How To Stay And Find Your Power
How To Stay And Find Your Power
We all take our own paths when we love someone suffering from addiction. Some choose to stay while others leave their relationship. And some aren’t sure for a long time. No matter what path you choose, the decision is yours.
Listen to the podcast episode here:
Read the episode transcript + find more details here:
For many years I knew I wanted to stay. I was tired of people telling me I needed to go. I was tired of people telling me, “Oh Michelle, if I were you, I would have left a long time ago. You should have, I don’t know how you put up with that” or say things like that that are incredibly hurtful.
They don’t understand what they’re saying when they give you that advice, or they give you that feedback.
They don’t realize the damage that does to your heart.
People are trying to help.
But unless they’ve been in this situation, it’s really not great to take their advice.
That’s frankly why these New York Times best-selling self-help books aren’t helpful for women like us. Because their advice does not apply to relationships that are unhealthy, have abuse or addiction involved.
There’s a poem that I came across the other day, and I thought of you.
Now, this poem wasn’t about addiction. It’s actually about having children, but please have an open mind and see if you can draw the same parallels that I did. It’s called Welcome To Holland.
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy.
You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives.
You pack your bags, and off you go.
Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?,” you say. “What do you mean, Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan.
They’ve landed in Holland, and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease.
It’s just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy.
But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss. But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
Isn’t that good?
When I read it, I thought of us. Because if we’re being honest, most of us didn’t dream of falling in love with someone struggling from addiction.
We didn’t dream of the life we have today.
When we were all younger, we dreamed about our future relationships as happy and healthy. And a lot of times, we compare our relationships with someone suffering from addiction to our friends, family, or neighbors. We see other people having reliable marriages and wholesome relationships. But we feel like we live in a completely different land.
We live in a land of unpredictability, pain, and suffering, manipulation, and lies.
We think to ourselves, how did we get here? Why are we here? Can we ever be happy with this?
And for those of you that know you want to stay, your priority is finding a way to not only cope but to find joy in this strange land.
When you want to stay, finding joy becomes your utmost priority.
If you’re staying and you know you want to stay, it’s no longer acceptable for you to wake up every day, hoping and praying that your loved one will change. When you do this, you’re living in a constant state of anxiety and giving away all your power.
You’re allowing someone else to dictate your joy and happiness based on their daily choices. That’s giving away all your power.
So how do you get happy if you decide to stay? Is that even possible? You might be wondering. Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that question because I left.
That’s the honest truth.
It is different for every person. There are women in our community who’ve chosen to stay and found happiness. One of my best friends has chosen to stay and found happiness, but I didn’t. I couldn’t, or better put, I wasn’t willing to.
If you are staying for good or at least staying for now, here’s something that’s a must: connect with others.
And when I say connect with others, it’s great to take a dance class or a painting class when the shelter in place orders have ended.
But I also mean connecting with others that are going through the same thing as you. There’s such a deeper, more vulnerable language that we can use. It’s almost like a secondhand language. When you love somebody that struggles with addiction other people just don’t get. They don’t truly understand. There’s no way they could.
And like I said before, well-intentioned, loving people can give absolutely horrible advice.
I received awful advice for years because they didn’t understand the intricacies and the limitations of addiction.
So you must connect with others who have gone through this or are going through it right now.
As you may know, we have a secret Facebook group. This is an area of connection. And please listen, Facebook groups are not for everyone.
I personally get pretty shy. I’m an introvert. I don’t love joining groups. I’m not a group joiner.
If you’re like me and feeling hesitant, here’s what you can do: go into the group, find a person that you really connect with who speaks your language. Find someone who has similar circumstances and aspects of your life. Then personally reach out to them through Facebook messenger.
So many best friends have been connected through this group. Now, there are some women who enjoy talking to the whole group, and that’s fine too. But we never want you to feel pressure to join or engage at a certain level. You do you.
This is one way to take charge of your own happiness and stop obsessing about their addiction.
This is one way to stay and find your power.
And here’s another tip, whether you stay or leave, stop researching for them. No more late-night Google searches about anything addiction-related.
Why? Because that’s their job. It’s their job to research and figure out and diagnose themselves. They need to learn where the therapists are. It’s their job to find and join meetings.
When you do this for them, you’re taking away part of their work. That’s a very essential step in their recovery if you ask me.
This is all part of staying in your own lane.
And trust me, it’s hard. It’s part of your healing and recovery to let go of this control and need to regulate them.
And here’s the third thing: stop caring for them so much. And that may sound terrible to some of you. But here’s the thing: you need to be focusing that care on yourself. We’re all givers in this community. We’ll give and give away, and there’s nothing left for ourselves. We have to save some of that care for ourselves.
Here’s an example: if you are the type of person who is in love with somebody suffering from addiction who is struggling with not getting help. You’re the one taking care of the house, doing all the chores, you’re the chef, the caregiver, the maid, the school liaison, you’re the worker. You’re everything.
I want you to stop.
You need to stop being everything.
Take simple steps: You don’t need to do their laundry. They can do their own laundry.
You don’t need to do their dishes. They can do their own dishes.
You don’t need to take care of paying their bills. Especially stop buying them alcohol or giving them money.
Take all that energy and put it into yourself.
This is one way to stay in your relationship and find your power.
Now, let’s address one thing, because I’ve heard this from our community before, and trust me. I was the same way: I hate a dirty house. Clutter and mess make me anxious, and I just can’t live in a messy, dirty house. I hear you. Loud and clear.
Here’s what you do: get a few of those large, black lawn bags that hold a lot of weight. Walk around the house and put everything of theirs in the bag. Put the bag in the garage. Do this as often as you need to.
And if they ask what’s going on, you can let them know that you’re not the maid. It’s each of our responsibilities to clean up after ourselves. I desire a clean space, so I’ll be moving your things to this bag unless you’d like to clean them up on your own.
This is one way you take ownership of your happiness, and you stop being so resentful.
When we clean up after them, more often than not, it builds resentment. And if it doesn’t yet, it will probably start.
Now you’re taking care of yourself and your own needs.
You’re finding a way to stay in your relationship and find your own power.
It’s not your job to take care of them. That’s their own job. You don’t need to feel guilty like you’re neglecting your duty as a wife or partner. That’s a lie that we’ve been telling ourselves. That’s not our job.
A relationship is a partnership. There is a level of equality that must exist. Both parties need to do equal work in the marriage in order for it to be lasting. Otherwise, resentment will grow.
Start thinking of yourself as an independent human being who is not relying on anyone else to make them happy.
And I got news for you. If you do this, and if you follow these instructions and directions to a T, guess what’s going to happen?
You’re going to start to feel better.
You’ll feel more empowered. You’re going to start recognizing how strong and amazing of a person you are. And that you don’t need them in order to survive.
And the choice to stay or to leave, will feel like just that, a choice. It won’t feel like you’re stuck anymore or that it’s not an option. You’ll recognize that you are such a strong person that you can go anytime you want to, and you’ll be completely fine, but maybe you choose not to go, and that’s okay too.
Maybe you’ll choose to stay in your relationship and continue to find your power. Or maybe you’ll discover that the only reason you were staying in your relationship is because you’d lost all your power.
Whatever you decide, you’re deciding from a healthy place.
And I’ll share this personally with you, most of you know that I left. I left my marriage and eventually got remarried.
And guess what? I married a guy who was so independently healthy, mentally, spiritually that I had to learn to drop those behaviors that I learned in my first marriage. I brought them into my marriage with Brian.
And I had to learn that even if you’re in a super healthy marriage, I can’t turn to anyone to make you happy.
It’s no one else’s job to make you happy in any kind of relationship.
That’s your work.
I cannot expect anyone to make me feel better if I’ve had a bad day. That’s not their job. No matter how healthy a relationship is or isn’t.
It’s my job to make me feel happy. That’s my work to perk myself up after a rough day. I cannot push that responsibility on anyone else. And if I do, I’m giving away power, even in a healthy relationship.
The old Michelle would have picked up the phone and called my husband to vent. I would have expected him to say something magical to make me feel better.
That expectation isn’t a good one, no matter the relationship.
So instead, I focus on my list of resources that I know helps me in these situations.
Baking, reading, hiding in my closet, and having a good cry (yes, I’m serious), listening to music, going for a walk.
Then when I do connect with Brian, I can share about my day and how I was having a tough time. But I’ve taken responsibility for myself. That wasn’t (and never will be) his job. We can connect over the rough spots in our days, but we’re not taking on that responsibility for each other.
That was another huge mistake that I made in my first marriage.
Not only did I expect my husband to make me feel better, but I also took that on as my job for him as well.
It was my responsibility to make him feel better. And that’s incredibly unhealthy. I believed if I was the picture-perfect wife and solving all his problems, it could work.
He’d drink less, do fewer drugs, he wouldn’t have affairs, all of it. But he did. He drank more and more, did more drugs, and slept with other women regularly.
When we can let go of these expectations and focus on ourselves instead, that’s when we find freedom.
This is yet another way to stay in your relationship and find your power.
We’ll find the freedom to be who we want to be, and ultimately choose what we want to choose.
We’ll no longer be held back by unrealistic expectations. All that to say that we’ll find our own power. And this is Holland. This is our path. And it may be very different from what we imagine. But listen, there are Rembrandts in addiction.
There absolutely are. I guarantee you.
I would not change being in a relationship with my first husband.
That season of trauma and chaos that I went through was necessary in my life.
The relationship served as an opportunity for me to grow.
I was able to grow into the woman I am today, and unfortunately, I’m just a woman who needs to learn the hard way.
And let’s be honest: since you’re in a very similar situation, you are probably the type of woman that learns the same way that I do.
If we’re being very real with ourselves and each other, there was a part of us that knew what we were getting into. Now, listen, we may not have known how everything would play out and how serious it would be, but we knew.
So listen, keep your power. Stay in the relationship or leave, that really doesn’t matter. But whatever you do, keep your power. Focus on yourself. Keep your energy. Love yourself. Discover why you are who you are.
How can I stay married to my alcoholic husband?
That’s a great question. The key here is going to be accepting your circumstance and focusing on yourself. Find ways to bring yourself joy, regardless of their decisions to drink or not.
The reality is that if you choose to stay, your life will be filled with exercising boundaries, staying in your lane, detaching, and finding ways to discover joy. It is certainly possible. We have many women in our community who choose to stay and live incredibly happy and fulfilling lives, all the while their partners are still drinking.
Should I divorce my alcoholic husband?
That is a question that only you can answer. We believe that you should do your own healing and recovery before making such decisions. Always keep yourself and your children (if you have them) safe. If you’re in an unsafe space, call the police and escape to safety.
Once you’ve done your own healing, you can make a decision from a true place of clarity and choice. Actual choice, not influenced by specific circumstances or emotions. That’s powerful. When you chose from that place, you’ll have made the right choice.
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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