I am a shameless fan of MTV’s The Hills but unlike its predecessor, the reboot, while still fraught with drama, has managed to gracefully discuss the substance abuse recovery and the relapse of Jason Wahler and how it has affected his family, specifically his wife Ashley. Addiction to drugs and alcohol can take a catastrophic turn on the addict themselves but rarely does the media portray how it affects the loved ones so seeing how it affected Ashley and watching her discuss her pain was refreshing and something I, myself, could relate to.
On his Instagram, Wahler and his wife got more candid about her experience with his addiction, and Wahler stated something that hit a little too close to home. Wahler stated, “Wherever there is an alcoholic or addict, there is a codependent. Sometime they are just as sick if not sicker than the addict.” I’m not going to lie; hearing this said out loud was like a punch to the gut. It reminded me so much of myself in my last relationship, and how I was blissfully unaware of my codependency in my last relationship until it was the end of the relationship and I was lying in a hospital bed completely heartbroken.
My ex was an addict. When we met, he was freshly in recovery, completely sober, and had such a deep love for God and life; that zest for God and life is what drew me in. I should have known better; I was a recovery counselor for a substance abuse center for women. I preached to those women the need for remaining single in that first year of sobriety to become stable in recovery but allowed my ex to convince me that he was ready for a real relationship with me using our shared Christian faith and how we were going to buck the odds to go against my logic. Obviously, this is not how this story ends.
We were smitten and fell in love hard and fast moving in together at warp speed but he relapsed hard within 10 days of moving in on Xanax bars and enough alcohol to make a small horse hungover. I remember crying so hard that night but I leaned on faith begging God to help him. The next night I attended an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting with him where they were reading from the “Big Book” from a not so ironic chapter entitled “To Wives” where it discussed how addiction can affect the spouses of addicts; I thought this was God literally speaking to me and trying to shake some sense in me. Of course, I was too stubborn to listen and that was the last meeting he ever attended for the remaining duration of our relationship. He continued to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. At times, his drinking would get better and other times, he would scare me so much with his anger, rage, and violence. On a trip to Hawaii, drunk off whiskey and like an echo in my brain, I can still hear him say: “I want you to be scared of me.”
So why did I stay? In all honesty, I stayed because I loved him, and because I believed I could help him – save him from himself. After all, I knew I had the professional tools because I was a counselor. In short, I was a professional with a codependency problem. In a previous post, I had talked about Karpman’s “drama triangle” (pictured below); well, I was a classic “rescuer” and I enabled the crap out of his bad behavior. When he was good, it allowed me to remain in denial and proved that his problem wasn’t as big as I thought it was; when things were bad, I tried so hard to make the rest of his world perfect so he wouldn’t feel stressed like he needed to smoke or drink. I paid for the bills; when he got fired, I redid his resume and sent it out; and every time he acted in rage, I would always forgive him. I thought that’s what love was, a ride or die, and in my heart of hearts, I really thought I was just helping. Of course, I pushed therapeutic tools, church, AA/ NA meetings, books, encouraged, counseling because I thought if I said it enough that he would eventually do it but he never did.
I was so consumed in cosigning his bullshit and behavior that I ignored my gut that something was wrong, became isolated from friends and family, and became resentful deeply depressed to the point of feeling suicidal. I have always been fiercely independent but in that relationship, I wasn’t me. Towards the end, I started to take stock of the damage in our relationship and the damage to myself, and started to take baby steps to working on myself because I admitted that I couldn’t clean his side of the street. I started personal training because exercise had always been therapeutic to me and started counseling again. But even with that, things came to ahead when we found out I was pregnant. Suffice to say, he was less than thrilled and downright mean to me, and under that much stress, my mind and body couldn’t sustain the pregnancy. In a hospital bed, I realized I had enough, walked away, and never looked back. And though it hurt like hell and even now, sometimes I miss him, it was the decision I needed to make to heal.
Looking back, there were a million things I wish I had done differently but hindsight is always 20/20. I have definitely looked at what my part in things, and I know that the dysfunction in our relationship wasn’t all him and partly fueled by my codependency. It takes a lot self-awareness to acknowledge my part in how things played out and a lot of humility to admit. It has taken a lot of healing work but I can gleefully say that I am a recovering codependent. Loving an addict was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and if I could tell anyone who is in love with an addict some advice, it would be these three things:
- Do not assign his problems to your worth: There were nights I stayed up wondering why he would smoke and drink and think that there had to be something I was doing wrong. I thought I wasn’t doing enough, that there was something wrong with me, etc. I attached his issues and my inability to “fix” things to my worth. What I failed to acknowledge was that his issues existed long before me and had nothing to do with me. I only could work on my own issues, and his were up to him to fix.
- Boundaries are a sign of love: I wish I had said “no” more. I wish when I felt that something in my gut saying things were wrong that I had said something. I wish that I stuck up for myself a lot more. I thought if I said “no” or pointed out how messed up things were that saying something would hurt him and make waves in our relationship. Turns out that not saying anything, not sticking up for myself, and not setting my boundaries tore us more apart and destroyed my sense of self.
- Seek Support: I talked to a couple of friends about my ex but for the most part, I kept things to myself out of shame and just the belief that none of my friends could really understand. Ashley Wahler on Instagram talked about Al-Anon (support for the loved ones of addicts) and even though I knew about it, I never sought that support for myself from others in my same shoes. I often wonder if I had if I would have tolerated as much or stay as long as I did.
If you are needing support with your loved one’s addiction, please click the attached link to find a local Al-Anon meeting in your area