This is a big question, isn't it? One that pretty much anyone who has lived life with an addict can relate to. Maybe your addict was a pretty healthy person, until an injury, or a tragedy, or even just a life shift. Maybe you wake up some mornings thinking, "This isn't the person I married", or "What happened to the man/woman who raised me?". Those are painful questions that go much deeper than words. Those are the questions of someone who has felt betrayed by the introduction of something that was never meant to interfere. It's a cold knife, friends.
That wasn't me, though. When Joe and I married, we were a matched pair. Hot messes, the two of us. We wanted so badly to live the right kind of life together. We did everything we thought was expected of us. We followed the road that may have led others to freedom, but only led us nowhere. We ended up in a landfill of misery and had no one who could train us to work a shovel. It was the just the two of us and, eventually, the five of us.
If either of us had been healthier human beings, we may have avoided the crazy. But we weren't, and we didn't. In truth, there was a reason we were drawn to one another. Dysfunction. Familiar wounds. Like I said, we were a matched pair. I wasn't surprised by his addict behavior. In some ways, he'd always been that way. In the same way, I was never surprised by his goodness. He'd always been that way too. The wild mood swings were awfully, horribly, painfully, confusingly familiar. The days of peace were so much of a relief - enough to allow me to forget the exhausting work of trying to make him happy again.
The worst part of my life with an addict was that he blamed me. For everything. I mean everything. In the thick of his battle he blamed me for things that had happened, wounds that had seared his soul, long before I knew him. His childhood trauma needed a place to land, someone to accuse, and I was the nearest and safest target. Part of me knows that, in relationship, things get messy. We all project our fears and hurts onto other people. We all know what it's like to feel so overwhelmed with a memory, or a trigger, that we momentarily lash out at someone unrelated to the circumstance. This was different. This was more.
I entered into our marriage both extremely co-dependent and extremely disassociated. I had thick barriers around my heart and my body. My own suppressed childhood trauma kept me from being capable of vulnerable relationship. My emotions were either hot or cold. I felt both a ravenous need for his attention and disgust when he gave it to me, but both of those feelings never left my chest. They lay there suffocating me while he tried to tiptoe around my silence.
I didn't know what addiction WAS before my marriage. I didn't know that someone else's secrets could tear into my heart like none of my barriers were intact. I didn't know.
Now I know.
In almost ten years of carrying someone else's sickness like it was my own, praying relentlessly, crying myself to sleep, my heart splintering under the weight of his disdain and allowing the full force of his disease to steal my own sense of worth, I've landed on completely new ground.
Over the last year I have stopped running. I've stopped making excuses. I've stopped my own blaming. I've turned around to face the driving force of my constant cycling. Me. Somewhere in the weeping, in the loneliness, in the bleakness and forging ahead anyway I have discovered something so specific to my healing.
I have been in my own way.
I can't own Joe's behavior, or his disease, or what he does when he's sick. Those are only his. But here's the thing: I was a sick woman when I married him. I was desperate and detached and depressed and abandoned. I was too much of a mess for another mess to handle. And vice versa. His hidden addictions blossomed in our marriage and my strong co-dependency found a place to root itself. I stayed. I stayed in our marriage and I stayed in our sickness. I begged him to change and I pulled on him to affirm me. I pushed him towards Jesus and I yanked him right back again. I had no idea how to separate my responsibility from his addiction. Neither did he.
It's really easy to judge a situation like this from the outside. I've definitely done it. We see someone suffering under addiction, and often abuse, and we say, "I would never let someone do that to me.". We throw around books about praying our significant others out of their sin. We tell women that, in order to stay faithful to God, they must honor the covenant they made to their husband. We pay no attention to the smashed and mutilated covenant trickling through his fingers. Can I tell you what stung the most for me? Outside of our actual counselors, no one ever confronted Joe after I left him.
Plenty of people confronted me.
Doesn't that tell the person struggling to get out from under the sickness to crawl right back in? Doesn't that place the blame, and the responsibility, in the wrong hands? Doesn't that gross assumption of understanding and judgement completely defy what Jesus community is meant to be?
It does, friends. If you've lived through that war too then I am truly, deeply sorry. We human beings can be so wrong, so quick to judge and slow to understand. Even the best of us can make mistakes that confuse the burgeoning desire to be free. I'm so sorry.
If you've been the one to judge, and I've played that part too, then know that it's never too late to humble yourself. Maybe you're reading this from the perspective of having accused the wrong person. Maybe you're becoming aware of how small your thinking may have been. Maybe it's clear now that you perpetuated the sickness by aligning with the abuser and shifting your finger towards the one fighting for freedom.
Or maybe you're the addict. Maybe you've been blaming everyone else for everything painful and uncomfortable and disorienting. Maybe you've been trying to force the other person to stay slathered in co-dependency because it feels familiar enough to numb the moments between the last time and the next time. Maybe this is your chance to make your own choice; the choice to stop blaming and to start accepting.
Most of us have worn all of these robes. Some of us have been the woman thrown naked before Jesus, the man she had been having an affair with noticeably absent. Some of us have been the religious protagonists, prodding the community to judgement. Some of us have been the cowards who picked up stones to kill a woman who carried water from their wells, bandaged their children's scrapes and served them food at community celebrations.
From here on out, may we all be like the one who knelt down with her in her mess, dared to look her straight in the eyes, left no room for anyone else to self righteously accuse her and then offered this to her:
Go on then. Create a different life. Start over from here. Do something different, but don't come back to this old thing.
Right now, friends, I'm doing something different. I'm not owning anyone else's sickness. I'm not pushing that boulder uphill for one more second. It wasn't doing him an inch of good anyway - it just offered him enough shade to wallow in his disease.
I'm dusting off the remains of who I once was, of all of the accusations that left me broken, and I'm doing something new. The next time someone is thrown into the dirt in the middle of town, I hope I'm brave enough to do more than not pick up a rock. I hope I'm brave enough to sink into the dirt with her, look her in the eyes, and offer her more.
*Have you carried the weight of someone else's addiction? Were you wounded by outside observers? Where is healing for you right now, friend?