A Family Member’s Story
A Family Member’s Story
This story is a fitting example of how a family member can be supported to develop resilience in the face of a loved one’s drug and alcohol problem – provided by an addiction treatment service.
When my partner went to treatment, I did not like being on the outside. I was resentful. It seemed like he was being looked after – again – and I was left to cope – again.
I was kept politely but firmly away. It was a valuable lesson to me in letting go, but at the time, I was furious. I believed I had looked after, rescued, paid for and managed our life together – and I felt entitled to contact when I wanted.
My partner was a long-term narcotics addict and he needed to make profound changes if he were to get well. One of those meant extricating himself from me. If we were to recover we had to learn to live without using each other. Treatment taught us about boundaries.
We’d had a covert deal on an emotional level: he looked after my feelings, made me feel better about myself, provided fun; and I covered and kept secrets, backed him, paid the bills.
We always loved, liked and were interested in each other. But I learned that he was never responsible for my unhappiness, or my happiness. I had to take my hands off, my hooks out and look the other way.
It took me longer to realise that my life too was unmanageable, because I was the one who had a career, looked responsible and even successful: I was in control – he was to blame for the chaos.
When I met my partner, he was exciting, loving, warm and he appreciated me. We had some fun and good times. For a long time I did not know he was an addict. He drank a lot, but then everyone did. He was absent a lot, and often I couldn’t work out who he was or where he was inside himself.
“We’d had a covert deal on an emotional level: he looked after my feelings, made me feel better about myself, provided fun; and I covered and kept secrets, backed him, paid the bills.”
Some of my ignorance was denial – not wanting to name what was wrong because then I would have to leave him. But my partner kept his drug use away from me, as his way of trying not to bring me down with him.
Seven years later though, we had a baby, I was exhausted, resentful, and obsessed with my misery. My partner was in trouble with drug-dealing.
I finally – almost – admitted I was powerless over addiction. I said ‘don’t come home’. I realised I had to hand my partner over to others, and that I needed help too.
While my partner was in the Detox unit, a nurse took me to an Al-Anon Family Groups meeting. I was told there was a name for what had happened; that it drove other people as crazy as me, that this was the family disease of alcoholism. (I mentally substituted the word addiction, although my partner was also an alcoholic.)
I had to learn to put myself first, to turn the focus back on what I was doing with my life, learn to give to myself before I could give to anyone else. I also learned compassion for the addict.
At Al-Anon we shared the same feelings. They understood as my other friends could not. Al-Anon encouraged me to stop complaining, and showed me how to stop the self-pity. We didn’t talk about them, we talked about us.
After two years my partner and I decided to try again as a couple, and many years later, we have had struggles as well as all the joys of family life.
I continue within Al-Anon where I find guidance and community. My partner has unconditionally supported me, and sometimes even goes to Al-Anon with me too! For me, thankfully, change was possible.