Sometimes that’s what it feels like. There’s addiction in my family, but people don’t talk about it much, if at all. I learned all the childhood things you learn in an alcoholic family system. Although I had no words to explain what was going on, I internalised the behavioural patterns that go along with this dynamic.
Almost every dating or cohabitation partner I have had has turned out to have a drinking or drug problem (or both) except for my very first love (who was Muslim, so the no-alcohol thing was part of the package).
The addictions of my partners keep taking me by surprise. I like to think I am a pretty smart and perceptive person, but if you want to figure out who’s the addict at any given party, take me along and see who I start hitting on. I’ll hop into bed with them, then fall in love and move in, but it will seriously take me weeks or months or even years to wake up one day and realise I’ve done it again. To realise I am once again emotionally and financially entangled with an addict. It makes me ragingly furious at how I’ve internalised all their bullshit, how low my self-esteem has plummeted, how stupid I have been in not seeing it coming, how naive and ignorant I am in this area. It makes me doubt myself and all my perceptions, in a way that reinforces the effects of the addict’s gaslighting and crazymaking of me during the relationship.
Basically, by the end of these relationships, I am a hot mess. I’ve believed the lies they told me to explain the red eyes and the missed appointments and the headaches and the late work nights. I’m the stable, rational, competent one who keeps the household running even though I don’t know where all the money is going and my partner is always too sick or too busy to help out. I’m generally kind of suspicious and cynical, so I am always convinced that of course I would know it if something was going on, of course I would know if my partner was drinking or doing drugs, of course nothing would slip by me.
But it slips by me all the time. And by all the time, I mean five of the seven actual relationships I’ve had over my lifetime. (One-night-stands and brief fun flings have been excluded from this study.) After my last split-up, I decided it was time to end this ridiculous cycle, and so I resolved not to get into another relationship for at least a year.
That first year of living alone was hard, but also wonderful. It’s been three years now, and I’m still single, and I still love it. But I have not yet broken the cycle. A person with whom I am very close (but not romantically) is an addict. And our relationship has now moved into the part where the addict occasionally treats me like shit while I keep trying to smooth things over because obviously people are drunks or druggies because they are so miserable, so why would I add my anger to the mix?
For a long time, I thought I was bringing this upon myself. By being too nice, or too bitchy, or too frigid or slutty or naive or whatever. In a way, that is probably true—not that I am too anything, but that the pattern of interaction with addicts is familiar to me. I do not see the warning signs because I have been raised and trained and reinforced not to see them. This is a huge blind spot for me.
The disease model of alcoholism and addiction says that this is a biochemical disorder or predisposition to addiction. But you can be sick (cancer, AIDS, PTSD, common cold, depression,) and not be an asshole. Whereas addicts all turn out to be assholes in the end, even if they were lovely and kind people to begin with. I prefer the behavioural model of addiction because it more accurately reflects my experiences with a long chain of addicts. Behaviour is something that is learned and can be unlearned and replaced with other things.
Also, it helps me to remember that their actions are a result of their choices. Addicts will use all kinds of excuses and justifications for why they get high. A classic one within romantic relationships is “I wouldn’t need to drink if you were only nicer / more understanding / less demanding / willing to fuck more often / etc.” and this obscures the fact that the drug use is in fact a choice. And if it doesn’t feel like a choice—if the addict is really at the point where it feels like it’s no longer a matter of free will—well, being a manipulative jerk is still a choice. Emotionally abusing your partner is still a choice. Refusing to take responsibility for your own actions is still a choice. There is nothing I ever did as a teenager or a middle-aged woman or any in-between age that forced anybody in the world to take a drink or snort a line. That was their choice, every single time.
And my choice, every single time, has been to walk away. It has often taken a lot of time and agonising and therapy and journalling and crying myself to sleep, but in the end I have always decided not to stick around to be the Helpmeet Scapegoat. It is not noble or admirable to let yourself be treated like garbage under the guise of being a good, loving partner. Helping other people only goes so far: I don’t require effusive thanks and gratitude, but I DO require that people not try to blame me for their own actions. I prefer to be surrounded by people who take ownership of and responsibility for their own lives.
Which brings me to this person in my life. Yes, I have known for ages that he is an addict. I love him and worry about him. But now we have progressed to the stage where he is both leaning on me and treating me disrespectfully. And it’s been kind of a wake-up for me this week to realise that despite remaining single-on-purpose for three years, despite all my self-congratulations on how wisely I am keeping myself safe and breaking the cycle, I am right back here again. I thought the danger was in romantic relationships, but it’s not. The danger is in my huge blind spot. The blind spot that lets me Wile.E.Coyote off the edge of the cliff. Right now, I am suspended in mid-air, looking down with a comical expression of surprise and dismay, while the audience groans “Not again! When will she ever learn???”
They say people re-enact situations to try for a different outcome. If that’s the case, I feel like I am seriously failing at this lesson. I’m mad at myself for letting myself get into this situation again. But I can see two good things: The first is that I now know this problem can come from anywhere, not just romantic relationships. This is a valuable lesson.
And the second thing? I have been through this before. I know I am strong enough to survive it.