That Ugly Face

One of the hallmarks of my life (of which there seems to be many) is dealing with addiction.  My mom lost custody of my brother and I right before Christmas when I was 4 years old.  I’ve not forgotten that night, and the nights that followed.  Upon “getting” us back when I was 10 years old, she and my step-dad were beginning a serious journey of sobriety.  She relapsed less than a year later.

I remember the confusion of not understanding why.  I didn’t understand why abstaining was so difficult; I didn’t understand why the risk of losing me didn’t matter.  I was young, and to my young head and heart, those were rational questions.

So I grew up with a very personal understanding of how horrible addiction can be.  I am very very very fortunate that it is something that I have personally never had to struggle with.  When I was a teenager, I did what most teenagers do- I experimented with every drug that I could get my hands on.  And when I was done, I was done.  And it is not lost on me how lucky I am that I could spend two years abusing multiple drugs, wake up one day, and never touch them again.

When my ex-husband finally acknowledged that we were having problems, he attributed it to the fact that he smoked weed daily.  In his head, he thought that the crux of all of our issues was that he was addicted to the effects of marijuana.  Now, given what I grew up seeing and experiencing, I recognize now that I was insensitive to what he perceived as an addiction.  When he put all of the blame of our relationship problems on that, I’ll admit that it hurt me and angered me.  It made me look at him as weak. 

I was wrong to do that.  Because my thing is that I do this thing where I tend to minimize the struggles of others, because I have lived actual struggles.  I’ve lived in foster homes and children’s homes.  I’ve experienced some of the worst kinds of abuse one can.  And I have wrongly used the traumas of my life as a benchmark to measure the traumas and issues of the lives of others around me.  I get how and why that is wrong.

But that isn’t what this is about today.

My ex-husband got help.  He started going to meetings.  He got clean and sober.  And even now, I am very happy for him, because that is a step that he took to make his own life better.

When I met my boyfriend, I was doing my own version of spinning out of control.  And that meant that I was partying a lot.  Nearly nightly.  He was doing a bit of the same in his life.  I think that is a big part of what drew us together.  When you’re free-falling, it feels nice to not be at it alone. 

There came a point for me that I realized that I was incredibly lucky that there had been no negative consequences to the lifestyle choices that I had been consistently making.  I recognized that I needed to pull back and regain some kind of control.

When we went to Chicago for my birthday last year, all we did was drink and party.  Not just a cocktail here and a beer there.  The kind of drinking that you do when you want to forget everything.  In my head, I just chalked it up to ~hey it’s my dirty 30 and I’m here to party~. 

Without telling a story that isn’t mine to tell, my boyfriend has had to figure out his own way out and through rock bottom.  It hasn’t been easy for him, and it hasn’t been easy for me.  After going to rehab voluntarily earlier in the year, I hoped that a new chapter would be beginning for him and for us. 

While I understand addiction, I still struggle with the empathy part.  I struggle with understanding why someone would be willing to lose everything over a buzz or over a high.  And I struggle with not knowing how to act.  Do I use the kid-gloves and my gentle voice to soothe, or do I rage because the choices being made are hurting me?

Living with relapse when you’re a small child is different than living with relapse as an adult, and it’s the person you love.  When you’re small, the role that you play is so minor; if anything you’re just motivation to be better.

As a grown up, I’m finding that that isn’t how it works this time.  Because the journey of sobriety is much more complex than just deciding to be sober.  And while my feelings and frustrations are understandable and hell- even justifiable, they aren’t the only ones at play.

I know the statistics.  And if my best friend were dealing with this, I know exactly what I’d tell her.  I’d know exactly the course of action I’d recommend. 

And that’s why this is so challenging for me.  Because while I know the right things to say, I am having the most difficult time telling them to myself.  Right now, I have to constantly remind myself that none of this a reflection on me as a partner.  But also, my responsibility as a partner is not to angrily condemn the mistakes made.  Right now, I have to constantly remind myself that there are things that are sometimes just harder for others.  And that that isn’t an indictment on that person. 

My boyfriend told me not too long ago that the thing he loved most about me was how merciful I am to the people around me.  And now, the challenge I am faced with is to extend that mercy and compassion and empathy to the person I love as he chooses bettering himself daily, knowing that there are going to be days and moments where failure occurs. 

We are not the sum total of the choices that we make.  We are not the sum total of our successes versus our failures.   And just like he has to choose everyday to pick conquering his addiction, I have to everyday choose to see the bigger picture and bigger reward through this journey. 

And while that ugly face of addiction may forever be a part of my life, it doesn’t have to dictate the journey that we share together.

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