A Foreign Feeling to Me
Over the past week, I have listened to the song "Sober" by Demi Lovato about a thousand times and can relate to every word of it, even though I do not have a substance addiction. Interestingly enough, in the almost 19 years of my life, I have never grieved. When someone I knew passed away, I was not close enough with him or her, numbed my emotions, or a combination of both. Recently, my addicted cousin, who I am addicted to, has finished a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence. While I knew the chances of him reaching out to me were literally zero, I still had a glimmer of hope. The weekend that he was released, I accidentally happened to be in his place of work( a beach bar and grill), and he stared at me for five seconds and ran in the back. Earlier this week, I saw his new Facebook profile picture and cover photo of him on the beach with his new girlfriend, addicted brother, and addicted brother's girlfriend. He is working in a beach bar and has a girlfriend who is from our hometown, the primary place he was active in his addiction; that shook me to the core. However, those bad signs do not mean merely as much as the fact that he is creating a whole new life without me when he promised me four years ago that I would be a part of his life when he gets out (four years ago, I had not yet gotten into an argument with him about his recovery, written a book about my experiences, and done an interview which caused family conflict that tore us a part). For the past week, every time I open my eyes, the depression hits me like a hurricane snapping a tree of its stump. I cannot sleep and can barely keep food down.
I did my best to work my program and called some people from Al-Anon, and they told me that "the hardware store that I have been looking for bread in" for the past almost eight and a half years "has officially burned down and that I have to move on and invest my energy elsewhere." I know that the hardware store is still burned down, but I do not want to believe it. Talk about denial: every time my phone rings and it is not someone in my contacts, I pick it up, thinking it could be him when it is really a telemarketer. The thought of living the rest of my life without him is scary. I know what healthy course of action I have to take, which is blocking him on social media and deleting my fake social media accounts, but I cannot bring myself to do it yet because I might just lose it. I cannot go from one extremity to the other; I have to gradually change my thought process to give me the strength to do that. I have tried that route of mere abstinence before, and it always ended in rebounding to another unhealthy relationship or fixation on a person or simple relapsing.
I went to visit my late grandmother at the cemetery yesterday along with my cousin's father and -unexpectedly- grandmother, both whom I never met. When I was talking to my grandmother, promising that I would beat my addiction for myself and to make her proud, tears started flowing down my face. That was the first time I expressed emotion about her death, and she will be gone for four years in December. During her life, I was not close with her. As a middle schooler, living with a grandmother with dementia and COPD was frustrating for me. I had pleasant memories of her from before she got sick, but those memories kind of got lost until I made effort to retrieve them. Besides my parents, she was the only one in my family who loved me unconditionally and had a positive outlook for me. I just realized it too late. I think it is bizarre how grieving for my cousin, who is still alive but would not care if I lived or died, is also making me grieve for my deceased grandmother for the first time. I also verbalized my feelings to my cousin's father and grandmother. I know that talking to a grave is futile, but it felt good for me to make peace with the deceased ("A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step" after all). I read about addictive relationship withdrawal, and I have all the symptoms of it. While it is excruciating, I know that it will get better. In the meantime, I have to do everything I can to keep myself as healthy as possible, which includes getting back on the treadmill, working on Textbroker as much as I can, eating healthy and as much as I can, drinking fluids, coloring in my adult coloring books, painting, getting enough sleep, reading Al-Anon daily meditations, planning my next trip to the beach, and trying to find effective counseling. I know the Al-Anon tools that can help me, but when emotions get in the way, they are meaningless.
A Different Kind of Grief
When people think of grief, they think of missing and reminiscing about someone who died (which is what I am going through with my grandmother and that kills enough), realizing they can never have those memories again. However, when grieving for an addicted loved one, you are grieving for someone who is still alive. Grieving for someone who is still alive is agonizing because you know that you can still reach them, give them a hug, and make efforts to help them become the person you think that they could be, but the person is not willing to do any of that. The circumstances make it possible, but the person is making it impossible and even dangerous. That form of grief is love that cannot be given and is forced to fester inside.
In addition to grieving the addicted individual, grieving for "what could have/would have/should have been" is common. In my Al-Anon meetings, I hear mothers of addicted individuals stating how they wish their child could have went to college, established a successful career, settled down, married, and had a family (ideally all in that order). I hear spouses of addicted individuals stating that they wish their spouse could be who they were when they first met and/or lived up the hopes and dreams they had for each other. For me, going to the beach and going out to lunch with my cousin was one of my biggest dreams for when he got out of prison. I envisioned receiving many phone calls and text messages from him, spending holidays with him for many years to come, him being in the audience cheering for me when I graduated from college, attending his wedding, and babysitting his future children. The beast of addiction shatters through the glass of love and robs all hopes and dreams of a relationship and joyful moments.
What We Are Left to Do
The Al-Anon preamble states, "For many of us, living with an alcoholic is too much for most us. Without such spiritual help, our thinking becomes distorted as we try to force solutions." In other words, living with the effects of a loved one's addiction is detrimental to our mental health. Self-care is the theme of Al-Anon and other self-help programs for loved ones of addicted individuals. For some people, self-care is going to the beach, watching a favorite TV show or movie, going out with friends, or taking a hot bath. While I indulge in all of those forms of self-care (especially going to the beach) , I find that art is one of the greatest forms of self-care for me because it is beneficial for my mental health. Many people are scared to engage in artistic activity because they think that they will never be the next Casset, Picasso, Van Gogh (who would want one ear for the sake of winning back a girlfriend, anyway?), or Rembrandht. Believe me, I know I never will be. However, art for mental health is not about aesthetics or talent; it is for mental health.
The Benefits of Mental Health When Living with an Addicted Love One
Bria Riley is a published author, recovering codependent and adult child of an alcoholic, who is active in several recovery programs. She knows the turmoil and heartbreak of growing up in an addiction-stricken family and wants to help others who have also been affected by addiction through her writing.