Love the person, hate the addict

Five people I have loved have been addicts.

Their addictions and compulsions were different (alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, sex) but in my experience what they were addicted to was irrelevant; an addict’s behaviour seems to be the same regardless. They lied, they deceived, they stole, they were angry and abusive. They ripped my heart out, time and time again. And when they were at their worst they stamped on it for good measure.

I fought hard for them, and against them. I threatened, I begged, I gave countless ultimatums and cried myself to the point of exhaustion more times than I care to remember. I coerced one love into rehab, twice. I read all I could about addiction and went to fellowship support groups to learn from friends and families of other addicts. None of it worked.

All I did was make things worse. What I thought of as being accepting was actually enabling their behaviour. Getting them out of debt (repeatedly), pretending to them and to myself that I could accommodate their addictions, even joining in with their vices – if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Two were arrested because their addictions stripped them of any sense of right or wrong. Their addictions took them to depths you imagine only soap characters sink to.

Happily the two who were arrested have recovered. I know I should say ‘are in recovery’ but I would rather be optimistic than anticipating a relapse. I didn’t bring about their recoveries. They did it themselves. But only after they hit rock bottom. I had to stop trying to rescue them. I had to stand back and watch them sink so low they lost almost everything – their dignity, their self-respect, their jobs, their friends, their health. And it hurt like hell.

Of the other three, two I said goodbye to, sadly. They were so deep in denial and the impact of their addictions was more than I could cope with. I clung on for years in the hope that they would want to change. There were glimmers of hope, and they ‘cut down’, but they couldn’t quite commit to getting better. I had to let go of the people I loved and acknowledge the addicts they had become.

The last is someone I can’t let go of. But I have been able to put in boundaries and learnt to walk away when they turn on me. I have enough self-respect to want to protect myself from their venom.

Don’t get me wrong. I never stopped loving the addicts in my life, even though I hated them at times. I came to realise that it’s ok to love the person and hate the addict.

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