Addiction Affects the Family
Addiction is a cunning, baffling and powerful disease. It has the ability to strip anyone of the will or desire to save themselves. That includes the addict and everyone who loves them. That’s why many who have been affected by another’s addiction must find their own recovery.
If you love an addict, the best advice is to do exactly what we hear before take-off on any airline. “You must first put on your oxygen mask before you should put one on those you love.”
Loving an Addict
I loved my wife more than anyone I have ever loved. But her addictions affected me so strongly that I let go of caring for myself as I attempted to manage her life. I lived in a constant state of fear that I was losing my wife to some unknown entity. I slowly became obsessed with where she was, what she was doing and who she was doing it with. I lost touch with my hobbies, passions, close friends, and other family members. I was dying on the inside.
The Addiction Nightmare
When I first met my wife, she seemed to be my dream girl. At first neither of us knew she was an addict. Then, there was that devastating moment when she hit rock bottom and the ground seemed to disappear beneath my feet. With a two and half year old in his crib asleep, I frantically made plans for his care, while I traveled to another state to get my wife out of jail.
The next ten weeks were some of the darkest moments of my life. While she sought help in a rehab facility, I struggled to hold together my marriage, my toddler’s life, and my own sanity.
Isolation, Fear and Despair
I decided to open up to what few close friends I still had. Many offered unsolicited and very poor advice, so I learned it was better to keep it to myself. I know they all of them genuinely cared, but they did not truly understand because they had never lived with addiction. The isolation was devastating. The fear and despair… crippling.
Finding the Right Support
Concerned for my own mental health, I began to see a professional counselor. She and a respected co-worker both suggested I start attending Al-Anon. Full of fear, anger and a cocktail (no pun intended) of emotions, I sat in my first meeting. I don’t remember much of what was said, but for the first time I did not feel alone. That’s because everyone in the meeting loved an addict.
Many shared their stories of living with addiction and how it led them to their own dark places. The details of their stories varied from my own, but they had the same fears, anger, pain, and helplessness I was experiencing.
Though some still lived with an active addict, many had found a reason to be happy. This astounded me. My pain was so great, I knew I would do whatever it took to get the serenity they had. But all they would tell me was, “Keep coming back.”
I began to attend every Al-Anon meeting I could. There are plenty in the Birmingham area. Through these meetings, I learned that my wife did not choose to be an addict any more than someone chooses to have cancer. I learned that I could separate her from the disease, forgive her, and not beat myself up for still loving her. I learned how to start taking care of myself again and find my own spiritual path to serenity.
Someone Who Relates
In these first meetings, I heard a certain man share his experiences. Almost every word out of his mouth I could relate to with my own fears. But he also talked about how Al-Anon helped him overcome those emotions and gain back his excitement and passion for life, something I had lost. This man has become one of my closest and most trusted friends.
We began to meet regularly for coffee where he shared how he used the Al-Anon program (which uses the same 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous) to find serenity and a better life. He left it up to me if I wanted to do what he did, but I was ready to do anything to relieve the pain that was crushing my heart.
Over the next 18 months, he walked me through applying the 12 Steps to every area of my life. I still practice these Steps today. I believe it has made me a better father, friend, employee, and citizen of our world. I’m not perfect by any means, but Al-Anon has shown me that the best way to take care of those around me is to take care of myself.
Addiction Never Gives Up
Sadly, after several wonderful years of rebuilding our marriage and family, my wife abandoned her own recovery. Every fear I had overcome came rushing back as reality was revealed. She filed for divorce. Even now, over two years later, I am continuing to rebuild my life from the pain of losing the love of my life to addiction. Addiction never gives up, but Al-Anon continues to show me how to keep my serenity.
If you have been affected by the someone else’s addiction, I encourage you to find an Al-Anon meeting. You will find people who not only care, but also understand. There’s no leader, minister, counselor or professional in the meeting. It’s just people who love an addict sharing with each other how to keep the oxygen mask on themselves for their own recovery and the ability to help others do the same.
Chris D. – a grateful member of Al-Anon, Birmingham, AL