**This is our story. Don’t worry – my husband gave his blessing before I posted this!
Addiction: the persistent, COMPULSIVE need for and use of a habit-forming substance known by the user to be harmful. (merriam-webster dictionary)
It’s a chronic psychological illness that affects approximately 10% of our population. In fact, addiction is more common than diabetes, which occurs in roughly 7% of our population. (www.addictionsandrecovery.org)
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Chances are, you know someone that is or has been dependent on alcohol, nicotine, illegal and/or prescription drugs, sex, gambling, food, etc., the list goes on and on.
Addiction is a light switch that can never be turned off. An itch that scratching cannot relieve. It begins as a tiny spark that burns brighter, engulfs everything in its path and eventually transforms into a raging, out-of-control wildfire. It’s a ticking time-bomb bound to explode at any moment. But once an addict gets his fix, the flames of the wildfire are extinguished. The bomb dismantled. The anxiety subsides. He can breathe, he’s floating…he’s weightless. But that nagging impulse is bound to return before too long. It’s a vicious and debilitating cycle.
An addictive substance feels good because it stimulates the pleasure center of the brain through neurotransmitters such as dopamine (a chemical in your brain that affects your emotions, movements and your sensations of pleasure and pain) and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid, which inhibits or reduces the activity of the neurons or nerve cells in the brain). For an addict, addictive substances don’t just feel good – they feel so good that he will want to continue chasing after them. (www.addictionsandrecovery.org)
But addiction does not define a person.
It doesn’t discriminate, and it doesn’t have a “type”.
My name is Courtney, and I love (and am married to) an addict. More specifically, he’s an alcoholic and drug addict. But I am beyond proud to share that he has almost 9 years of sobriety now! (Alan’s sobriety date is 08/08/2008.)
Our story is unique and started a few months before his journey to recovery – during the final few months of his tailspin downward spiral. I was an early 20-something year-old in college, goofy, naive and fun-loving. Alan was the life-of-the-party, outgoing, funny and charming. (Well, my first impression of him was that he was cocky, arrogant and loud, but that’s beside the point!)
He was drawn to me like a moth to light, and since we hung around the same group of friends, it was inevitable that I would actually have to find some common ground with this guy. And boy, did we hit it off – our connection was indescribable and undeniable. Although I wasn’t looking for a relationship since I had just ended one, I was hooked, and so was he.
I remember the afternoon he flat out told me that he was an alcoholic. I laughed it off as a joke because who would randomly come out and state something like that so matter-of-factly? Besides, we’d been out drinking together lots of times! He seemed fine to me.
But he wasn’t fine — he was battling demons greater than I could imagine. Alan was ashamed of his addiction and hid it from me the best he could because he didn’t want to lose me. So on those nights where we’d have a couple of drinks with our friends, I would go home and sleep. Unbeknown to me, it took all of his will-power to nurse his drinks like a “normal” person when I was around, but as soon as the coast was clear, he’d pound back several more and go out looking for something to better satisfy his craving – drugs. Cocaine. Meth. Crack. Whatever he could get his hands on.
It wasn’t long after we started dating that he hit rock bottom and checked into a rehab facility for three months. Why did I stay? Why did I choose to detour my drive home from college on weekends just to see him briefly during visiting hours? Why didn’t I go running for the hills in the opposite direction when I learned about his life of drugs and alcohol? Why did I care so much for someone that I hadn’t known for very long?
Honestly, I still can’t answer those questions. All I know is that I WANTED to be with him. There was nowhere else I needed to be. I knew in my heart that he wasn’t a bad person, he wasn’t broken or flawed – his addiction was a PART of him, but it didn’t define him. He was ALAN to me, and that’s all that mattered.
So I stayed. I supported him, encouraged him and helped him through his recovery. His mind was dead-set on getting sober, and I admired how determined he was to overcome his addiction. He wanted better for himself, and you better believe I was (and still am) his biggest cheerleader!
We’ve been together almost nine years now and married for six of those nine years. Holy cow, Nine. Years. Time sure flies! He boasts frequently that he’s “living the good life” now. A wife, two precious little girls, a career, a wonderfully reborn relationship with his parents, a comfortable home . . . he’s beyond blessed, he acknowledges God’s hand in his successes and is still amazed at what his life USED to be compared to what it is now. He’s one person that understands the value of a dollar and never takes life for granted.
Despite our special bond and love for one another, I’d be lying if I said our relationship has been perfect and smooth-sailing the entire time. There have definitely been rough patches and a lot of frustration and adjustment since committing ourselves to each other, but we have walked through the storms together and have come out stronger and closer than ever.
Being in a relationship with an addict can be challenging, but it’s the most rewarding relationship I’ve ever known. My perspective on life has changed, and he’s helped me become a better person over all. So my advice is this:
Be proactive – grab a book, and read up on addiction. Check out a few documentaries. Learn about the 12 Step Program and recovery process, and don’t be afraid to ask your partner questions. The more knowledgeable you are on the subject, the more prepared you’ll be going into a relationship with an addict and the more you’ll understand why he does some of the things he does. (I’ll touch more on this a little further down the page!)
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR OWN NEEDS.
You know YOU better than anyone else. Just like in ANY relationship, don’t deny yourself of the things that make you happy. Continue doing what you love, and don’t become dependent on your relationship as your source of happiness. If you catch yourself trying to change your partner or trying to change yourself FOR your partner, then maybe it’s not the right relationship for you.
ACCEPT HIM AS HE IS.
Guess what? His addiction will NEVER go away. That nagging, thrill-seeking “quirk” will always be a part of him. Don’t ignore it.
In the beginning of Alan’s and my relationship, I didn’t really acknowledge that he was an addict. I would get so frustrated when he’d take on a new hobby – motorcycles, RC cars and planes, video games, etc.. Of course I didn’t mind him having hobbies, but this was different. These things CONSUMED him. It’s as if he had tunnel vision . . . nothing and no one else around him seemed to exist. I didn’t understand the impulse, his obsession, and I would get resentful toward him and his hobbies – he was so passionate about them! Did I even measure up? I’d lash out, hurt and angry, trying to “compete” for attention. And he would push me further away, saying I was overreacting and trying to control him.
Which ties into my next piece of advice…
COMMUNICATE CLEARLY AND HONESTLY.
These are essential to any successful relationship, but it’s especially crucial in a relationship with a recovered addict. We did a lot of talking and yelling at each other, but we never really LISTENED to what the other person was trying to convey. The day we FINALLY sat down and talked TO each other (not AT each other) and actually HEARD what the other was trying to say all along, is when our lives together changed for the better.
It clicked. What he told me made so much sense . . . why didn’t I see it all along? I was attempting to suppress his addiction – a part of who he was. He was addicted to his hobbies. The way he explained it was that these “things” (devoting days to building and racing his RC car or spending hours upon hours modifying his motorcycle, for example) was a matter of “do or die”. He couldn’t leave a project incomplete, or he would be left feeling unsettled and anxious. These new-found hobbies were replacements for drugs and alcohol. How could I have ever been angry about that?? He took something harmful and potentially deadly and swapped it with something meaningful, exciting and fulfilling. How did I not GET that before? I finally understood. I understand NOW.
Not only did he get through to me, but I got through to him as well. He vowed to become more attentive and admitted his fault of sometimes losing track of time and becoming oblivious to those around him. Through compromise and communicating openly with each other, our relationship has never been better!
ACCEPT HIS PAST.
Nicely put, addicts tend to have very unique pasts. You’ll hear plenty of stories about crazy parties, binges and run-ins with the law, to name a few. Be honest with yourself: can you deal with that? Can you commit to moving forward and leaving his past IN THE PAST? Your partner is not the same person he was before recovery and doesn’t deserve to be judged based on what kind of life he USED to live. Seriously . . . don’t bring it up, and don’t hold it against him – he doesn’t live there anymore.
And while on the topic, let your partner decide what and how much he/she would like to share with friends and family. Alan is an open book and talks freely of his past life. But be sure you’re on the same page as your partner since not everyone is so comfortable when talking about their experiences as an addict. Some of these memories are welcome reminders of the misery of addiction. For others, it may be more baggage than they can tolerate.
But don’t trust blindly. Because addiction is a chronic illness, there will always be a chance of relapse, so be sure you’re prepared to recognize the warning signs if they were to arise. Sit down with your partner and discuss red flags to look out for, situations that may be uncomfortable for him to be in and what actions you both should take if he begins to feel vulnerable. Support him, praise his milestones and encourage him to keep moving forward. And remember – the backbone of ANY relationship is trust. If you cannot trust him, then I suggest moving on; if you find yourself constantly worrying about what he’s doing when you’re not around, you’ll drive yourself crazy and end up miserable.
To sum it all up, I’m happy. We’re happy. In fact, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. Words can’t express how much I love Alan and how grateful I am to have him as my partner in life. The lessons I’ve learned from him – empathy, patience, understanding, spontaneity to name a few – are invaluable. And loving an addict has given me renewed appreciation for each day we are given.