The devastation that follows a cocaine addict’s path is one that is hard to describe to those that have never experienced it. When you are married to or involved in a serious relationship with an addict, you are in love with a ghost. A ghost that leaves you questioning your reality, and your memory. A ghost that leaves you wondering when they stopped being the person you fell in love with and became a weight on your soul.
I can only write my own experience. But in my time searching for answers and guidance, I have seen my story re-played in countless other situations across the internet and in stacks of articles and books that address the topic. It is devastating to me to realize I have become another statistic I never thought I’d become.
Loving an addict means giving them unconditional love, which is often shown in the form of codependency or enabling. It means lying to yourself by believing the lies of their claimed recreational use. It means affording them shelter and financial security when they can’t or won’t provide it for themselves. It means needing to be with them and needing to be away from them at the same time, every minute of every day.
It means that you don’t like the person they’ve become, but you don’t stop loving them. It means waiting for the addict to realize they love you more than their drug; which will not happen. It means knowing in your gut that they will pick their drug over you when given the ultimatum, so you stop yourself from giving it because you’re just as addicted to them as they are to their drug. It means years of broken promises, lies and manipulation before you realize years too late that there is not one single thing you can do from the outside to change what is happening.
Loving an addict means telling yourself that your family and friends are wrong in voicing concerns about what they see because they don’t have any idea what goes on in your relationship. It means that they are watching you sit in the passenger seat with someone at the wheel hell-bent on self-destruction. It means that your loved ones will watch in sadness as you become collateral damage.
Loving an addict means witnessing moments of clarity where your spouse cries in pain that they wish they were free of their addiction. It means researching rehabilitation centers and therapists and convincing them to try yet another time to stop using. It feels like concrete on the chest when they refuse to go. And it means promises they can do it on their own, and that this time will be different. It means knowing you are powerless to change the cycle of lies, deception, and usage that are sure to follow this broken promise.
Loving an addict means loving someone who is fighting a villain. The person you love is still in there somewhere, but a villain is taking over movie-style, and you’re watching them fight on different levels any given day. Loving an addict means watching the person you remember as funny, generous, engaging, energetic, and kind change into a selfish monster. It means watching the villain take over when the addict decides to relent in fighting it. It means frequently arguing because you are responding to the person you knew instead of defending the attacks of this new person you don’t know. It means slowly changing the mark of the term ‘normal’ until you look back and realize you have completely changed as a human being from the person you once were as well. Having moments of clarity with your loved one means starting over yet again; having hope that they are still fighting the villain, yet having no idea if it’s the villain using the person in front of you and their words and memories to manipulate you into feeding their addiction.
Loving an addict means that you love a person whose reality is so distorted that they believe their lies. It means trying to reason with someone who will twist any rational argument into an attack so that they can feel justified in responding by using their drug. It means loving someone that will do anything, lie to anyone and manipulate any situation to feed their addiction because when the drug isn’t there, the emotional pain that fills the space is greater. You know that they will only change when what they are doing causes them enough pain that they feel the change is a better option than staying in the painful place they’re inhabiting.
Loving an addict means doing everything in your power to give them the space they need to fight their addiction, and in doing so make excuses and sacrifices for them that feed their self-image. It means protecting them from themselves at the expense of your own identity. It means working multiple jobs to accommodate the fact that they can’t or won’t work. It means making excuses for them when they are too strung out to attend a family event. It means rationalizing their behavior to yourself and everyone around you. It means standing in the way of their rock bottom because you love them too much to watch them hit the ground.
Loving an addict means that you reach your breaking point and offer an ultimatum, and then realize that you have no idea what you’re going to do if they accept your ultimatum. It means having gone so far down a path of gradual change of yourself that you can’t remember how to love them with the boundaries and expectations you had before the addiction took over. It means knowing that the addiction is just part of a broader psychological problem but one that they refuse to face. It means putting your life on hold again and holding your breath while you wait for the relapse.
Addiction is not a disease of character, and an addict is not a victim of circumstance. It can happen to anyone. It’s a human condition with human consequences, and all of us are vulnerable. Addicts can come from any life and any family. The challenge of loving an addict is that the things that will help them fight their addiction are the things that would be cold and cruel if they were responses to the behavior of non-addicts. Most of the time the ‘healthy’ response to an addict is having to act in a way that leaves you feeling guilty and broken, so you accommodate them over and over and each time come away from the situation having lost just a little bit more of yourself.
Loving an addict means realizing that his family and friends already know some of what you are finding out but probably don’t realize just how bad it really is. It means coming to terms with the fact that despite having a large group of loving people around them, that love cannot change the reality of their addiction from the outside. It means facing the fact that if you walk away from your marriage, you are walking away from those that have become your allies in this fight and will always feel that you’ve let them down.
Loving an addict leaves you in one of the loneliest places in the world. It means feeling judged for staying with the addict and yet sentenced for withdrawing support for the addict. It means knowing that no one else in the world has any idea what you are going through, but everyone in your life thinks they know what you should do. It means closing yourself off from everyone because they don’t understand; and then, if you happen to separate yourself from the life you’ve made with the addict, you feel alone because you’ve gradually alienated yourself from everyone that cared about you.
Loving an addict means scouring every page on the internet, every article, every book you can get your hands on searching for insight and advice on how to deal with the pain you feel. It means getting conflicting advice from not just your loved ones but from ‘experts’ who can’t even agree if addiction is a disease or not. It means trying to find a way to respond to the addict in a way that supports their healing instead of feeding their addiction, and realizing that such a thing doesn’t exist without pain. All humans avoid pain. Loving an addict means avoiding the pain of separation from them as much as the person you love is avoiding the pain of being sober.
Loving an addict means beginning to keep yourself insulated from the arguments and rationalizations of your loved one; arguments that involve entitlement, hopelessness, and manipulative behavior. It means faltering sometimes, and being told you are a hypocrite or inconsistent. It means accepting that may be true and moving forward anyway.
Loving an addict means a slow realization that you can’t fix them, and it’s essential for everyone involved that you stop trying. It means genuinely knowing that the addict and what they do are entirely beyond your control and always will be. It means knowing the difference between what you can and cannot change and coming to terms with the fact that you can only change yourself, and that you have to. It means you initially feel the strength of this but doubting yourself constantly. It means never looking back from your choice to let go.
Loving an addict means you may have to keep a distance, either emotionally or physically, between you to stay sane and focused. It means convincing yourself that it doesn’t say you stopped loving them by setting and keeping boundaries. It means getting yourself to higher ground and staying there, despite the guilt and pain you feel.
Loving an addict means letting the person you love know that when he decides to do face reality instead of hiding from it, you’ll be there and your heart will be open to them. For many, unfortunately, it also means loving a person who may genuinely love you too, but feels so powerless to his addiction that he has convinced himself that he is better off without you. Or is just saying that to reel you back in. If he truly has convinced himself it is better to let you walk away than to bother with facing his underlying depression through rehab, that open heart will likely never welcome him home.
Loving an addict means being left drained and damaged – emotionally, physically and spiritually, and without the perspective to move forward alone. It means rebuilding your sense of self slowly and rebuilding the boundaries that you allowed to be torn down for years. It means making a huge step outside your comfort zone of being a caretaker to him and turning that caring toward yourself. It means realizing that you have to do for yourself what you were doing for the addict you love.
Loving an addict sometimes means running out of choices. It means feeling your soul is tearing in two and that you will never be able to feel happy again. It means making a final and impossible decision that causes such raw pain you want to sleep for days then leave to a new place since every item or song or place reminds you of the love you’ve lost to addiction.
Letting go of an addict you love doesn’t mean you stop loving them. It means you start to remember to love yourself first; put your mask on first. It means you have put the responsibility for their healing in their hands, which is the only place it has ever really been.