Lately I have been reading lists. When the world feels crazy, dark, and wicked, and when you don’t even know where to begin in enacting change, lists can be quite useful. Otherwise I end up like a mad banshee, howling at the sky, and running around in frenzied circles.
In the US political arena there have been discussions of building bridges and building walls. This has had me contemplating my marriage to someone who suffers from addiction. What kind of person am I? Am I a wall person or am I a bridge person? For those of you that are following my blog (or read the title), I am sure you can guess I am more of a bridge kind of gal. That’s just me.
A couple of weeks ago the Surgeon General released an epic report ‘Facing Addiction in America’. He shared some startling statistics about the addiction crisis we are facing in the US and outlined alternatives to the way we can treat addiction. Some (there were MANY) of his points were:
- There are 20.8 million substance abuse disorders in the US.
- Only 1 in 10 people get treatment.
- We need to end stigma and change the way we see addiction.
- Addiction is a chronic disease rather than a moral failing.
- Addiction should be treated as a public health crisis and not as a criminal justice issue.
- There needs to be an investment in treatment and prevention.
- There can be a reconsideration of the intervention approach typically seen on television that involves confrontation and threats to compel an addict to treatment. Consideration of a spectrum of intervention approaches including those that involve seeking professional guidance, starting a conversation in a safe environment, and offering of compassion and support.
His points really resonated with me because I felt like he was affirming the work I have been doing in my struggle against addiction by fostering connection, educating myself, rejecting stigma, and finding empathic alternatives to detachment. The Surgeon General is definitely a bridge kind of guy. And that is right up my alley.
My recovery path with my husband has been one of trial and error, lots of error, and my actions have been far far from perfect. I have made many mistakes and it has taken me years to get to this place. What place? It’s not an ending place, rather it’s a starting place: rehab, therapy, communication, openness, boundaries, connection, honesty. With that said, the lines between enabling, supporting, and co-dependency are still blurred and I walk them day to day as I learn, grow, and evolve in my battle against addiction.
I have not done it alone, despite the fact that I still suffer from isolation today. But I am building a connecting bridge. A bridge paved with my blood, sweat, and tears. A bridge built on a foundation of knowledge and empathy. A bridge built with help from peers, family, and specialists.
Here are the steps I have taken to find recovery in myself and my marriage. I am still learning and practicing these skills on a daily basis. I know I have more to learn. I have not mastered any of these steps, perhaps I never will, I don’t know. My bridge is a work in progress. A very rough one. This is not easy. In fact, it is really really hard. In list form. Not in any meaningful order.
- Find support: Family members suffer from stigma and become isolated as well. I realized I couldn’t do it alone. The first thing I did was reach out to my best friend in California. I am working on rebuilding old friendships and nourishing new ones. I am communicating more with family. I’m still working on getting to a group.
- Cultivation of love: Self-love and love for my husband. Taking care of my own needs was fundamental to reducing the resentment. Remembering the woman I was before the addiction and remembering the man who I fell in love with. Remembering that he was still in there. That he was worth fighting for. Letting go of anger.
- Taking care of myself: Getting healthier mentally and physically. Doing my best to get sleep and exercise. Meditation. This makes it easier to support my husband.
- Education leading to perspective: KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. I read a lot about addiction. Addiction as a disease, the neurobiology of addiction, and how opioids impact my husband’s brain. Other underlying factors: psychological , genetic, behavioral. My knowledge helps me to separate the addiction from my husband and to comprehend it from a more objective perspective. It also helps me to make informed decisions and choices.
- Division of responsibility not blame: Rather than blaming, realizing what responsibilities we each have in our marriage and in the addiction. Blame leads to resentment and I don’t find it useful in facilitating informed and unemotional decisions. I have to realize and take responsibility for my action’s roles in the addiction. I have to let him be responsible for himself. I have to accept I can not control the addiction. In the end, he has to do that. I can only be responsible for myself and supporting him.
- Communication including non judgmental listening: When he was ready to talk, I was ready to listen compassionately. Attempting to avoid making judgmental statements or telling him what to do. Also communicating my needs clearly without nagging. Starting an open conversation and trying to be patient. Communicating my boundaries. This is really tough, especially after years of codependent interactions.
- Expression: For me it started with this blog. Then in therapy and more recently through sharing with family and friends.
- Critical thinking: There is a lot to learn from others and many approaches to handling addiction with a spouse or loved one. I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach. Using my judgement, knowledge, and critical thinking to figure out what works best for me and my family.
- Recognition of my denial: I had to realize I was in denial in order to face and deal with the addiction. Therapy helped this a lot.
- Recognition of his denial: I found that I often accepted his denial and lies as truth. For a while it was easier…until it wasn’t. Once I lifted the veil of denial, I realized that my gut instinct about his using was usually right.
- Forming loving boundaries: I have to decide what I can accept and what I can not. I have to communicate this clearly. This is very difficult for me and I still don’t have clear boundaries. Therapy is helping me with this.
- Recognition of my emotions: I have to accept that the emotions I am having are natural responses. However, I try as much as possible not to let them dictate my actions in reactive and unproductive ways.
- Rejecting stigma: I am letting go of preconceived notions and judgments. I do this by educating myself about addiction and connecting with a recovery community.
- Acts of kindness: For myself, my husband, and others. Volunteering for those in need can help to shift perspective and cultivate compassion.
- Seek professional help: Surrendering and asking for help. Researching and accessing resources for myself and my husband. I started with a primary care provider because I didn’t really know where else to go. It’s frustrating because there aren’t enough resources out there. I used the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) website (link on my resources page) to find mental health and addiction medical providers by state. I am seeing a therapist once a week.
- Forgiveness: Forgiving myself for my mistakes and forgiving him for his. We are only human. Flawed and imperfect humans.
- Spending time with my pet: My dog has been a saving grace for me through all of this. I could not have done it without her.
As I have said, I am a work in progress and I have not mastered any of these steps. But I am working at them all the time. Right now my husband is in rehab. I would like to think that some of my efforts helped to guide him there. These efforts started with self-love. The future is still uncertain. Despite this, I am going to keep going back to these tools, educating myself, and advocating for myself and my husband in order to prepare for the next phase and for his transition back home. And I am going to keep writing in this blog, because the people I have connected with here have without a doubt been a healing source of support and guidance for me on this journey. I am so grateful for that.
Keep taking care of each other out there and thank you for taking care of me. Peace.
Link to Surgeon General’s Facing Addiction In America report:
Other Lists I am reading and their links:
Resources for parents and educators post Election 2016:
10 Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide from Southern Poverty Law Center:
10 Ways You Can Help the Standing Rock Sioux Fight the Dakota Access Pipeline:
List of Civil Rights Agencies to Support:
List of ways to support the Water Protectors & #NoDAPL if you can’t make it to the camp: