When I met him in a bar and he had ordered too many rounds of drinks, I felt his pain. He was deep, sincere, charming, and handsome. After hours of lovely conversation, he said the words, “I don’t usually do this, but can I please have your number? I feel like if I wake up tomorrow and I can’t contact you, I’ll really hate it.” “Sure, please take my number.”
“Hey Grace. I was thinking of you, because I drove past a bunch of pumpkins and you just told me how much you love fall. I’m glad we met. Also, do you want to grab a drink with me Friday night?” “I would love to grab a drink with you,” things I thought would never come out of my mouth, because I was in the process of grieving a former love that was never meant to be mine.
A month and a half passes of us going on dates and staying up late to have meaningful conversations. Meeting the roommates, meeting the parents. We’re lying in his bed one afternoon, and I said to him, “Hey can I ask you something? What’s going on? I feel like you always need a drink when you’re around me. Is there something I do that makes you nervous?” He wept. “I was hoping you wouldn’t find out.” What he meant was, I have a substance abuse problem that has caused me to make mistakes in my life. One of those mistakes was losing the woman he thought he was going to marry. The conversation was painful to listen to, and with such sadness he said, “Please don’t leave me.”
This was our whole relationship. Full of love and a genuine care for the other’s well being. I watched him fall more and more in love with me. And I, I had found a home within him and his heart. He was the kindest, most thoughtful and beautifully spoken person. My family adored him too, which made me love him even more. But I knew from the beginning that this wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to be with someone who had to depend on another substance to make his days easier or more fulfilling. I didn’t like waking up with him on the weekends, because it meant that we wouldn’t start our day until he could smoke a joint and have a couple drinks. And that ended up being how we spent our whole weekends for the year and a half that I dated him.
Our relationship, although full of love and comfort and excitement, eventually became too much for me to handle. He went to Taipei to visit his brother for two weeks, and I missed him to my core. I had never missed someone that way before, and even though I knew two weeks wasn’t that long, I counted down the days until I could hold him again. When he got to my place after his plane had landed, I knew something wasn’t right. “I’m just jet-lagged. This time change is hard. I need to lie down.” I was hurt, but as a laid with him, I realized that it wasn’t the time change. “Babe you’re shaking and sweating profusely. Are you feeling okay?” With eyes full of tears, “No Grace I’m not, I’m having withdrawal symptoms. I drank 12 drinks a day with my brother each day. I’m having delirium tremors, and I am so scared.”
We came up with a plan. He would taper off slowly to lessen the pain, and then he would be sober for two months. That didn’t happen, and that’s when I knew. I knew that all of my love and compassion wasn’t going to be enough to change this beast in him. It broke my heart to continue to hear the words, “I’m going to change,” because I knew he wasn’t going to. He was trying to change all on his own, but I had talked to enough people and had done enough research to know that he needed professional help to make a sustainable change.
I became exhausted. Even if we were having a great day, the minute he cracked open a can of beer, my heart broke. It became a trigger for me. We would fight over the smallest things. I started to become isolated. I avoided talking about my relationship with him to others. I stopped going out on the weekends, because I didn’t want to encourage his behavior. I think I may have stopped smiling too, because I had felt defeated. So I broke up with him.
It wasn’t a clean break. He reached out to me all summer. But for the most part, I stood firm in my decision to set a boundary. The boundary was, “we cannot be romantic until you start doing the inner work.” Although I missed him and his comfort, I knew in my heart that this relationship didn’t serve me to my highest good. This was the first time that I had made a decision in a romantic relationship.
Fast forward to the beginning of this October, and he sits me down to talk. “Grace, I am ready to start dating again. I finally feel good about myself. I have done the work. I want you to see that I can drink without crossing the limits. I want you to give me another chance. I have missed you so incredibly much.”
Fast forward to now, and I am heartbroken. Heartbroken in a way that makes my bones shake, my blood pressure rise, and my appetite become non-existent. I haven’t slept but four hours each night. I cry all of the time. I question what I could’ve done differently and how I could’ve loved him better every hour. He told me that he loves me deeply, is attracted to me, wants to make this work so bad, but just doesn’t feel like we are forever and doesn’t want to do the work. He says that this is a love of a lifetime. He’s also kissing other people, taking recreational drugs with his friends, and connecting to girls who do that with him. He doesn’t want to do the work, because the work is hard. And now he doesn’t have to, because he is surrounding himself with others who do the exact same thing as him.
This is what losing someone with an addiction feels like. He will turn into someone you don’t know. The guy that was once your best friend, the guy who put you on a pedestal, that loved you inside and out, will become reckless with his thinking and actions. He will hold on to you and tell you how much he loves and adores you, and in the same sentence admit that he’s pursuing someone else. He will tell you that he’s wanted to break the rules and has broken the rules, because this is just too hard. You will grasp so tightly on to him and want to say or do things that keep him around, but will know deep down that what’s been done has been. You’ve already lost him. You never really had him. He will tell you that he’s eternally grateful for you, because you taught him how to love himself again, but you know that’s not the truth. What he’s feeling is self-acceptance due to social influence, because you know that the addiction runs much deeper and is a process that will take years and years to work through. He will turn into someone that you wish you had never met.
This is what loving someone with an addiction looks like. You will give and give and give until you have nothing left to give. You will compromise your values and worth to make the relationship work for you. You will connect on a deep level, because he will say all of the right things. “No one has loved me better than you. Please don’t leave me. I need you. You make me a better person.” And you’ll believe them. But the thing about loving someone with an addiction who doesn’t want to do the work is that they will never love you the way you deserve because they don’t love themselves. They are always going to be looking for that thing that feels “right.”
That is how their brain is now programmed to work. They will be willing to compromise the most important relationship in their life, because they do not love themselves enough to get real and honest with themselves. Or maybe they will get real and honest with themselves, and consciously decide that they are willing to live at a level of status quo.
This is what letting go of someone with an addiction will feel like. You will have to remind yourself that you did everything right. That you loved unconditionally and followed your optimism and belief that everyone deserves to live at their highest potential. You will have to remind yourself that what you’re going to hear and witness from that person is the addiction, not them. You know how great they are and the potential they have.
You will have to practice calming your mind and staying present, because you’re always going to wonder, “but what if he changes?” You will have to surround yourself with the people who love you and support your highest good, because loving someone with addiction, who doesn’t want to do the work, will make you feel helpless. It is a lose-lose situation, and you will ask the Universe a million times, “why the hell wasn’t my love enough?” You will have to be gentle with you, because you’ve been denying yourself self-love for the past two years. You will have to repeat to yourself, “Hey, I love you,” because you’re going to be so angry with yourself for not trusting your gut from the very beginning. You will have to stop being the hero, the rescuer, and just accept that this is the role you play on his journey. You will have to remind yourself that you will be okay, and that you have and always will be okay.
That this isn’t the end-all-be-all for you, because you now know to your core what loving someone will feel like. You now know that it starts with you. And once you talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend, and set boundaries that allow you to be compassionate and safe, and surround yourself with people and things that only serve you positively and to your highest good, that is when you will find the love you deserve. And dammit, you deserve that.
Loving someone with an addiction is easy. Loving yourself while loving them is what makes it hard. You are going to be okay. I am going to be okay.