She said: I find myself falling apart and angry as my husband is confronting childhood trauma and addiction issues—it’s been so much stress on me and I’m barely hanging on.
I know it feels like all your time and resources are being directed at his stuff, but, if you can, please find a therapist. You were not made to handle this on your own. If you want to survive this too, you need your own help. I would not have survived without therapy. Our relationship would not have survived without me in therapy.
It feels infuriating that early sobriety (from anything) is five years. Because it is so long and exhausting. But it’s true. Addiction layers go deep and the minute you feel like you’re making progress, something else comes to the surface.
Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. Also, addicted brains have coped with trauma and pain and abuse by hiding it. Addiction is a way for us to avoid looking at the things that are screaming for our attention. The longer someone is clean and sober, the more our brains remember. It takes time. Healing takes so much time.
And you never know what will trigger things that were hidden.
Recently, Chris’ maternal grandpa died. Chris hasn’t been in contacting with his mom since November 2017. I’ve written—in some general ways—about his childhood, but let’s just say it was awful. He grew up in a home full of abuse, secrets, mental illness, and shame. He no longer speaks to either of his parents. In the beginning on his estrangement from his mom, there was hope she would get the help she needed. Unfortunately, as time passes, she seems to be getting worse instead of better. (We’re still in relationship with his brother and sister and families; this isn’t the time, but it’s also important to say that when one sibling leaves a family full of abuse, the guilt about leaving the others behind and unprotected—no matter how old you are—is real.)
The bottom line is Chris’ sobriety is more important than keeping his parents happy. He is not required to ruin his own life to be in theirs. (And plot twist: they are never happy; they are victims always and forever. So even in relationship with them, they would be unhappy. They do not have the ability to be happy or the self-awareness to get the help to figure out why that is, so any guilt Chris has about their unhappiness is a catch-22. He is not the answer to their problems, but it’s easier to say that than take responsibility for their own actions and lives.)
ANYWAY. Chris’ grandpa died and we were talking about the funeral. Chris decided we wouldn’t go because he didn’t want to see his mom. Drawing any attention to himself at his grandpa’s funeral felt gross. We sent flowers and he called his grandma instead.
He doesn’t call his grandma often because she refuses to respect the boundary he’s set around their conversations. He doesn’t want to talk about his mom with her. No matter how many times he explains that, she insists on trying to guilt and shame him into calling his mom. She can’t have a normal conversation with him, she’s so intent on manipulating him.
(There are two reasons this could be happening: 1. She hasn’t been told the truth about why Chris is no longer in relationship with his mom. This is a bad sign because it means his mom is not taking responsibility for her dangerous actions. To change, heal, and reconcile, you first have to admit what you’ve done. 2. She knows the truth and doesn’t care. That’s a bad sign because, well, child abuse and secrets and the things that went on in that house were not okay. She should not be okay with them.)
So Chris can’t call his grandma very often. He has stated his boundary, she keeps ignoring it, and so he doesn’t call. It’s madness to keep allowing people to overstep a necessary, life-saving boundary you’ve made. People tell you who they are. We’ve got to stop pretending we don’t see it.
So death and family communication happens and, as always, it kicks up the dirt in Chris’ life. Some things shift and poke out, some things re-emerge. And his almost-four-years-sober brain lets some new stuff tumble out.
He tells me new things he’s remembering, things that have been haunting him when he’s awake and showing up in his nightmares.
And they are horrible.
I hate his parents all over again. Hate what they did. Hate what they allowed. Hate what they hid.
But he doesn’t hate them. He’s resigned and sad and grieves his childhood. But he’s not angry anymore. He’s thankful he survived. He’s thankful he doesn’t have to worry about them anymore. He’s thankful he can say the things out loud and not be immediately overwhelmed with shame. He’s thankful he doesn’t need to handle the memories with alcohol or drugs or hiding.
And, truthfully, I hate his parents only briefly. My anger doesn’t stick around like it used to. At some point, nothing shocks you, but also, I’m tired of being angry. Anger is a heavy weight to carry.
Chris is safe now.
He is loved.
He is cared for.
He is seen.
He is safe.
He is safe.
He is safe.
And he is clean and sober.
It took years to get here. And he is not done. This work will be for the rest of his life. But there are more good days than bad now.
But we had to get through a string of about 700 bad days to get here.
So what I want to tell you is keep going. As long as you are seeing progress and healing and change, keep going. It will not always be like this. It will not always feel like this. It will not always hurt so much.
But you can’t skip this pet either. You have to go through it—feel all of it—get angry and sad at every single part. Then you slowly come out the other side.
But do not avoid it. You’ll need it for the days—four years later—when a new heartbreaking secret tumbles out. You’ll need it because then you’ll have firmer ground to stand on, better coping mechanisms, and a more tender heart.
I am sorry it hurts so much right now. It will not be like this forever even though it’s hard to imagine anything else. Please take care of yourself. Find a therapist. Be patient and kind with yourself.
It’s okay if you’re falling apart. I’m not sure there’s any other way.