One thing I’ve noticed from talking to people who don’t have much experience with addiction is how they don’t really understand the complexity. They see addiction as this very one-dimensional problem: an otherwise normal person comes home from work and drinks every night, or needs to take pills to get out of bed in the morning, or uses heroin every day. And yes, those are all examples of what addiction might look like, but they don’t capture the whole picture. Addiction is a lot more complicated than that, and nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to relationships.
My own life is the perfect example. The drugs and alcohol were not my only problem during my active addiction. Far from it, in fact. My relationships were a complete, toxic mess, and were a major part of the cycle I couldn’t seem to break free from.
Looking in from the outside, you could have seen the warning signs coming from a mile away. I started out in a broken family, with complex politics and mental illness (although surprisingly, no addiction, at least in my immediate family). As I grew up, I struggled socially. I found myself getting involved with the kids who were “bad influences,” according to my parents, and led me into trouble early on. This is a pattern that would repeat itself through my teens and early adulthood: as my addiction got worse and worse, I would somehow find others to associate with who were just as bad. Or maybe they brought me down to their level. I’m not really sure, and I don’t think it’s important.
When I got old enough to start dating, I added on another layer of problems. I started to wrap up my self worth completely in whatever girl I was seeing at the time. If things were going well, I was great, and if things went bad—not so much. I would be broken and miserable and unable to function for days or weeks whenever I got dumped—which happened every time. Three guesses why, when I was so clingy and neurotic.
This led me to the big one—the relationship I stayed in for almost the entirety of my five years of active addiction. We met at a party—both completely annihilated at the time of course. And we instantly clicked, spending our days together using various substances. It wasn’t long before we were completely codependent. And don’t get me started on the fighting—all the stress and substance use would lead to awful fights on a regular basis. But we were both too afraid of being alone to break up. So naturally, we took the next logical step and decided to move in together.
Needless to say, that toxic relationship—and my other toxic friendships—had to go in recovery. Maybe it’s possible to save relationships like these, but it wasn’t for me. None of those people are present in my life today. Instead, I’ve built new relationships through work, school, and most importantly, my local recovery community. Today I have healthy relationships with people who care about me, and would never lead me to make bad choices. I’m even dating again, and I can safely say the relationship is completely healthy—because I was a whole person before I got into it.