Part I – How To Deal With Denial When You Love Someone Suffering From Addiction
Part I – How To Deal With Denial When You Love Someone Suffering From Addiction
When we love someone suffering from addiction, it’s much easier to be in denial about what’s really going on. Just how do you deal with someone in denial… when that someone is you? Remember, there’s no judgment here. More than likely, we’ve all done it at one time or another.
We have a story for you though, a real-life story of bravery, hope, healing, and love.
This week we have a very special interview that’s actually part of a two-part series.
Michelle and Terri originally spoke in late 2017, which is the interview you’ll be hearing today.
Next week, we’ll release their conversation from earlier this year, in 2019.
Michelle: Thank you so much again for agreeing to talk with me and share your story today.
How did you meet your husband?
And when did you start to notice red flags that there might be an issue?
Terri: I met my husband in my neighborhood. I’d just moved to a new city, and he was the next door neighbor being very friendly and helpful. I didn’t really see any signs of problem drinking until about 2009 when he got two DUIs in the same year. I met him in 1995, so we did have some good years before I started to wonder if there was a real problem.
Did you see his drinking progress over the years?
Meaning, were you already questioning whether he had a problem and the DUIs kind of confirmed that for you?
Terri: Yes, that’s exactly what happened. When he retired is when the alcohol addiction got out of hand.
Michelle: Do you think it was the lack of structure and lack of purpose in his life where he just kind of got lost?
Terri: Yes, because he also has ADHD. He wasn’t taking medications for that, so I definitely think that is a big part. He clearly liked the structure and format of work life.
Well, a lot of us need structure. It can be very healthy in our lives.
When you take it away and we don’t have something scheduled or expectations on us, particularly those with addiction issues, you can kind of get lost. I don’t want to use the word ‘lazy’, but not having a purpose can make people feel degraded. So what was your reaction when he had the DUIs?
Terri: Well, I was deep into my codependency at that point. I bailed him out, and of course, he was able to explain it away and why it wasn’t his fault. It took me about two years to really figure out. I was thinking, “Wait a minute, if this wasn’t a problem, he wouldn’t be continuing to drink and get behind the wheel.”
You said you were deep in your codependency and I love that you are taking responsibility and accountability for that.
So you bailed him out. How were you feeling? Were you worried? Did you feel angry? Or were you all of the above?
Terri: I was worried, and at that point, I was also scared that perhaps he was waiting. I mean, I was seriously codependent. I wasn’t just a mild case, I was full blown codependent.
Michelle: Can you explain some of the behaviors for the women out there who are wondering and going, “Well, am I seriously codependent?” What does that mean? What should I be on the lookout for?
Terri: Here’s an example:
Here he is in trouble with the law, getting a DUI, and I’m worried that I’m not driving fast enough to be there waiting when he got out on bail.
I was in the mindset that it was all my responsibility to make sure that he didn’t have any discomfort regarding his own behavior. I was totally taking on that responsibility for his reactions.
Michelle: And you were not allowing him to pay the consequences of his actions.
Terri: Not at all. No, it was still all about making sure that he was happy. I knew that he would be angry because he had just gotten arrested, and I knew he’d be hung over. So it was all just about trying to make his life easier so he wouldn’t explode and get more upset with me.
Let’s talk about that anger. So you were afraid of his anger?
Terri: Yes. And the anger came after I brought him home and he just started punching and kicking holes in the wall and destroying the sheetrock.
I had my phone in my hand just in case I needed to make a 911 call. I just let him go ahead and do it. That hole in the wall stayed there for eight months. And every time I would walk past that, that’s when I started getting angry. I thought, “This is ridiculous. This is not normal behavior.”
Michelle: That hole just kind of served as a visual reminder for you of the dysfunction that was going on in your home.
Michelle: Do you feel like that hole in the wall was not just symbolic, but maybe helpful in a way?
Terri: That is when it started to turn for me.
When I looked at everything going on, including my own behavior and my reactions to his drinking, his behavior, just all of it, it just wasn’t normal.
I wasn’t quite ready to open my eyes and look further. I felt like I almost just became more of an ostrich sticking my head in the sand.
Michelle: Right, the denial.
Terri: Yes, big time. Big time. He’s a contractor, so I thought, “okay, he shouldn’t wait eight months to fix that hole in the wall.”
Michelle: That doesn’t surprise me at all. Let’s talk about the denial for a moment. Often we’re in denial because we’re afraid. What do you think you were afraid of? Why was the truth scary to you?
Terri: My denial was because this was my second marriage.
I had already felt like a failure having gone through one divorce.
I don’t think my first husband wanted to be married and be a father.
Michelle: Comparing the first marriage to the second marriage, do you feel like the rejection that you felt from this man that you loved, who promised to give you his attention for the rest of his life and then turned all of his attention to anything that he felt was rewarding or fun. Did you feel like when your second husband came along, the attention that he was offering you was sort of the validation that you had been missing in your first marriage?
Terri: Yes, that’s it exactly.
Michelle: What’s interesting is that the validation that you were looking for from a sick man is now the actual thing that brought you right back to the original feelings that you were feeling in your first marriage, which is rejection.
Terri: True. That’s very true.
What I love about this is that we need to stop looking towards others to find that validation, that self-acceptance, and that self-love.
So here you are. You said you’re in denial. When did you start going, “Okay, I know this isn’t normal. I’m ready to start picking my head up out of the sand.” When did that occur?
Terri: I stayed in denial for quite awhile because I didn’t want to give up and be like you said, a divorcee for the second time.
When I finally decided to look at what was really going on, it became very clear. He’d lost pretty much all of his friends. We didn’t have any couple friends anymore. The couple friends we had were seriously heavy drinkers, and I didn’t enjoy my time with them.
The kicker though, was my best friend. We’ve been best friends since we were 12 which is over 40 years of friendship. My husband had offered to do some work for her new house that she bought. He had to do it while he was drinking, of course.
She finally just lost it, and she said, “I will not tolerate this behavior in my house!” She told me, “I don’t know how you can. I can’t. Get him out of my house.”
So, at that time I thought, “How could you kick me out?”
She wasn’t kicking me out. I understand her difference now, but at the time, I drove my husband away. He stayed in a motel because it was out of town.
Michelle: How did you feel? I’m thinking about you in that situation, and I’m thinking about being deep in codependency. Did you kind of feel betrayed by your best friend?
Terri: Absolutely. That’s what I was thinking, “How could she do this to me?”. She was trying to show me the difference between trying to separate myself from my alcoholic, and I didn’t see that separation at the time.
Michelle: Did he talk badly about her? I can just imagine you guys driving to the motel. Was there a conversation in the car where he was kind of reinforcing what she had done and how cruel it was?
Michelle: That’s what addiction wants, though. It happened to me too.
I lost all my friends because addiction wanted us to be separated from anyone who’s going to be strong and set boundaries.
When someone says “I’m not tolerating this”, addiction sees that as a threat. So, of course, the reaction from your husband is going to be to speak poorly of that because she is a threat to his habit.
Terri: Yes. And she was the worst person on the planet according to him. He asked how could I consider her my best friend?
Michelle: Can you look back on her decision and respect it?
Terri: Oh yes, 100%. And I thank her for it now. I snapped out of being so codependent and realized that what was happening in my life was not normal behavior for everybody.
Michelle: There’s so much truth to what you’re saying.
How do our relationships get to that point?
We were relatively healthy people, and we all come into relationships with baggage. We’re enablers. We’re people pleasers. But for the most part, our lives weren’t as chaotic and dysfunctional as when we’re married or in love with somebody who suffers from addiction. It is a slow progression where we just wake up, and it’s crazy all around us. And you start to think that this is just it. This is just my life. It’s completely normal.
Michelle: It’s fascinating how that happens though, isn’t it?
When you’re in it, you cannot see your way out of it.
It’s just something that happens, and it’s almost as quick as snapping your fingers. And all of the sudden, you’re like, “Wait a minute, how did I get here? This is not okay.”
Michelle: It’s not okay.
Terri: That was my “aha!” moment in 2014.
Michelle: I love that! What happened after that?
Terri: I went to my first Al-Anon meeting.
I couldn’t even get through introducing myself.
I just started to cry. That was a great group, and I really lucked out because since then, I’ve been to other Al-Anon meetings that just weren’t great.
I believe God put this group of women into my life right when I needed them, I have to believe that. Again, not all Al-Anon groups are the same. And I really want people to know that if you don’t get what you need from one, try others.
It can be helpful to be in a group with other people who are in your situation. They’re not going to judge you. That was the first time in my life that I knew I wasn’t being judged for my life and what I was dealing with.
And that was freedom for me because I felt like everyone else was looking and watching and saying, “Oh, she’s the one who’s married to the alcoholic.”
It was such a breakthrough to go through and get into Al-Anon. At first, I just attended to attend, and that made me feel better, but I really didn’t actually try to work the program.
Then, I started to read Codependent No More. That was a big help. And the best thing about this disease is that it really did bring me back to my relationship with God. That had been missing for years.
Michelle: That’s wonderful. I love that a book can help you do that. When and how did you find our programs?
Terri: I had some friends that had come up to visit me.
I live near Lake Tahoe, so for me, skiing is just something that just brings me such happiness and such joy and freedom.
Really, you’re by yourself. There are other people, but you’re by yourself. It’s between you and yourself.
Being in the mountains and the snow and exercising – it’s just one of those moments that’s like, “Oh, I just love this.”
So, I had a friend over, and we started googling “married to alcoholics” and this and that and then your website, Love Over Addiction, showed up, so I started to read that to my friend, and she’s like “That is wonderful! What do you have to buy?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.”
So I purchased the Love Over Mistakes, and I listened to that.
That brought me more healing than the year that I spent in Al-Anon.
I was listening to your words that you had been through this. In Al-Anon gives you the tools, but it’s up to you to work the program. Your program had real advice and real techniques that were for real life.
Michelle: Thank you for saying that. That’s exactly why I wrote it. Because I was one of those people who went to Al-Anon meetings too. I did not fit in at all and left feeling a lot more depressed than when I started.
But you made a great point, which I loved: that there are different types of groups. I think that’s really important to mention because you don’t want to talk badly about anything or any organization.
Any organization that helps women is a good organization.
For me, I just felt like I wanted to know what practical things I could do. I loved the idea of sharing and not being judged. I’m an action-oriented woman. It’s funny that you said that because I find that this program in our community attracts a certain type of woman, and the women we attract are very action-oriented women. They’re women who really are looking for practical how-tos and not necessarily a lot of self-help fluff.
Terri: That makes total sense.
Michelle: I couldn’t find a program like that. I was like, “Okay, I’m going home right now, and I know he’s going to be drunk. What do I do with that? How do I manage that situation?”
That brings such joy to my heart because that is exactly why I created the program. I’m like, “There have to be practical tools.” I just literally tried to do everything and started taking notes on what worked and what didn’t, and what got results and what was just the exact opposite of getting good results. I did that for ten years before I created the programs.
So thank you for saying that. I really appreciate it. That makes me feel really good.
I really owe you such deep gratitude because I would not have been able to get back to understanding myself for the first time in my life and being okay with who I am if it wasn’t for this program.
So there again, it’s like I’m trying to live my life in gratitude. I’m pretty sure you can tell that I’m no longer that victim person that I lived in with my denial.
That was part of the reason I stayed in denial because all of a sudden here’s all this attention for me being this victim. I just love that I have control again over my life and that I don’t have to please everybody, and that, for me, is huge.
“What other people say about you is none of your business.” Don’t use just love that? I didn’t want anybody to say anything bad about me. I just had to be all things to everybody and try and be someone that I wasn’t at the time, so I’m grateful, and I love this.
Michelle: I love what you’re saying. I can sense you know you have a sense of confidence and clarity and peace, and I can feel it in your voice, and I can hear it in your words.
That’s what you’re giving off and that’s genuine.
It’s not this panicked chaos or this victim or this anger which are all places that I know I’ve gone to many times and have stayed stuck in many times, but what I hear from you is just a very centered, confident woman.
What I love the most is that you’re here, and I don’t have any idea whether he got sober or not. But you’ve arrived here regardless of his story; regardless of what he’s been doing in your life or the promises he’s broken, made or kept. Do you recognize that?
Terri: I really hadn’t recognized it until you said that. You’re wonderful! I’m actually going through a divorce.
Michelle: Let’s talk about that. So you started working the programs, so what happened next? Were you still living in the house with the hole in the wall?
Terri: No, that finally got fixed.
Michelle: What happened? How did you get to the point of the divorce?
Terri: Family and friends had tried for the past few years to get him to go to rehab.
He would commit to going, and then, at the last minute, he wouldn’t go.
He’d say “I’ll go next month. Or “I’ll go after this vacation.”. Or “I’ll go in the fall.” He never went. He couldn’t even hold down any small jobs or anything.
We own property, so we own a lot of rentals, and I was doing everything. I had to find people to take care of things that he used to be able to do.
Labor Day weekend was when it really started for me because we finally got to meet our granddaughter, and he was so drunk he had to have a friend drive him because I had already made plans.
I was coming up from a visit with my two boys. I have one in Southern California and one in the Bay Area. His son is also in the Bay Area. I was driving back from Southern California, and we were going to get together and meet our new granddaughter, but he was so drunk his friend had to drive him.
He wasn’t even there. He was there physically, but he was not even there mentally.
I was so afraid he was going to drop the baby. That was so awful and terrible to see. That was also the first weekend that I got to reconnect with my best friend. I was spending the night there at her house in the Bay Area, and he did not like that one bit.
But I said “I’m doing it. It’s not your choice.” When I finally got back home up to Lake Tahoe, he just started yelling and saying that I was the worst person ever. Then he took the safe deposit box key, and he was going to leave me.
He’s done that a few times before, and this time I finally just said, “Ok, I’m fine with that.”
Well, that didn’t turn out to be the answer he wanted to hear.
Michelle: Can I stop you for a second, please? Because I have two major points I want to make. If you were in the room, I would just be giving you a giant high five.
The fact that you said “I’m staying at my best friend’s house, and there’s nothing you can do about that” is you being absolutely perfect and standing up to this disease.
That’s what we talk about in the Love Over Addiction community. Our community does not believe that we are powerless over this disease. That is a lie.
You just gave us a beautiful, perfect example of the way that you exercised your free will and your personal choice to stand up to this disease and to make decisions and healthy choices that benefited you. That’s worth parking on for just a second and recognizing. It’s just terrific. Well done Terri, because I know that’s not easy.
I know that comes from a deep place of courage and conviction. I know for me, when I went to those places of courage, there was a little part of me that was worried about the anger and sticking up to him, but I think you followed through and that is fantastic. Well done.
Terri: Oh, my gosh! Thank you.
Michelle: You’re welcome.
Terri: I did get the wrath when we both got back to the house.
Michelle: I’m sure you did.
Terri: The next day, I went, and I took my items out of the safe deposit box, and I opened up my very own safe deposit box.
Michelle: Oh, my gosh! That’s fabulous.
Terri: I just said at that point, “I’m done.” He was acting like a spoiled two-year-old, and I just said, “That’s it. I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
I’d had enough, and I made an appointment to see an attorney. I saw an attorney at the end of September. I had to change my appointment because, in September, we drove up to the Oregon coast to celebrate his aunt’s 80th birthday.
That was also the trip where I set up my boundaries.
I ended up doing all the driving. I set up the boundary that he could not drink in the car while I was driving. It took a lot longer to drive because we had to stop every so often. I made him get out of the car and walk. I’d get him a place under a tree so he wouldn’t be in the hot, boiling sun, and he would go and down a couple of beers really quickly.
His family was very supportive of me. They said, “You have changed.” I didn’t tell them at the time because this was also after I started the Love Over Addiction program, and that just gave me strength. I went into the bedroom when everybody was busy, and I would listen to part of the program with the headphones on so I could just get my strength to get through this vacation.
Michelle: That is amazing. I love that my voice was there with you. I wish that I could have been there with you. That just makes me feel so good.
So, you’re on this trip with him. You’ve set the boundary which is another big high five to you that you’re going to do the driving, regardless of the sacrifice of it taking longer than necessary. What happens on the trip, and what happens when you get back?
On the trip, he got into arguments and fights with every single person that was there.
He had aunts, cousins, friends of aunts and cousins, his mom, his sister, of course, me, and friends that lived next door to the aunt.
Everybody was pretty much ready to throw him out. I gathered all our stuff, and we somehow made it through the trip.
They all said he needs to go to rehab, but nobody would stand up and tell him. They would just tell me, “You need to tell him.”
Michelle: Good for you. Don’t own that. Give that right back to them.
Terri: I had taken that responsibility for too many years. We made it back home, and he just continued on his way with drinking and not being responsible.
Then I met with my attorney, and she gave me steps to take. The reason I chose her was that she was, number one, a woman of faith, and to me, that was important.
And number two, when she was in law school, she worked with alcoholics, so I knew she would not try to make him out to be a horrible person. I knew she would be fair and recognize that the disease and he were two separate things.
That’s terrific. I love that you have remained dignified and classy with this.
I think so often, divorce gets a bad rap because people assume that we’re out to get everything, and we’re just nasty and selfish about it, and that doesn’t always have to be the case.
You can choose to be fair. You can be fair to yourself and fair to him. It doesn’t sound to me like you were just going to lay down and hand over everything. But it sounds like you were being sensitive to the fact that you were working with somebody who was sick, someone who had a disease.
Terri: It took me almost six months to get my ducks in a row.
The best advice she gave me is to take things out of your house that are important to you.
Get them to your friend’s or your family’s house. Get a storage unit, which is what I ended up doing. I got all the photos of my kids and their art projects and just different things over the years. Christmas presents, Christmas gifts, ornaments that my kids have made. Those are the things that can’t be replaced. I got those out, and then I ended up leaving.
Michelle: Brilliant. I did not do that, and those things in my life got destroyed because this disease is vicious and will do terrible things. It’s not the man doing the things; it’s the disease doing the things. I forgive him.
And the way I forgive is by recognizing that the man I loved is a good man, but this disease is taking him over. A lot of my very, very precious things were destroyed along with my family’s precious things.
So that advice is key. We do talk about that, and much more in our Love Over Addiction: Stay or Go program. I do think that taking six months to plan is so important.
You said that like it was bad. It’s not bad.
Taking that amount of time to be thoughtful and diligent about it is the best approach as opposed to just being kind of a knee-jerk reaction like, “I’m out of here.”
Those types of threats or leaving, for me at least, always ended up with me back at home in bed with him feeling like a fool.
Michelle: It’s the thoughtful, meticulous planning that really helps. It comes from a very mature, wise place that helps us have a graceful exit if there is such a thing.
Terri: I don’t know if it can ever be fully graceful.
I need to tell you, in the bonus section of Love Over Addiction program, you shared your story of the time you knew it was right to leave. I used to listen to that and think, “Nope.” I’d do my gut check – “Nope, I’m not there yet.” When I finally did leave, I listened to it the very next day, and I knew I had reached that point.
That bonus to me was so amazing.
It was so truthful, so honest, and it just helped me do my gut check and recognize that I wasn’t there.
Then when I did leave, I knew I was there.
Michelle: That is terrific. Thank you for telling me that.
Did you ever try and leave before and come back? You don’t sound like that type of person. You sound like you might have thought of it many times, but did the gut check. Did you ever try to physically leave? Did you ever get in your car, drive away and say, “I’m not coming back?” Or did you always know that this is where you needed to be, and you weren’t ready to make the changes yet?
Terri: I did not ever leave. My alcoholic did that plenty for the both of us.
Michelle: Oh, is that right? Was that his MO, leaving?
Terri: Yes, that was his MO. He would take all the cash that he could find, would take both sets of car keys, and I would be stranded at home and he would leave.
Michelle: So, you didn’t have to leave because you were the one being left.
Terri: I was the one being left.
Let’s talk about your future because I’m very excited.
How are you feeling today about where you’re at, and what are you most excited about for your future?
Terri: I know I’m in the best place I could ever be in mentally at this point in my life. I am in control of my own destiny and my own future.
Whatever God has planned for me, I can do. And I know I’m going to be okay. I’ve told myself I’m going to take a whole year before I make any major decisions.
I’m not going to move. I’m not going to sell the house. And I’m not going to get involved with any new romantic relationships.
My plan is just to exist and keep learning. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m so excited because my relationships with my family, especially my sons, has never been better.
They have just been the most wonderful and caring sons, and I got to go to Disneyland to celebrate my son’s 35th birthday. I had kids young. We had the best time ever. We recreated photos from when they were little in Disneyland until now.
I feel like the fog’s been lifted. I can appreciate life. I’m doing things I used to get criticized for. I’m trying to do all kinds of different things. There are different recipes that I can try now because my alcoholic didn’t like anything I cooked. I’m having the best time at one of the worst times of my life if that makes sense.
Michelle: That makes total sense. And I can so relate to everything that you’re saying.
I remember going through what people would consider a dark and difficult time in my life: going through the divorce.
Throughout the process, I was getting restraining orders, and I was hiding in hotels, and I’d be stressed. If you asked me when was the best time during the whole last ten years I was with him, I’d say it was that time because I was growing into the best part of me.
It was like shedding a layer of skin and arriving in the most beautiful form of myself that I had ever been. I was connected, in a way, to this unbelievable courage and power and something greater than myself that I had never had before.
It was just a beautiful time in my life. I always look back on that and say, “I’m so grateful for that time, and I’m so grateful for the pain that led up to that time.” Without that pain, we wouldn’t have arrived here.
Terri: No, that’s so true. It’s all part of the process. When you asked what we’re grateful for having been married to an alcoholic, it’s an easy answer for me. If I hadn’t have been, I wouldn’t be where I am right now today.
Michelle: I wouldn’t give it back for a second. I would marry him again. I would. I’d do it all over again as crazy as that sounds. I would because I don’t think there’s any other way I could have gotten here.
And I’m so excited for your future.
I really love what you’re saying about taking a year and not making any major changes.
You’re allowing yourself to listen, to be led to the next steps. That’s very, very smart. Very wise.
Terri: Well, it’s also because in my past – I said I’d been separated from my first husband only three and a half months when my alcoholic came and started acting so wonderful and nice. So that was too soon.
Even though we waited seven years to get married, it was still too soon to get into another relationship. At this point, I’m fine if I never have another relationship. Which I do think that was part of it when I knew it was okay for me to leave and it was time. I didn’t have to be in a relationship. I just needed to be by myself.
Michelle: In other words, you weren’t afraid of being alone.
I wasn’t afraid. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been alone, and I’m okay with it. Finally, at 57 years old.
Michelle: Thank you for mentioning your age because I will tell you, I get emails every week from women that are in their late fifties and sixties saying, “I feel like it’s too late. I’ve been married 22 years.” “I’ve been married 35 years.” “I’ve been married however many years, and I just feel like it’s too late for me.” “I feel like I just need to stay married because who is going to want me?”
What do you have to say to those women?
Terri: You have to want yourself.
Terri: I know I should be able to say something more poetic, but it comes down to just being that simple.
Enjoy being who you are because, in the end, that’s who you’ve got to deal with. And if you’re not happy, you can’t make anybody else happy, and you can’t bring anything to the table.
Michelle: I am overjoyed and thrilled that we got to talk and spend this hour together. I am so proud of you.
Terri: Thank you, Michelle. I really appreciate it, and I really do love this program. The programs – I actually have all three. They do work.
Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.
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