The Partner’s Plea
Categories: expert advice
What Is the Partner’s Plea?
Many of us who have entered the rooms of recovery and accumulated some days and months of sobriety may often find ourselves bemoaning the lack of enthusiasm or “buy-in” on the part of our partners, spouses, and family members. We often lament that their reluctance to pull up a chair on the pink cloud of sobriety with us feels like a lack of support or even a way of emotionally trying to drag us back into our old way of being.
“Why can’t you be more excited for me in this new way of life?” we may ask. “Why do you have to continue to keep your distance from me as if I am constantly on the verge of being another disappointment? Why do you keep defining me by my past behaviors and mistakes? Can’t you see that I’ve turned a corner here? Can’t you give me just a little credit for making strides in the hardest undertaking of my entire life?”
How Do Our Partner’s Respond to our Pleas?
If we could listen inside the mind of the partner of an addict, the resounding answer to those questions might sound something like this:
“Because I’m afraid I won’t know who I am if I’m not taking care of you, cleaning up after you literally and figuratively, making excuses for you, or trying to keep some sense of normalcy in what has become a Nut House. I have built my entire life around what you need and when you need it. I’ve been overly dependable because you are completely undependable. I’ve become so predictable that I bore myself to tears because you are so unpredictable that I can’t even trust you to get the mail! I have prayed the same prayers over and over so many times that I’m pretty sure I put Jesus to sleep!”
“I’m thrilled that you’re disease-free, sober, or whatever the hell you are. But at the end of the day I’m not sure I have the emotional energy left to buy into one more hopeful sober season or spin of the recovery wheel when I have lived in nothing but duty, details, and perpetual disappointment for more years than I care to even count. Frankly, I just don’t trust your disease. It isn’t even personal. I simply don’t trust that I won’t be back at square one a year from now and I would rather just bide my time while you have your little candle in the cupcake celebration than risk the emotional devastation that comes with buying in to one more round of hope. So, yay for you! Now, I need to get to the store.”
And with that, we see them painfully close the door on hope and run back to the fear of being utterly devastated once again by our disease.
What Can Be Done?
As cold and lacking empathy as that monologue may sound, some version of that is very often the conversation between an addict and the affected partner after the miracle. The people who have been carrying the load are tired, fearful, burnt to a crisp, and worn down. While the world around them looks for hope and throws confetti on behalf of the recovering partner at every sign of an “answer to prayer,” the load bearers learn early on not to order the balloons too soon. Few diseases are as fraught with relapses as addiction and few partners are as emotionally tangled up in their roleplaying as the spouse. This is what it means to embrace reality in the tension between pain and redemption.
Groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or Adult Children of Alcoholics that offer safe space for partners and family members to express such emotional baggage are a necessity in family work with hurting loved ones. These scenarios need to be expressed in safe spaces where support and encouragement can be experienced and expressed away from opportunities for the recovering loved one to hear it as shaming or blaming. Support for the family is just as imperative to a good recovery as connection and support for a member in recovery. Remember, it is a family disease and it is also a family in need of healing.
*Adapted from After the Miracle: Illusions Along the Path to Restoration/Morgan-James Publishing, New York/David Hampton.