Riding the Roller Coaster of Your Loved One’s Addiction
Riding the Roller Coaster of Your Loved One’s Addiction
When you love someone suffering from addiction, there are a boatload of feelings that arise when you find out that they are drinking again. It can feel like a roller coaster ride, can’t it? One minute you’re feeling great because they’ve promised that they’re going to get sober, and you feel hopeful, and you feel joyful, but you’re also a little bit scared. Because at the same time you’re thinking, is this really going to happen? And then the next minute you do a nosedive into that fear. And you remember all the times that they’ve said they would get sober and they haven’t.
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Read the transcript and find more details here:
You park your mind there for too long, and you get worked up even though nothing has changed. They’re not drinking, your relationship is still whatever it was 30 minutes ago, but all of a sudden, now you feel terrible because you’re reminiscing and digging too deep. Your fear turns into anger. And then you’re thinking, yeah. I remember this time, and you know, that time and date, who do they think they are? They should be great to me. And because I’m a wonderful partner and look at all the things I do for them.
And then it just spirals out of control, you work yourself up, and it’s exhausting.
You find yourself so worked up and completely alone in all of this. And you can do it in a matter of minutes. It’s that crazy loving someone with this disease. You can spin out of control super fast for no apparent reason.
It’s fabulous. Not really. But, totally normal. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t sit there and hate on yourself or beat yourself up for going into that roller coaster ride of emotions on an hourly, daily, whatever basis. Just sit there and go, you know what? If I’m choosing to stay, this is par for the course, and I’m going to work on this by working on myself and listening to this podcast. And maybe you join one of our programs.
Maybe you see a therapist, but however you’re getting help in the moment, recognize it. Just say, this sucks, and acknowledge that it’s not fair. And that it is a terrible, awful side effect of loving someone suffering from addiction. And the good news is that if you decide to stay or decide to leave – either way – the healthier you become, the less it’s going to feel like a roller coaster.
I love metaphors and painting images in my head of what’s going on. Imagine you’re at a theme park because I want to be honest with you.
I don’t think loving someone with addiction will ever not feel like some roller coaster ride.
Unfortunately, it’s just such an unpredictable disease. There are so many factors, and there’s so much trauma and history. There’s so much temptation for the addict, and as long as you’re in a relationship with someone with addiction, you’re going to ride a roller coaster of a ride.
It’s going to feel like a bit exciting, overstimulating, scary at some points, with unpredictable ups and downs. That’s the truth. But, regardless if they get sober or not, the good news is if you get healthier and you really work on yourself, stay in your lane, and figure yourself out, you get to know yourself very well.
You get to understand how you’ve reacted to this disease and your negative behaviors.
You also get to figure out why you attracted this relationship in the first place.
If you do all of that work, all that uncovering and detective work and digging about yourself, the level of intensity in your ride will go down significantly.
At Universal Studios, they have this roller coaster called the Hulk. And when you walk into the park, it’s one of the first attractions you see, and it’s green. It’s got loop de loops and a really big drop. And it’s pretty intense. I used to love it. I’m now 43, and roller coasters, unfortunately, are not agreeing with me lately. I don’t know why, but I used to love that ride.
When you first start out in a relationship with an alcoholic or addict and don’t have any of the tools, you’re just fresh as a daisy, completely innocent, not knowing what you’re getting into.
Remember that you’re so naive. You don’t really understand what you don’t understand. Probably for you, it was years ago, and you are waiting in line to get on the Hulk. You’re thinking, yeah, this really doesn’t look that bad. How severe can it be? And the Hulk is symbolic of your relationship with your loved one, with your alcoholic or addict.
You get off the roller coaster, and your hair is all out of place, and your heart is still beating fast, and you’re recovering. And you’re like, what the heck? That was severe. And that’s intense. That’s kind of how you feel with your first episode when they pull the whole drinking or drug-using thing.
And after a while, you start to feel kind of beat up.
That’s how you feel after this roller coaster. But if you do your work, you can downgrade to the Shrek ride which is a ride that is more like you sit in the theater, and you watch a movie, and the theater seats kind of move a little; they jiggle around when the part of the movie gets intense.
That’s what you want to aim for. The ride will always kind of rock you a little bit, but you’ll be on solid ground and be able to recover a lot quicker. And some instances that used to feel like you were shaken to the core, like the Hulk will start to feel like Shrek instead.
Those exact same instances will move you just slightly, but you’ll be able to walk out and say, I’m fine. I’m good. That was nothing. I enjoyed that. And I am proud of myself for not feeling afraid, terrified, and wanting to get off.
It’s a bit of a weird analogy now that I think about it, but that’s how you will grow in your relationship.
The way to recognize if you’re not doing the work and not growing is if every argument you get into or every time your loved one disappoints, it feels like the whole roller coaster ride. That’s a sign that you’re not growing because if your loved one is not in recovery, they’re always going to offer you the same amount of drama, and you will always have the decision to react a certain way.
The way you react proves whether you’re getting healthier and happier, or whether you’re remaining sick.
Many people get this confused: their drinking or drug use is not a sign of you getting better. So if they had a great week and they didn’t get drunk or use, that’s not a sign that your relationship is getting better and that you’re getting healthier.
You can take no credit for their sobriety or their choices.
You don’t get to do that, but what you can take credit for and what you should be held accountable for is the following week. When they say, hell with my sobriety and they go out and drink or use drugs. Your reaction to that should continue to improve and be more mature, be more under control, be more intentional, be more healthy.
And honestly, if you want to take it to another level, a way to tell if you are getting healthier is how you treat them on the in-between days when they’re not trying to get sober and are drinking or using. And most importantly, how are you treating yourself? Are you practicing wellness? Are you practicing self-care, or are you obsessively worried about the next time they’re going to drink? Are you being a complete nag or a stalker and monitoring their every move?
Or are you detaching and saying, all right, I’m going to not worry about the next time.
Instead, I’m just going to every day, wake up and go, okay, what am I doing for myself? What kind thing am I doing for myself today? And you all listen, we’re in a freaking pandemic. So please, when I say work on yourself, I don’t mean doing things that sound exhausting and impossible.
Working on yourself might be when they’re drinking, you go in the other room, get on a treadmill and watch The Bachelor. That might be your work. I’m not talking about you going and getting a book and highlighting and underlining. I mean, that’s good and please read but let’s not be too difficult on ourselves.
Your self-care might be going for a walk around your neighborhood by yourself. Create a playlist of wonderful, upbeat music, and listen to that around the neighborhood or listen to the program while you walk. Or even calling a friend and intentionally being lighthearted and funny and laughing.
During even really difficult times, it’s perfectly acceptable to find humor and to lighten it up.
If you can’t find the humor or feel too down, maybe you put on the funny movie. My favorite movie for cheering up is Clue if you have not seen it.
That’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about making sure that you’re taking care of yourself in between the times of their addiction.
We haven’t even gotten to the juicy part of this yet. So I’m going to talk about the feelings that we feel when we’re riding that roller coaster. Because I think part of our recovery is being so kind and so gentle with ourselves for feeling these feelings and that it’s helpful to name them. It’s helpful to call them out. It’s helpful for me to say, Hey, this is how you might be feeling, and it’s okay.
It’s normal. We all feel this way. And then hopefully you hear that, and you can rest a little, you can take some weight off of your shoulders and take a breath and go, okay, I am where I’m supposed to be for now.
I am where millions of other people are, and it’s okay that I’m here.
I’m going to learn from this. And I’m going to grow from this. I’m not going to stay here forever. This isn’t my permanent destination. I’m going to accept where I am. And I’m going to work hard on moving through this however long this takes.
And for some of you, you’re excellent students. It will be a matter of months before you move through this and come out on the other side. And for others of you in our community, it might take years. And that’s okay. You go at the speed that you are comfortable going. I’m not here to accelerate you in any way whatsoever unless you’re comfortable with that and you want that.
Some of you do, some of you are way overachievers, which is awesome.
And some of you are much more go at your own pace. And that’s awesome too.
Okay. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to name some feelings that you might be feeling. And remember, it’s just you and me. So you can be completely honest with me because I don’t judge you one bit, not one ounce.
I’m here to offer you complete empathy and compassion because I used to be exactly where you’re at.
I’m going to ask you some questions, and I want you to whisper, yes or no. Just answer me out loud. It sounds weird and kooky, but I promise you that if you answer out loud and actively participate, something about it will be clear, and you’ll remember better.
Shame. Let’s talk about that. Shame is something a lot of us feel when we love someone suffering from addiction, especially over staying in a relationship that secretly, we kind of feel like we need to leave, right?
So when we feel ashamed, we do some things. So I’m going to ask you: are you avoiding having people come over to your house because you’re ashamed of your alcoholic or addict’s behavior? Are you declining invitations to events or gatherings because you’re ashamed of the idea that your loved one might act inappropriately, might embarrass you? Are you making excuses for them when people notice they are misbehaving?
Let’s say you said yes to one of these. And I know we are dealing with COVID. So there’s not a lot of gatherings going on, but think in your past, and your loved one starts to be too flirtatious or slur their words, or be aggressive and start swearing or making a mockery of themselves.
And you can feel judgment. Do you make excuses for them? No matter how much, you know that this is wrong, are you defending them?
Those are all signs and symptoms of shame.
All right. The second emotion is fear. How often do we feel afraid? Oh, my goodness. Afraid of our future. Scared of our loved one never getting sober and things not changing. Afraid of the damage that this might be causing our children. Scared to death for the inevitable roller coaster drop that’s around the bend.
Do you monitor their drinking? That’s a sign and symptom of being afraid. You’re the home monitor of their addiction. Do you constantly remind them of their promise to say sober? That’s a huge one, right? You’re being a nag. and a bit authoritarian.
You’re behaving like a parent instead of a lover or a partner.
Do you refuse to go out or on vacation without them? This is common—we kind of become prisoners of our own home. And we miss out on the joy of living our lives with others and the community. And in connection, we deny ourselves the right to enjoy seeing the world experiencing new adventures because we’re afraid of what we might come home to or what they might do without us. They won’t keep it together.
The third emotion you might be feeling is anger. Oh, my goodness. I went there, anger. Why do women hate talking about anger so much? I do not understand women who get angry about bringing up anger. Like we’re not supposed to feel this feeling. First of all, it’s so normal to be angry. Everyone gets angry, and denying your anger is so unhealthy.
I’m not talking about going bananas on your loved one. That’s not appropriate either, but acknowledging that you’re feeling anger is completely okay. So signs and symptoms of anger.
Are you constantly trying to please your loved one, and when it’s not enough for them to stay sober, are you furious? Are you working so hard to please your loved one? I remember I used to work really hard by making sure the house was always clean and picked up before my husband came home. Cause he liked everything in perfect order and picking up a house with infants was impossible. But right before he came home, I did 30 minutes of cleaning, and it was ridiculous now that I look back on it, but that’s what I did. So do you get super mad when they don’t appreciate all that you’re doing for them?
That’s a sign that you’re feeling angry, right?
You get super mad when they don’t appreciate all you’re doing for them. And then lastly, about anger when they don’t offer you the love and approval that you really desperately are looking for, you feel rejected and angry. Is that happening? Because if that is, then, that’s okay.
It’s okay that you’re looking for love and acceptance, but I’m just here to tell you that looking for love and acceptance from somebody who doesn’t love and accept themselves is dangerous. And an unfulfilling prophecy.
It’s turning to somebody who’s broken, and that broken person cannot help you before they help themselves. So you got to find another source for your approval and your love.
Just a hint: it’s yourself.
Are you feeling a deep pain for loving someone suffering from addiction? I’m going to say yes. Do you have a compulsion to please and care for your loved one? Are you constantly trying to relate or help your loved one so they can be free of their shame or pain or fear and anger and finally get sober? I’m going to say, yes, I bet you are.
You’re constantly trying to relate and help. And why? Because you have a huge heart. I want to park here.
I want to say that one of the reasons you were drawn to this relationship is not because you’re sick and not because you have self-esteem issues. And that could be true. Maybe you didn’t get along with your family. Perhaps you’re the black sheep. Maybe you had an abusive parent, whatever, but we’re not going to focus on that today. Today, we’re going to focus on one of the other reasons you were drawn into this relationship.
And that is because you are one of the most caring, thoughtful, emotionally loving people out there. You care on such a deep, deep level that it’s almost unmatched, and it can leave you feeling incredibly empty because you’re willing to give away everything.
Our love has no limits and no bounds. It’s the most powerful motivation we have: our hearts and how much we care. And sometimes that can get us into trouble, right? We’re kind of in a bit of a situation right now with our relationships because we followed our hearts, and we cared too much, and we love too hard.
But also, what do you think changes the world? What do you think mends brokenness?
It’s love. It’s thoughtfulness and caring. And it’s people like us. So before you beat yourself up for finding yourself in this roller coaster of a situation, remember it’s very common. It’s okay. You’re here now, you’re learning, and you’re growing, and you’re healing. And it might not always feel like that all of the time, but I promise you that things will improve.
Do your best to remain in the present and remain conscientious of your responsibility and your decisions. Get to know yourself and take this as an opportunity to grow into the person that you were destined to become. That takes time. We can’t jump there immediately. So let’s be kind to ourselves. And part of knowing ourselves is knowing that we have these incredible, thoughtful, huge hearts. Okay?
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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