This is the second story in my series: Perspectives of Addiction.
There’s a societal stigma around addiction, and I am passionate about advocating to defeat that stigma by putting addiction into conversation. It’s time that I put my writing where my mouth is. This article was not difficult to write, but was very difficult for me to publish. I was finally convinced to post it by thinking back to when I was in this situation and imagining if I had read an article like this. I hope that this post will reach someone like me, and that they will make wiser choices than I did.
Some people complain about their significant other ignoring them, not showing enough affection or becoming disinterested. But even though my boyfriend talked to me, invited me to hang out with him, and was very affectionate, I was competing for his attention against many addictive substances. I had no chance, but that did not deter me or stop him from using both the substances and me.
Our eight month relationship lasted eight months longer than it should have. Our one surviving factor: denial. He was always in denial of his increasing substance abuse, and I was always in denial of how his addictions were affecting me. I tried to bring it up a few times, but would be shut down by his dismissive assurance that there was “nothing to worry about.”
I remember watching him as if from afar as he came to school (again) tripping hard on his favorite mix of acid, weed, and prescription meds. He rode his skateboard into the cafeteria, slamming himself into my chair where I was eating lunch. I looked down at him rolling and laughing on the ground. He was laughing so hard that tears started dripping from his eyes, and I knew that he could not, really, register me sitting right in front of him.
That was the kind of relationship I voluntarily stayed in. Who was the addicted one again?
I knew he needed help, but for a long time I refused to believe that I could not give him that help. I wanted so badly to be the one to “fix” him, to be the one that would break him free from that cage of substances.
When moments like that cafeteria scene began to pile up, I knew that I couldn’t keep going. In order to break up with him, I had to repeatedly remind myself that he was using me and that he cared more about getting high than about how I was doing.
I was mentally defending myself against the excuses and bargains I felt sure he was going to respond with. But when I started telling him my rehearsed reasoning of why we needed to break up, I was completely caught off-guard by the sobs that were coming from myself—not from him.
Years later, I can still step into that vivid moment of my tears blurring his stony face, with his silence suffocating my already hyperventilating breaths. His only question: “If you’re so upset about this, why are you breaking up with me?”
I could only respond with more tears, and I still don’t have a final answer. I think I was so distraught because breaking up with him was the first step towards acknowledging that I cared more about fixing him than about who he really was under all of the addiction. I was using him just as much as he was using me.
Once I really understood that nothing I ever did would change him, and that he had to be the one to make this choice, it still took me a few months to let go. Part of this was me hoping that I could prove it wrong, and the other part was me trying to remember what my life was like before I had compulsively enveloped all of my thoughts around him.
I still find myself justifying the ways that I was hurt by reasoning that he was not in his right mind—because of the drugs and the mental illnesses I diagnosed him with. But what I want to tell everyone who has been in or is in a similar situation, is that addiction’s possessive control is not an excuse to hurt loved ones.
Do not join in their denial by pushing under the carpet all of the pain caused by their addiction. Not only is it essential for your own health and sanity but, because many people who are addicted have lost a lot of self-respect, it might be the only piece of evidence that can bring your loved one to the reality of their substance abuse.
However, it’s not fair to completely blame them for their actions either; it is true that addiction is a biological illness and not a choice. But not holding them accountable for their actions enables their addictive lifestyle and destroys yours.
I have learned from that relationship that I was just as addicted as he was. We chose different poisons, but we were both deeply hurting ourselves and one another.
I am not in touch with him anymore, so I do not know if he ever received treatment or if he is still in a cycle of denial and substance abuse. All I know is that he was my first love, and I will always carry a small yin and yang of our good and bad memories with me. If he were to ever read this, I would want him to know that I just hope he’s doing okay, and that I hope he has gotten the help that I could never give him.