What’s unfortunate about counseling is I went in because my husband was an asshole, and then suddenly my therapist is like, okay, let’s talk about you.
I’m sorry, what? We’re here because my husband has issues. Let me repeat them for you again…
She was pretty insistent we needed to address some of my tendencies and my past, and I was pretty insistent I needed a new counselor.
But here we are.
Some common things that immediately come up when you begin to address addiction issues (any addiction issues) are co-dependency and enabling. Hearing those words was hard for me but not in the typical ways. They didn’t fit my story the way they would fit a normal addict relationship.
I am not co-dependent.
I am not an enabler.
My personality, my Enneagram type, my birth order, and a million other ways to quantify who I am would tell you my natural inclination is not co-dependency or enabling.
But what if your husband has a secret drinking problem? Could you be enabling him in ways you’re unaware of because you don’t have the whole picture?
Oh. Oh, yes.
That realization was hard. I had to sit with it for a while before I could even acknowledge what had been happening. I would never intentionally accept a life that was less than what I deserve so consciously allowing, helping, or setting Chris up to continue to be a functioning alcoholic would never have happened (hence the hiding and the lying; he ain’t no fool). But slowly over time, as Chris became less and less dependable and more and more withdrawn, I took on more responsibilities and family roles.
Chris can’t remember to take the trash out on Monday nights? I’ll do it and stop complaining about it.
Chris doesn’t ever look at our family calendar and see what’s going on that night or week? I’ll text him reminders.
Chris never notices house/yard work or general maintenance that needs to be done? I’ll help him remember to mow the grass or change the oil in the car.
I know some of you are reading those things and saying you do that with your spouse too. I would say the difference in helping your spouse and being a team versus how I was living with Chris is that he did nothing without being told. He was another child for me to care for. I was in charge of everything and he went where he was told but never shouldered any adult responsibility or burden. I carried all the weight and he came along for the ride. There was a disproportionate distribution of responsibilities in our marriage. I carried 95% and Chris did 5% when he got around to it.
That’s not a marriage. It happened slowly over time, though. We didn’t start out like this, but we did end up there.
It’s like the story of the frog in boiling water (which isn’t scientifically accurate, but whatever). Over time, as you increase the water temperature in the pot, it’s so subtle the frog doesn’t realize he’s being boiled alive.
I was being boiled alive, and I didn’t even notice.
Our family functioned well, because I made sure we did. Chris couldn’t function well so I took away his responsibilities instead of continuing to watch him flounder and fail.
That, my friends, is enabling.
Counseling is hard. I wasn’t there to look in a mirror, I was there to figure out how to handle being married to or divorced from an addict-alcoholic. Let’s not make this about me, please and thank you.
Other uncomfortable questions my intrusive therapist asked me that I wanted to ignore:
If Chris was so damaged and broken before meeting you, what attracted you to that brokenness? What past experiences let you ignore or not see these signs?
How does co-dependency relate to your family experiences?
What holes do you have that Chris fills in unhealthy ways?
What parent has wounded you the most, and how are you trying to recreate that experience now for a better outcome? (Side note: I hesitated to share that one because I didn’t want to hurt my parents, but the uncomfortable truth is we are all wounded, in some way, by our parents. And we are all, in some way, wounding our own kids. Welcome to our broken world. The theory, according to my really smart counselor is those traumatic childhood experiences that scarred us have left such an imprint that our brain–years later–will still try to recreate the experience in new ways so the outcome can change. Our brain is literally trying to heal us from bad experiences by altering the outcome or giving us a new ending. We do this subconsciously.)
Why does control give you the illusion of safety? How does routine damage instead of help?
How do you heal with or without your husband?
And many, many more. Counseling is horribly revealing and uncomfortable.
Between checking him out of the hospital he detoxed at and admitting Chris to his long-term addiction care facility, we had twenty-four hours to keep him safe. And by “we,” I mean “me.” I didn’t want him to come home and my hatred for him was still very, very present, but there also wasn’t anywhere else for him to go and he couldn’t be left alone.
So I got to babysit Chris. He was still sick, still delusional, still in denial, still saying dumb things that made me want to murder him, but here he was, at our house, needing care and compassion before we said goodbye and good luck.
While home, he asked about my counseling. Why I was going, what I was sharing, what was going on there. He seemed to think I was sitting around talking about him. In the beginning, I was. The first few sessions were me verbally throwing up all over this lady I had just met and expecting her to tell me some answers to a few questions I had so I could move on. I wanted my counselor to validate all the choices I was making and help me comprehend the situation I was dealing with.
But then after a few sessions, it became less about Chris’ actions and more about mine. That’s when the hard work began, and I wanted to stop it.
So I explained that to Chris. I said your actions sent me to counseling, but my actions kept me there. I said your hurt drove me to my first appointment, but a life of hurts keeps driving me back.
He found comfort in that knowledge.
Let me end with this: Getting help is not weakness or blame. It’s brave and humbling and hard and worth every moment. Also, if you have a spouse, friend, or family member who says they want/need some therapy help, please don’t take it personally. It’s not a reflection of you or your marriage if someone says they want to talk to a professional. It’s not embarrassing, it’s not punishment, and it’s not wrong. Plus, there’s a really good chance, they’re going to be looking at a mirror during their appointment instead of at you anyway.
Humans are fun, because we believe everyone else thinks about us as much as we think about ourselves. That doesn’t make sense, but it’s what we do. We’re all ridiculous, guys, might as well say it out loud to a counselor and then get comfy in it. It’s an odd little bit of freedom in a broken world.
This week my therapist encouraged me to let my kids watch more television. I was expressing some anger at my current situation of months of being a single parent and how tired I was. She said I needed to allow myself a break and just turn the TV on occasionally.
I resisted this because TV steals your soul. We moved to the country so my kids could play with sticks and dirt. I don’t like TV.
But she said I could argue about this or I could do something that would give me a break and make me feel less angry about being needed all the time.
So here’s why you should go to counseling: you might get permission to let your kids watch more TV while you hide in your room and do nothing.
So it’s a win, really. Go. Ask for some help.