the same way I refused to give up on myself a decade ago.
But I can’t take the disappearing, I can’t take the lying, I can’t take the terrible things she says to me when she’s detoxing and the fact that I know I’m going to have to go through it all over again the next time.
I get to the point, again, where I can’t handle it. I’m done physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I feel like I’m one day away from standing somewhere and screaming until there’s nothing left. I’m to the point where I’m going to lose it and I don’t want to be strong anymore.
I walk away. She tells me she will never forgive me or speak to me again and at that point, I just don’t care.
We go two months without talking. I start the healing process. I start the letting go process.
We start talking again.
She’s doing great now. She’s been sober for almost two months, the longest by far she’s ever been. She’s so sorry. She wants me in her life. And there’s that flicker of hope that refuses to be extinguished.
The cycle repeats itself and I’m pulled back in.
And tomorrow I’ll share the last part. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please reach out.