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Relationships and recovery
Relationships in themselves are complex and require a good deal of understanding, effort and commitment to work out and be beneficial to both partners and the kids (if any). When the drug factor becomes another influencing aspect it touches the very foundation of the relationship. Unlike regular fatal illnesses like cancer, drug addiction (in most or at least many cases) involves the voluntary participation of the victim as the very trigger that caused the illness. To get well, cancer requires more medication than will-power (though both are necessary); in drug addiction, will-power plays a more vital role than medication itself (again both are very important). Therefore, how an individualís commitment towards self affects the relationship is worthy of study and analysis.
It is widely accepted and hardly ever debated that relationships based on drugs are usually complex and not easily severed. This is due to external and internal factors that can be understood very easily by other users. Let us see how we can categorize these relationships and then understand these factors about each type:
If both partners are users, they are dependent on each other in many ways. They spend a lot of time together, empathise with each other, bond at a very deep level, know all secrets and limitations and probably even hate each other intensely for reasons that cant be disclosed. It is very difficult to recover from addiction if one is a relationship like this because:
- Both need to quit at the same time
- Both need to match their relapses, realisations, finances, etc.
If drugs are the centre of your relationship, chances of recovery are meek. Ask yourself these questions to check if you are in a relationship dominated by drugs:
- How much time do we spend on buying, preparing, doing the drug? (More than 1/8th means itís an awful lot)
- What are some basic decisions like where to live, what to do, how to save/spend, whom to visit, what job to take, etc based on? (if itís about availability, proximity to substance, seller, protection, drug laws, etc then drugs is the crux of our existence)
It is, unfortunately, best to seek help together and take it equally seriously if the relationship has to be salvaged. The chances of one partner tiring sooner than the other are much higher, leading to next type of relationship...
In this situation, the partner who has cleaned up or is cleaning up tends to get very disillusioned with their past life very quickly leading to lack of patience for the using partner. Even of drugs wasnít the most important part of the relationship, the lack of drug association leads to variety of emotions in either or both partners Ė guilt, anger, disrespect, expectations and the feeling of being let down, etc. This situation is very heavy for both.
When relationships go far beyond drugs association (childhood friends, workmates, tried drugs together and now quitting together, etc) and the couple finds a compelling reason to quit (loss of child, job, health, etc), then the situation of Ďboth in recoveryí arises. Considering the relationship is strong and has so many aspects to derive inspiration from, the couple has a good chance of making it together through recovery.
Again, if any one partner takes it lightly even for a single evening and relaxes their vigil, they are putting the other partnerís recovery in serious jeopardy.
When one gets out of a relationship type II (one uses one quits) because they are in recovery, then there is a very good chance that they look for/attract someone who has never used at all. This behaviour springs out of sheer hate or fear of relapse. The one in recovery wants to just cut off from everything and start fresh. There is only problem to this situation. Your current partner will never understand a craving, will never get your jokes, maybe even your language. They might not be sympathetic towards certain people/behaviours because they donít have a clue. They might even judge out of ignorance. This might push you into using again just to prove a point!
On the other hand if the using partner is dominant and influential, the other partner is likely to enter the world of drugs on a guided tour.
Like in all relationships, the law of reciprocity continues to exist in relationships between users too.
The very basic dependency between two using partners is the drug itself. Everything from making/having the money to buy it, finding the supplier, making the score trip, preparing the fix, sharing the trip, helping each other through bad trips, overdoses and other complications, being each otherís only friend since there is no time for anything or anyone else is a cause for dependency. The partners even know each otherís dark buried secrets making it impossible to consider separation or any form of hostility between each other.
It is popularly said that relationship between two users is a lot stronger than those between rational, smart and worldly-wise people. Maybe all users can identify with some or many of the above reasons for strengthening the bond.
There is of course co-dependency where one of the partners is using/tapering/withdrawing and the other does nothing but feed the ever increasing appetite of the using partner for love, attention, care, counselling, inspection, understanding, etc. The co-dependent partner is very likely to become a user themselves or have to deal with deep psychological issues for a long time after the period of recovery (if the using partner recovers) or separation, as the case may be. These kind of relationships are also very difficult to break since the options available do not register in the mind of the partner who is consumed by the responsibility of caring for his/her partner. There is a decent chance of the using partner recovering and appreciating the otherís efforts deeply. However, most help groups would recommend that the co-dependent partners find their own path and move on.
I had a wonderful pedlar who was almost like a brother to me and I find it difficult to write facts based on my innumerable sessions at Alcoholics Anonymous as partner of a user. But here is what I learnt:
- Relationships must be based on mutual trust and respect.
- While giving and taking, making compromises, adapting to needs of the partner and changing are all part of a relationship, they must take place voluntarily and out of love not out of fear or need
- Relationships based on need get exploitative and explosive. The tables turn if these are long term relationships. Pedlar is in jail or user has taken up the oldest trade in the world are not unheard of stories
In reality, itís just the level of euphoria and comfort felt due to the drug which we tend to attribute to good company and experience. Itís all so magnified that we find it difficult to be objective. The expectation levels go up and so does the mad reckless using.
While Iíd personally love to agree on that one, there is no such generalisation that can be made. Those who use drugs recreationally or medically, can be any and all types. They could be cunning and dangerous too even if they donít have the time to do conduct their cunning activities because of nodding or partying away. Their mental inclination can be towards any direction and so a generic attribute of goodness must not be given to all users.
A child cannot make you stop using, you can make the child a complete mess if you are a user. Irresponsibly bringing the child into the world with the responsibility of reforming its parents is the worst thing parents can do to a child. A child is a huge responsibility and must only be taken up if all other issues are sorted and both partners are ready for the baby.
It isnít true that there is no hope for a user and judging the determination or commitment of the partner from merely relapses isnít fair. Addiction is curable. It requires both will-power and treatment. There is light at the end of the tunnel if you are willing to and can walk all the way.
Even if the partner has recovered and spent a year or more abstaining, one cannot expect them to walk into a bar or a party or a rave and enjoy a regular social life like everyone else. Recovery and lapse of considerable time does not indicate ability to use responsibly. Do not expect your social life to go back to normal. You will need to be cautious and aware at all times.
Addiction goes beyond just will power. It consumes your body, mind, bank accounts, reputation, self-image, priorities and pretty much everything else there is to you. Be considerate, donít brand the partner as unwilling.
This is the most dangerous of misconceptions and can ruin your life if you believe in it. Nobody can change another. It has to happen from within and therefore only the user himself/herself can change. A partner can facilitate and help if asked for it. Offering your services when not required and trying to manipulate the using partner will not change anything.
When the predator becomes the prey
While itís great to have someone who loves you around you when you are recovering, there are strong indications of this period having lasting effects on both the partners (patient and helper). The tables can get turned as the law of reciprocity takes over. The helping partner may seek more attention after the recovery period due to various reasons including drug use.
How support systems are cut off
Drug use is not something one can discuss openly let alone practice freely with anyone. Discretion, secrecy and loneliness come as a package deal with a drug user and therefore the other partner too. Often one is advised to leave the using/recovering partner for the good of both of them and he/she turns a deaf ear to it. As a result even after separation or recovery the partners feel isolated from the rest of the world. Its either our own pride or the pride of others that keeps us from building our support system back again. The importance of family and friends cannot be gainsaid.
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