When you love an addict, it is as though you are standing at the edge of a deep well and trying to reach your arms down as far as you can without falling in yourself. The more you toe the edge, the more you come to find that all the worrying, all of the sleeplessness, all of the paranoia can’t save a person who is quietly being fed by something at the bottom.
You flirt with your own addiction of sorts: to save.
The thing about loving an addict is that you think your love should be able to fix it and find yourself in disbelief when it can’t. You think what you lack is hypervigilance. You make ultimatums. You study their pupils when they walk in the room; your nose lingers just a few seconds longer on the scent that follows. You are careful and measured about how you inquire about what they’ve been doing.
You tell them that there’s no future for you if it continues. You think it means they don’t love you when it does. You imagine that healing is a linear thing, that once a few hard nights of sobriety pass, it gets easier. It doesn’t. You start to learn the back-and-forth of mending. You start to see that there’s a God-shaped hole somewhere within them, and nothing – not even you, and every once of love you can muster – can fill it.
People think that being with someone who is addicted to something is an obtuse experience, as in, it’s obvious. It isn’t. It occurs in subtleties and ordinary days. Sometimes you don’t even know what’s happening until you’re blindsided. That’s the kind of addiction that’s the scariest: the quiet kind.
You never see it coming until it’s blaring full-steam ahead and headed right toward you.
You learn that it’s never one thing that’s the problem, it’s an entanglement of past traumas that were never resolved – fears that were felt and never overcome. It is the discomfort they never learned how to swallow on their own. It is the friends who normalize. It is the fear of missing out. It is the reckless abandon. It is the need for the high. It is the disregard for their lives. It is everything you know isn’t really them.
People who love addicts are bleeding-heart masochists and, sometimes, heroes. They epitomize seeing the best in others and fall in love with potential faster than they see reality for what it is. They don’t believe in giving up, not yet, not too soon. They advocate for love. They barter and shield. They try to distract and linger. They are sometimes successful. They are often thwarted. They are the people who are written letters in recovery. The relationships reflected on and regretted.
You can love an addict, but you can’t heal them.
You can only be beside them while they heal themselves. And if they can’t, if they won’t, you have a choice to make. You have to decide how long you will stay, and you have to decide whether loving them will mean you get pulled into the tunnel, too.