When Addiction Steals Your Friendships

When Addiction Steals Your Friendships

Today I really want to talk about addiction and friendship. And since I ask you to be super vulnerable with me, I will give you the same respect and go first.

Can we talk for real? I mean the kind of talk that most people don’t have?  

I’ve never really been good with female friendships.

You know those type of women who have a thousand million friends and who go on nine different girls trips per year? If you look at their social media you see every other picture is with a group of women and most likely they are different women every time. They might have red solo cups in their hands or look like they’re laughing about an inside joke that you’ll never know about.

If you’re like me you wonder, where did these women meet? How did they get invited to this dinner/brunch/supper or book club?

You may judge their outfits or think to accuse them of being fake. But secretly, you’re jealous because a part of you knows this is the kind of friendship you want. Maybe your vision of friendship doesn’t look exactly like a yoga retreat in Napa, but what appeals to you, is a group of women you can trust. You can laugh with. Who won’t judge you.

You want friends who know your loved one is suffering from addiction and they won’t tell you to stay or judge you for leaving. They will listen. They’ll bring over a casserole when he doesn’t come home for the 2nd night in a row. Friends who will call you before sending out the birthday invitation to make sure you can make it.

You want a best friend or two or three. And so did I.

When I was in boarding school I found myself very lonely. On the outside, it looked like I had many friends. But truthfully, I didn’t really trust anyone. I was really good at listening and laughing with other women and helping them, but never once did I trust that someone would actually want to help me. Someone who would listen to me.

So I created this very one-sided dynamic: I would help, give advice, and listen and hold space for their feelings. But never once was I vulnerable with them.

Looking back now, I can see how I thought that I had many friends. But if I did, why was I left feeling so lonely?

Because I hadn’t learned yet that true friendship, not the Instagram friendship, true friendship requires opening up.

And when we, women who love someone suffering from addiction, walk about carrying that secret, we’re isolating ourselves. We’re unintentionally ripping ourselves off not just of a fulfilling and loving relationship with our partners but also with other women.

We lose intimacy and trust in both romance and friendships.

And where does that leave us? Lonely.

One day in boarding school, I was sitting with a group of girls and started to cry. This was unlike me. I was the girl who looked like she had it all together. Who was always smiling and helping.

But I couldn’t do it anymore. The other girls around me didn’t exactly know what to do and gave each other the side-eye. But one girl in the group put her arm around me and asked what was wrong.

And for some reason, I still don’t understand why, I took a chance and told her the truth. I said I was lonely. I wanted a best friend.

This girl who I had spoken to only a handful of times, who was older than me, super beautiful with long brown hair, who was on the equestrian team and who was school president tenderly squeezed my arm and said, I will be your best friend.

There was something in her voice that assured me, she wasn’t saying this because she felt sorry for me. Instead, the tone in her voice made me think, she was searching for a best friend too.

And that’s how it started. One of the best friendships I have ever had. We became inseparable. She told me her secrets and dreams and I told her my fears and insecurities.

Because we were both caretakers, we both knew to take turns.

To divide our moments of giving and receiving equally. If she was struggling with something, I cherished her feelings and helped her work through it. But the next time we spoke, she knew it was her turn to make time for me.

And if I fell back into old patterns and made it all about her for too long, she would call me out. Asking me hard questions and not letting me fall back into the routine of making it about everyone else.

I loved her. She was my safe space. She helped me plan my wedding and got on a plane to be there when I told my mom I thought I married a man with a drinking problem. When I had my baby, she was there. And she was there when I decided I needed to leave my marriage.

But here’s the truth: I stopped being there for her. Addiction stole all my time and energy. And getting my husband sober took all my attention and time. Saving my family was the only thing I could think about and I became a selfish friend. Plus, I was so embarrassed when my husband passed out or started to slur his words, that I stopped hanging out with other people. And one by one I not only lost her, but I lost other friends I had made along the way.

I disappeared into my husband’s addiction.

I made it all about my kids. All about him. All about this disease.

And once again I was lonely.

So let me ask you a question: How are you doing with your friendships? Are you making time for women and connection and truth in your life? Or are you lonely like I was?

Do you want friends but are introverted and not sure how to make them?  

Are you feeling guilty about leaving the house and your loved one alone?  

Are you worried that if you get your own life you’re not going to be able to manage theirs?

Do you compare your relationship to other women and think, if they knew my secret, they wouldn’t want to be friends?

Are you afraid to put yourself out there because you think everyone else has got it so much more together than you do?

Listen, I am one of the women who other women think have it all together. I don’t know why but it’s always been that way.

Just last week a friend texted me and said, someone asked her if I would want to go to her son’s party. I said why didn’t she just invite me? Why did she text you and ask?

And my friend said because women are scared of you, Michelle.  They see you as super put together and successful and it scares them.

And then she added, but I know you’re a shitshow and real so you don’t scare me.

And let me reassure you – I don’t have anything together. Nothing. My life is a shitshow. Big time. So invite me. I want to be invited too. Not to your big parties because hello, introvert. But to the small events. The ones where we can have real conversations. And be vulnerable and talk about all the ways we are just hanging on, trying to get by in this crazy life.

In other words, your life, although not perfect is just as wonderful and messy as the women you are comparing yourself with. You can be her best friend. In fact, she’s probably needing a real best friend even more than you.

Start looking for friendships.

Sign up to volunteer for that committee where you can meet other women. Join a book club and show up with a warm smile. Talk to the moms on the sidelines while watching your kid play soccer. Invite people for coffee.

And if you can’t have them over because of your partner’s embarrassing behavior due to addiction, leave the house. Trust me, I get how scary of a concept that is for us introverts. But once you’re out and about – chances are you’ll be grateful you had the courage to take a break from this disease.

Friendships with other women are one of the best ways we can heal.  In fact, there are several women who have become best friends in our Secret Facebook Group. They literally found their best friend because of addiction. That’s why I often say, addiction can be the greatest thing that ever happened to us.

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson

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 this experience to create this powerful community full of 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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