An open letter to those who are angry with a loved one whose addictions are off the rails.
This is one of those posts where I’m leaving names out to protect privacy. Still, the person this is meant for will know it’s for them, and he/she will be pissed at me. But that’s OK, because I’m saying something that needs to be said.
Right now, someone close to you has relapsed into alcoholism. This time it’s bad. You’re hurt and mad as hell because you remember a childhood where this sort of thing was a constant.
You might feel like hating this person right now because his relapse feels like a betrayal against you and you alone.
You’re wondering how the hell he could do this when he has so much to live for: grandchildren as far as the eye can see, a lot of the gifts he found a few years back when he got sober. It doesn’t make sense.
Here’s an attempt to explain it from someone who has been there. My problem was binge eating and a growing dependence on wine, further complicated by the variety of pain pills I was prescribed for the aches and pains caused, ultimately, by my bad habits. I was a less-than-ideal husband and dad. I couldn’t be relied upon.
I’d sneak around feeding my addiction and then cover my tracks. Sometimes I would blatantly lie about it. [See “The Liar’s Disease“] I didn’t lie to be evil. I did it because the shame was too much for me to handle.
You might also say I didn’t know any better.
One thing’s for certain: I didn’t wake up one morning and decide it would be a laugh riot to slowly destroy myself and hurt everyone around me in the process.
To you, looking at this loved one who is in relapse, you might feel that way. How the fuck could HE/SHE do this to YOU?
But here’s the ugly truth: Alcoholism — addictive behavior, period — is a disease. Nobody chooses it. They are chosen instead. It controls you like a puppet. You know as you’re doing that addictive action that it’s wrong and you hate every second of it. But your motor skills have taken over and you CAN’T stop.
Sure, we can shake it in time and find recovery, but relapse is a natural part of the disease. In fact, relapse is something I probably worry about the most, because I’ve been relatively lucky up to this point in my 12-Step program.
I know it can creep up on me and regain control at any moment, before I know what hit me.
In one of my favorite TV shows, “The West Wing,” Leo McGarry describes where the mind goes:
“My brain works differently,” he says, followed by,” I don’t get drunk in front of people. I get drunk alone.”
It’s the same way for a food addict. You can’t have just one slice of pizza. It has to be the whole box. I once joked to a friends that I can’t eat just five. And when I really wanted to numb my frustrations in a bag of junk, I always went peddle to the metal out of sight from others; typically when I was alone in my car.
Yeah, the addicted brain works differently.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: Don’t hate the person who has fallen into relapse and disappointed you so badly. The person didn’t choose to be this way. He developed a disease a long, long time ago. And diseases have a habit of reasserting themselves from time to time. Sometimes the victim is not able to shake the relapse this time and it becomes the person’s demise.
It sucks. But it’s how it is.
Be mad. Be frustrated and hurt. But try and remember this person didn’t set out to hurt anyone.
Go easy on him/her, and yourself.