Affected Others

Affected Others

“There’s a light at the end of this tunnel you shout cuz you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out.”

– Anna Nalick “Breath”

She’s afraid of how well this is going. The woman is a codependent saint. Every time I’m sure she’s going to leave…she doesn’t. She’s stuck halfway between a never ending nightmare and happily ever after. She sees herself as stubborn. I always figured she was hell bent that her marriage wouldn’t turn out like her mom’s. He gets clean and sober…he gets better…he goes back to his family of origin, they reject him, he gets high. She waits for him, pleads with him, is disgusted with him, threatens him, locks him out, and takes him back. She hates the promises he makes and reminds him that she’ll know when things are better – he doesn’t have to tell her.

She’d asked me to help him again and she knew the answer before she called. I ask her who helps her with herself and she laughs in a way that isn’t bitter but suggests that I am a silly, silly man. She and I have this in common – we never give up on her man. There are some things in this life that you just can’t bring yourself to do…even when you should. There is always a price to pay though, and she and her children have paid it in spades. He knows this and when he knows this he is deeply ashamed. Shame brings the next fix that much closer and it has to go if he’s going to make it. We don’t choose how we feel. We choose what we’re going to do about it.

“I know that it’s been hard and it’s been a long time comin’ but don’t give up on me. I’m about to come alive.” – Train

He’s a beautiful mess. He helps me learn about powerlessness because I watch him waste so much talent and squander so much love. He held out thirty five years for something that’s never going to come. He’s waiting for his dad to notice him/care about him/be proud of him/love him but he doesn’t have a dad. He has an empty shell of a father. Every once in a while he becomes what he hates – a man who could do so much for those he loves but who puts a bunch of pills up his nose instead. She asks me why? Fair question – no fair answers. I tell her that opiates are a poor replacement for the love you always wanted.

She learned not to enable. She came to a place where she could speak her mind. She believes that this time is different and for the first time I agree with her. He’s hit a number of bottoms, each lower than the last. The next one will be six feet under. He saw this and received the gift of desperation. Finally. He has the willingness to go to any length and he’s going. He’s picking up momentum and his steps are filled with grace. It’s too predictable – as he gets better she falls apart. Like so many of us, when she gets scared she decides she’s confused. She comes to me with the questions I’ve heard from so many good women because she knows I won’t spare her feelings. Good women expect the truth to hurt – that’s how they recognize it.

Truth is an old familiar feeling – a dull aching followed by a kick in the gut. But sometimes everything changes. And that’s scary shit.

She doesn’t question me. She interrogates me. This is too good to be true. She’s done with waiting for the other shoe to drop – she’s throwing every pair she owns at me. I can’t give her what she expects. Sadly, I have nothing but good news for her. She’s a mile outside of her comfort zone. This is not what she’s used to. She’s holding fucking index cards filled with questions and I could really use a cigarette but ok, shoot.

Why couldn’t he have gotten this years ago?

– Because he wasn’t ready. He had to suffer more in order to become ready.

How does that make any fucking sense?

– Because he’s an addict and there are only two ways in which addicts get better: suffering and God.

You keep saying that he wants love but he keep pushing people away, why is that?

– Because what we want is also what we fear – it’s the same with you. You’re uncomfortable because you are getting everything you wanted and it’s way outside your comfort zone. (she glares).

Why is he so weird all the time?

– Because he isn’t sure how to be. He’s come out of the fog and he’s seeing what a mess everything is and he’s scared. When you’re scared even though you know things are ok, you feel anxious and when addicts feel anxious they do drugs. He’s not doing drugs anymore so he’s trying to figure out what he’s supposed to do.

Shouldn’t he know what he’s supposed to do? Most of it is common sense!

– Common sense and addiction do not hang out together. Ask him to do what you need him to do and remind him of everything he forgets. Hold him accountable just know he’s gonna be weird until he’s better. He’ll still be weird when he’s better – it’ll just be a nice weird.

Does he really need to go to so many AA meetings?

– Yes. It’s basically a matter of life and death. He needs to surround himself with good people who understand his disease and who want to show him how recovery works.

He wants me to go to Al-Anon meetings. Doesn’t he understand that he’s the one with the problem?

– Addiction effects the whole family. You have a lot of changes and transitions to go through. It’d be nice to have some support from people who have been there and many of whom are still there.

How long will it take for him to get better?

Hopefully he’ll get a tiny bit better every day for the rest of his life – except for the times when he gets worse for a while (the glare I’m getting suggests I’ll be dead before I get to have that cigarette). Ok…look…he’s already better than he was a month ago and way better than he was three months ago, right?

Yes, but how long until he can work and do everything he needs to do?

He can work now and you know he’s honestly trying to find work. What you want is a timeline and it just doesn’t work that way.

He keeps having mood swings. Is he Bi-Polar?

No. People in early recovery are supposed to have mood swings, depression, and anxiety. These are natural consequences of screwing your life up. None of them have to be permanent for most people and they get better as you work a recovery program.

He keeps wanting me to trust him. Why does he expect that after everything we’ve been through?

– Addicts are not known for being especially patient people. What he wants is positive and he does understand that he needs to earn it – he just wants a clear set of steps to achieve it faster and it just doesn’t work that way.

You keep saying, “it just doesn’t work that way.” How does it work?

– Pages 58-71 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous has the answers on how it works.

What can I do to help him?

Be real and genuine. Communicate clearly. Don’t tolerate bullshit. Yell at him if you need to. Don’t walk on eggshells. Whatever you do isn’t going to cause him to use. Accept that you don’t have any control at all over his sobriety, only he does. Tell him how you feel, be as vulnerable as you can stand being. Tell him what you see – give him honest and direct feedback. Be patient and pray all day every day. Most of all, invest in yourself. You deserve to be healthier and happier than you have ever been. Continuing to put your life on hold while someone else gets better will never bring you what you need

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.