Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Kelly Thompson, whose previous essay on the site went viral! I am so excited that she is joining the Writing + The Body Retreat (sold out) that I am doing with Lidia Yuknavitch at the end of this month!
Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.
As someone who was in a relationship with a woman that has now gone through rehab twice (once for 90 days) and did her own detox once while trying to kill herself I have now been blamed for all her trial and tribulations.
When we reconnected 7 years ago she looked me up while her husband was in the hospital having heart surgery. I didn’t know this was the case due to her telling me she was in town for a medical convention. I met her for a drink and then back to her hotel for champagne and a swim, unbeknownst to me that she was married and her husband was lying in a hospital bed 2 miles away. We continued to talk every night when she was done with work while she sucked down Patron. Finally she told me the whole story and needless to say I was caught off guard. She assured me that they were going to get a divorce and things would be fine (they did divorce).
Over the next few years, as I got to know her, the drinking and pill popping became pretty severe, to the point of numerous blackouts and falls that caused bodily harm. The culmination was her trying to kill herself and being toted out by ambulance. During this time, which included her first stint in rehab I was there to help, support and provide financially. I am sure you can see where this is leading, but I was in love and wanted nothing more than to spend my life with her. Yes, I should have run at the start, but we all make mistakes.
Over the next 4 years as she went through a medical board program we still had our up’s and down’s due to her finding ways to start taking oxycodone to feed her addiction. It got to a point where she went through a week long detox on her own where she disappeared from the world. During this time I tried to get her to see she was about to throw away her medical career, her parental rights with her daughter and our relationship. None of this mattered as she then started drinking on Friday’s thinking she could beat the drug screening test. Well, the combination of pills and alcohol took it’s toll on her physically and mentally, of course she also failed the screening.
To make a long story short, I dropped her off at the airport so she could attend a 90 day rehab in Santa Monica. She told me she loved me and off she went, well that is where it all got crazy. 3 weeks in to the stay I get a text that she wants to leave, but I implored her to stay for her own well being. 2 days later I get a text again that say’s “we are over and that her problems are my fault”. I was stunned and also realized this could not be further from the truth. I amazed that this facility could be hoodwinked by her and would have given this advice. I tried to reach out for an explanation, but never have received any kind of communication since.
I am not looking to get back together, but would have liked closure based on respect. I am struggling to keep from lashing out, so I thought I would write you.
Thanks for your time!
Struggling To Keep From Lashing Out.
Dear Struggling To Keep From Lashing Out,
These are the hardest betrayals. The ones where our loved ones have been taken over, possessed by a drug or alcohol, as if a demon. We speak to them, love them, help them, believe them again even though they lied so many times before, wait for them to show up when they say they will over and over again, each time expecting a different result than the last as though a terrible malady had not really claimed them, as though they would again look us in the eyes and we would see our loved one there again as we knew them, as we know them in our hearts.
No one ever told us, or we forget, that our loved one is not there but has been suspended somewhere in a deep freeze from which we cannot know if or when they might emerge. We think we are talking to someone we know but we are not. We are talking to a drug. We are talking to alcohol. And drugs and alcohol are liars. Drugs and alcohol are betrayers. Drugs and alcohol are black holes that will suck everything in the vicinity of their victim in just as they have taken the loved one already. Drugs and alcohol will not sleep; they will not rest until there is nothing left but dry dust and empty space and broken, broken hearts.
Still, we get up. We hear the phone ring, the doorbell buzz, hear the text tone and jump. Yes, we jump. Our hearts leap. This time. This time. This time, our heartbeat says, it will be different. And so we do it again. We answer. We come. We give. We show up. We support. We love. And then. It happens. Again.
The let down. Our loved one is off and running once again, all the promises broken, the dates not kept, the shiny new beginning does not materialize. Instead, we are left. By the side of the road, on a curb, on our knees in the bathroom. We are left holding the bag. And it is an empty bag, full of lies and false hope and the endless greed of addiction. And it has sucked us in again.
We become addicted to the addict who is addicted to the drug or alcohol or both. We begin to order our lives around theirs. We arrange and manage and organize and finesse and fix and fix and fix and…fix again. We bend over backward. We bend over forward. Sideways. And we believe – oh we believe – that surely we possess the magic, surely we have the key, certainly our love will do it. Yes, we believe that if only – if only — we can figure out the right combination, the right place, the right people, the right treatment, the right resources – if only we can get it right. If only. We can beat this.
And so we try. We have never tried harder at anything in our entire lives.
We have never been so broken. We have never felt our hearts crushed, decimated really, with such precision and cunning. We have never known such sorrow, sorrow that knocks us to our knees late at night, in pain and prayer, too; whether familiar or strange; we find ourselves praying to gods we never knew or we stop praying to the one we knew, turn our heads. Sorrow begins to haunt our faces, lurk behind our eyes, mark creases around our mouths. We learn insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Like the addict, we can’t seem to stop believing this time will be different. Still we learn.
We learn to die a thousand deaths. Perhaps nine hundred ninety nine. We learn slowly, painfully. We learn so hard. So hard. And we keep learning. We think we have learned and find, once again, we have learned nothing. We are buffeted from hope to hope like blind men stumbling through the dark, seeking the next guidepost, something to which we can cling, hold on to, something, anything, godpleasegodpleasegodplease. If we are unlucky enough (some might say lucky enough) to meet addiction in the form of our loved one, we will eventually crumble, eventually even we will not be able to get back up again, we will cry “uncle,” and it is then, only then, when we come to the very end of ourselves, our resources, our management, our best efforts, our most brilliant strategies for fixing; it is then that we find the gift it brings.
And if we are driven that far, in desperation, if we stay long enough with that one alcoholic-addict that we love, often a family member that we can’t just get rid of, often a lover, often a child or parent, if we’re in so deep we can’t walk away, we can’t just switch to another, we will find ourselves – and oh, we will be amazed – at a gate. A gate that has one word written on it. FREEDOM.
Because when anything takes us to the ends of where we are able to go by ourselves, under our own steam, our own power, takes us far enough beyond what we can do – then we have been readied. Our eyes have been readied to see magic, our ears to hear a rare music, the magic and the music of our Universe and its Power. Some call that God. It doesn’t matter what we call it or how we – or anyone else – define it. And it has nothing to do with belief. What matters is that we only find it – we experience it – once we have exhausted ourselves. Our self. It is that thing that comes to you when you have come to the end of yourself. And it only comes then.
There is always a story in everything. And there is a story in your journey with your loved one. Know this. It is an old story. It has been told time and again. It has many variations but only one ending. The ending is that there is but one Power in this universe we find ourselves in…and we are not it. It doesn’t matter what we call it or what we don’t call it, or if we believe there is one, just that we get that it’s not us. And when we get that?
That’s the beginning of freedom.
There’s a saying in the 12 step rooms, the ones where the loved ones of alcoholics and addicts go. That saying is:
You didn’t cause it. You can’t cure it. And you most definitely can’t control it.
All you can do is Love her.
Yes, Love with a capital “L,” because if you get this far? That’s the rest of the gift.
You get to learn something about Love, the big kind. Not the puny, third dimension, human kind. No. The kind that comes through you but is not of you. That’s a Power. And it’s not you. How do I know this? I learned through the journey I walked with my daughter’s addiction, caught as I was in the wide net it cast along with so many of her loved ones, in addition to her. That walk, and mine, through my own addiction to alcohol and drugs, an addiction that preceded hers, took me to that gate called Freedom not just once, as in my own recovery, but again through hers, and many times since. That walk brought me to the end of me and my futile efforts which is where I found for the first time and not a moment too late – a greater Power, which is where I find myself again and again. More often than not, it is desperation that takes me there.
It’s a Power that asks you to sit on your hands. Asks you to let go. Wraps you in sweet surrender and visits you with grace. It’s a Power that has always been there, always carried you, but now you get to know it. It’s a Power that says, I Am. I Am, Have Always Been, and Will Always Be. Trust me.
It’s a Power that lets your heart break and calls that mercy. And it is.
So this is my answer to your letter even though I know I didn’t answer the story about how your loved one has twisted this around to be your fault. But I shouldn’t have said “your loved one,” but “the addict” because it is the alcohol, the drug, the disease of addiction that has twisted it around, not her. She’s in there somewhere.
How do I know this? It is my experience. It is not an idea, a philosophy, a moral conviction. I know it because I’m alive, my daughter’s alive, and your friend is alive. And because I learned that as long as an addict is alive there’s still hope she will wake up, be revived, that grace will find her. But I must add, even if it doesn’t in life, it will in death. Because it belongs to all of us. And no drug, no alcohol, no addiction can take that from us.
I know that because I tried to dispossess it. I went to the ends of the earth to lose it. And that Love never wavered, never doubted, never once withdrew. I did. But It will not.
Some of us do die from this disease. Several of my close friends and a cousin walked this path, struggled to recover, only to succumb in the past few years; their last breath a testament to the great temptation of despair. Don’t you believe it. Many of us recover too. And all of us are Loved by this great Power that we live and breathe and move in. Nothing can, nothing ever will, change that. No drug. No alcohol has that power.
Just know that. And let that Power work.
In the meantime, all manner of it’s all your fault and other lies may come in your direction. All you need to do is know the truth. Your loved one is in the hands of a Power much greater than her, or you, or any drug, or alcohol, any addiction.
Keep knowing that.
That’s your Freedom.
For anyone struggling with a loved one’s alcoholism or addiction, you are not alone. I urge you to seek out an Alanon meeting. Attend six different ones and find one where you feel comfortable. The experience, strength, and hope shared in the rooms are invaluable as is the support of sharing your burden with others. You can find more information here:
Kelly Thompson is currently working on a memoir-in-progress entitled “Oh Darling Girl.” Just as the narrator gets sober, one of her two barely adolescent daughters descends into addiction and rebels against her mother’s newfound lifestyle of recovery. The mother daughter bond is stretched, and a transgenerational legacy of violence, addiction, and shame is faced down, as the lives of grandchildren hang in the balance and heartbreaking choices must be made.
Kelly’s work has been published in Manifest Station, Metrosphere, Limp Wrist, 49 Writers, and other literary journals. She is also a psychotherapist who works with soldiers recently returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families. Kelly lives in Denver, Colorado in the sunshine of the spirit. You can follow her on Twitter @stareenite.
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.