Hey there, it’s Michelle Lisa Anderson. Thank you so much for choosing to listen to The Wife of an Alcoholic Podcast. I am so glad that you are making space for yourself, and I hope this doesn’t sound condescending, but I’m really proud of you. I try to make these podcasts super short. Sometimes I go overtime, and I don’t keep my promise, but it’s just because I think about you all the time.
I love every one of you, and I remember feeling the way that you felt and being in your world. For over 10 years I was in love with somebody who suffered from addiction of all different kinds, and I was a younger mom with three kids and felt completely hopeless.
So I made a promise to myself many, many years ago that if I ever discovered the answers that really worked for me, I would dedicate the rest of my life to sharing them with you.
We are a secretive group which I am desperately trying to change, but often times, we take on the shame and the embarrassment and believe that somehow, someway there’s something we can do that will help them get sober. And ultimately, we put the responsibility on our shoulders. But this community at LoveOverAddiction.com is all about removing the responsibility, picking it up off our shoulders, setting it down, and saying, “no more,” and then putting the focus on us. What I love the most about this community is that we teach practical tools.
So, I remember reading a lot of self-help books because I love to research, and I remember reading a lot of things like, “surrender,” or, “let go and let God.” And I think that those are wonderful words and very wise, but I always used to feel frustrated and go, “okay, but how?”
Give me the step-by-step process. Give me the answers that I can start implementing immediately where I don’t need to look back into my childhood when I was 13 and what happened there and do all this work in order to figure out what I can do this afternoon. I just needed to know what to do. And get specific with me. The more specific, the better, right?
That’s what all of the programs in our community do: they teach you practical tools that you can start implementing right away. And let me tell you, we go into detail if detail is what you’re looking for.
We also really encourage you and keep reminding you that this is not your fault. And this is not your job. Your job is to take a look at yourself and go, “Okay, where do I need to change? What patterns—what negative behaviors do I really know deep down that I need to work on,” right? And we all know those issues.
So for me, it was my critical mouth. And it was learning how to handle my anger because feeling angry is completely acceptable and normal, but learning how to handle that anger was something I needed to learn. Oh my gosh, there were a million lessons I needed to learn. So thankfully I learned a lot of them and still practice them today. But speaking of today, this podcast is going to be exciting because we’ve never spoken about this subject before, and I am really, really thrilled to be talking to you about it and teaching about it today.
Today we are going to be talking about separation.
And I’m not sure why this subject is not brought up more, but separation is a wonderful tool. Before you turn me off and go, “Oh, Michelle, I’m not interested in that. That topic is too scary,” I want you to take self-inventory right now. And I want you to open your mind and open your heart just for the next several minutes to really hear what I have to say about this topic.
I’m not going to tell you that you should leave, and I’m not going to tell you if you should stay. I’m just going to teach you about the benefits of separation and ask, if you are struggling with staying or leaving, to consider this an option.
Now, whether to stay or leave is probably our hottest topic in the secret Facebook group. In fact, it was such a hot topic that we created a second secret Facebook group just for women in our community who are in the process of separating, the beginning stages of separating, who have divorced, or who are in dating again and starting new relationships. That’s how popular this topic is.
And before we get to actually talking about the benefits of separation, I want to talk about the reasons why we choose to stay with them and why we choose to live in this place of tension where one day we think we’re in this for the long haul, and the next day we are ready to walk out the door.
When they’re sober, they are amazing and wonderful people.
They are so loving and so great, so you are committed one day, and the next day, when they break their promises to stay sober, and you find bottles or the drugs, they don’t come home at night, or they break their promises to take the kids, you are devastated. This is a pattern that is very common with women in our community. And it’s totally normal.
A lot of people look at us women and go, “I don’t understand why you’re not choosing to leave.”
They can’t they put themselves in our position, and they say, “If I were you, I would have left a long time ago. Why do you put up with all of their stuff? Just leave,” right? We either get that type of judgment from people, or we get the type of judgment from other people who say leaving is a sin. And you can’t leave because what are your kids going to think of you, or what are the neighbors going to think about you, or what is your church going to think about you? So you get judged for the idea of leaving.
And either way, you’re sitting here going, “I can’t win. Neither one sounds good to me.” I totally get it. I lived in that space for almost 10 years.
Why do we choose to stay with someone who clearly mistreats us? Whether they’re physically abusive, whether they are verbally abusive, or whether they are just ignoring and not cherishing us, it all adds up to an unhealthy relationship, right? Let’s be honest. So why do we choose to stay in an unhealthy relationship? We go into great detail in the Love Over Addiction program, but today we’re just going to briefly cover the top six reasons.
1. We love them. This sounds obvious, right? But a lot of people look at us and go, “How could you love somebody who does that—who makes those choices? But we do.
We love them because ultimately, you and I understand that these are good people.
They are suffering from something that is either a genetic predisposition or is a result of some tragedy in their life. And underneath all of the junk—the cloak of addiction—is a wonderful, beautiful human being who is worthy of love and compassion and the best, right? Total acceptance: we see that in them. And that’s what we are hanging on to. We are so gifted at being able to see people who are often overlooked and recognize the light in them. That’s one of our gifts.
So that’s why we stay in love with them. It’s not because we’re desperate or we’re crazy or we’re not smart. We’re actually very intelligent women. We are just very in tune and in touch with our empathetic and compassionate side.
2. If we have kids in the house, we are scared of being a single mom. I’m just being real. I know for me, this was one of my biggest fears. I was scared of being a single mom because it was very nice to be able to pass the ball to somebody occasionally. Now, as time went on, because addiction is a progressive disease, my husband was around less and less and sick more and more. So I didn’t get to hand off the kids very often after a while.
But for a time being, it was nice to say, “Hey, let’s go to the soccer game. Can you grab his uniform and dress him really like quickly while I go and get the cleats?” It was nice to be able to say, “Hey, can you watch the little ones while I finish making dinner?” It was nice to have someone to punt to every now and then.
And the idea of the exhaustion of being a single mom is scary because we all know doing this full-time all by ourselves is a lot.
3. If you have children, you are afraid that your children are going to get mad at you for breaking apart a family. Maybe you are worried that they are going to judge you—that they are going to blame you because they don’t understand why you need to leave.
4. You’re afraid of what other people will think of you. I did an amazing job of trying to convince everybody that everything was ok. Most of my life I would smile when I really wanted to cry. I would wear nice clothing when I really wanted just to be curled up in my jammies in bed, and I would say things were great when things were far from great when people would ask me. And I did this for multiple reasons. I wasn’t willing to let people in on my secret because I did not want people judging the man that I loved.
And I didn’t want them to think I was a failure.
I didn’t want the stigma of addiction imposed on our family. I was keeping this disease a secret from my children, and I didn’t want it to get back to them. So, I kept a lie going on with everyone around me—even my closest family member—for years and years just hoping that he would keep it together around them. But it’s funny because looking back now, once I finally had the courage to tell everybody, they already kind of knew. It was the unspoken elephant that I was fooling myself into thinking that people didn’t realize there was an issue when there was.
But maybe you’re scared of your what your church would think (if you’re a member of a church), and you’re worried that leaving would mean divorce. And maybe the church that you go to teaches that divorce is a sin and that you’re doing something out of God’s will.
5. You’re afraid of being alone. That’s huge, right? The idea of waking up without somebody next to you, the idea of celebrating holidays without the one you love, or the idea of not having anyone ever come home is scary, right? That makes your heart hurt a little when you think about that.
6. You are afraid of how you’re going to survive financially. A lot of you are probably stay-at-home mothers or retired or depend on a dual income for your family, and you think of all the additional costs and how you are going to survive that, right?
How do I have enough money to maintain the lifestyle?
Most of you probably don’t want to leave your homes, so how could you possibly make payments on your mortgage or your car or pay for your groceries or vacations off of one income or alimony or child support?
These are real, practical fears, and I want to let you know all six of those fears are valid. So do not judge yourself for having any one of those. Those are normal. All of us feel them, and all of us had to go through them. It is completely okay to think like that. But I’m going to tell you about a suggestion—an idea that I have—that I think would help solve a lot of those fears. And it is a topic, like I said, that we have not spoken of before. It’s called separation.
Now I’m going to go over some of the benefits of separation. Let me first define what I mean by separation. That’s probably a good place to start.
What I mean by separation is a temporary absence of living together.
So, either you are picking up and relocating or the one you love is picking up and relocating. And let me clarify that I mean long-term—30 days or more. Think about it in comparison to rehab. There’s no program (well, I don’t think there’s a program that I’ve ever found) that says, “Oh, we’ll have him back to you in two weeks completely okay.” Typical rehabs usually last 30 days, but they like to say 60 or 90 is preferable.
I want you to think of a separation as your personal rehab. So 30 days is the minimum, but 60-90 is preferred. And I think it would be better (if you can swing it) for you to be the one that removes themselves from the situation. I’ll tell you why when I go through the benefits.
I also think it’s important for you to remember that your intentions of separation cannot be to get him sober.
It can’t happen as a threat. And you know I’m talking to some of you out there because I could have been talking to myself years and years and years ago. I would leave and say, “It’s over. I want a divorce.” And I would leave with the total conviction of trying to get him so scared that he would stop drinking and using drugs and leaving me. But it never worked because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared, and it was a manipulation tactic on my part.
I’d end up driving around the city waiting for him to call—which usually never happened—thinking of all the ways that I could leave, that I should leave, where would I go, and then, with every passing minute, getting more lonely and more afraid and wanting to come back, feeling pulled back home. And so eventually, sometimes after 30 minutes or an hour, or half a day, I’d turn the car around and go back home.
When you do this, if you decide to separate, it cannot be from a place of manipulation. It has to be from a place of strength. It has to be because you understand that this is in the best interest of you, whether they get sober or not.
So, let’s talk about separation. Why are we even thinking that this would be beneficial to our relationship?
The first benefit is that it is not a final decision.
You’re not calling a lawyer and saying, “I want a divorce.” You’re not ending your marriage. It’s basically a timeout. You are taking a pause. You’re making space. You’re saying, “I have to figure this out. I’m not sure if this is the right answer, but I need some time.” And when you take time, when you make personal space away from addiction, you are able to get a clear mind. It actually strengthens you.
That’s one of the benefits of separation: you are strengthened because you realize that once you spend your first night in that new space or in your home alone and you set it up this way, I promise you every additional night will help you feel like you can make this happen long term if you choose to.
See, addiction tries to make you feel like you are incapable of changing.
It wants you to stay stuck because then it remains in control.
So it feeds you lies such as you’re never going to be happy on your own. You are never going to be able to handle your life by yourself. You’re never going to find anyone that’s going to cherish you and love you. You’re unworthy of any type of love that you have now. These are the lies that addiction creates in you. And taking space away from this disease allows you to let go of the voice of addiction.
You have a voice in your head right now that you’re so used to. That’s the addiction voice. And when you take a pause from it, that voice grows weaker and weaker and weaker the longer you’re away from it. It makes space for the truth to become louder and stronger. So taking a break and making space strengthens you. It also confirms you.
There is part of you that truly believes you are worthy of being loved.
It might be buried very deep in you, but there is a part of you that believes that you are beautifully created and that you have gifts to share with this world. You might not have been in touch with it for a long time. It might be difficult to admit, but there is a part of you that believes that you have something to offer, that you are special, that you are unique, and that you are beautiful.
The second benefit of separation is that it will restore you.
You are tired; you are exhausted. Addiction wears on you. Your whole mind is dedicated to trying to figure out how to save the one you love. It’s exhausting. And so taking a moment and separating allows you to restore yourself. It allows you to relax, to regenerate, and to step away from the abuse and the worry and the anxiousness about your future. It allows you to sit still in peace without wondering when are they going to call, or when are they gonna walk through the door. Are they going to be drunk, or are they going to be coming home late?
You’re in control. You’ve created your own sanctuary of space. You can sit down in a cozy chair with a cup of tea and be in control of the next five hours of your evening because you’ve created a safe place, and you’re not worried about the dysfunction. You need restoration, and you need a time out to relax, to breathe, and to make space for healing.
And finally, the last benefit of separation is that after you are rested and restored, you will find yourself established.
And what I mean by established is that this period of time that you have given yourself will allow you to feel what it feels like to leave. You will know, if you want to return, that you are returning because it is your choice. You accept that you love someone with this disease, and you are willing to accept that and all that comes with it for the rest of your life. You’re lowering your expectations of your relationship and the one you love. And you are established enough to make up your mind to return to the relationship as a healthy partner with realistic expectations, or you have established that you are ready to leave.
This time period, this restoration, this confirmation, and this strength that this separation has provided you is enough and has helped you come to the understanding that you are going to leave and that you are strong enough and capable enough to make a different choice for your future.
Those are the benefits of separation: ultimately, clarity of mind and clarity of heart.
And I want to share it before we end (this is an extra long podcast, and I apologize) a very quick story of a woman who chose to separate. She was the first person who ever joined the Love Over Addiction program. I believe it was seven or eight years ago, and I became friends with her. We are still in contact today.
This woman was beautiful. She lived out in California, and she was pregnant. Her husband was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and during her pregnancy, decided that he wanted to have an affair. So he would leave her for nights to go have an affair. I think they already had two other children, and she was pregnant with the third. And she was terrified of her future.
She was in love with him. She wanted to stay with him. But he was giving her no indication that he was ready to get sober anytime soon. And she thought he might possibly be in love with another person. So she decided to take a pause and to separate. And I remember having many conversations with her about this. She took a break, separated, and found the courage to leave temporarily because she wasn’t willing or ready yet to give up the idea of marriage.
She still wanted to hang on to hope, but she also realized that she had work to do.
So she took her young children, and she joined the program, and she did the work. She was dedicated.
After a couple of months of this separation, her husband had his own moment where he realized he was missing his family and his children. And he realized that what he had was nothing in comparison to which she provided. A pastor counseled him, and he was completely restored to sobriety. He decided to make the decision to remain sober for the rest of his life. And he committed to his healing. They have been together since then. They moved, they started their own church, and they are very happily married.
It is possible for happy endings in our community. There are many women who have joined who either have decided to stay, and their partners have gotten better, or they haven’t gotten better. Their partner is still an active addict, but they have found happiness staying with themselves.
There was another woman in our community who decided to separate from her loved one. They were married for over 20 years, and she felt like it might be too late for her—like what’s the point?
But there was something inside of her that was saying this: “You’re settling for crumbs, and you deserve the pie. You cannot restore this. This is beyond restoration, and it’s time to end.”
But she wasn’t sure. She still needed to make that space to confirm what her gut was telling her. So she decided to separate, and in about three weeks, she literally blocked out addiction. She blocked the phone calls, she wouldn’t accept visits, and she set very clear boundaries and said, “You know what? For the next 30 days, I am just focusing on me and seeing if I can do this alone. I’m going to cook what I want to cook, I’m going to attend the classes I want to attend, I’m going to work and come home, and I’m just going to nurture and feed my soul. I am going to go walking the dog. I’m going to really get in tune with what I feel like my future needs to be.” And she did that.
And in three weeks, it was clear as day that her relationship was over, her marriage could not be restored, and that she needed to move on. And this woman was in her 60s. She had been married for quite a long time. And now I know this woman, and she is so happy. She is remarried to a wonderful guy who is so warm and so loving. She’s worked on herself enough to be able to receive that kind of love.
So, there are two success stories with two outcomes. One is no better than the other; both are happy endings. And that happy ending can be in your future too.
You just need to have the courage to step out and put addiction at a distance so you can have clarity of mind.
I’m not saying you need to do this today, but I wanted to introduce the idea and teach you the benefits so that you can have this in your back pocket. And if you’re listening to me right now, and you’re saying, “Michelle, this actually sounds like something I might want to consider,” I challenge you. I challenge you today to start thinking about the details. Where would you live? If you have young kids, how would you work out the visitation arrangements? What would you do financially? Just start thinking about the details, and don’t get stuck when you come up against something and say, “There’s no way. We can’t afford it.”
There are ways. You can get creative about this. There might be a friend of yours who has an apartment above a garage that they’re willing to lend you for 30 or 60 days. There might be a family member that said, “Yes, come stay with me for a small period of time. I’ll help you with the children, and I’ll give you your space.” There are ways that you can make this happen. I remember when I knew that I needed to leave. I called a shelter and asked how long they could take me and my three kids. So there are ways you can make this happen.How willing are you to get uncomfortable to find the answer?
I hope you found this helpful. I love each and every one of you, and I hope you join me in one of our programs so I can get to know you better inside the secret Facebook group. Come see me on LoveOverAddiction.com. Take care.