When you love someone struggling with addiction, you can feel like you are losing yourself. Your life starts to revolve around their addiction. You feel like the special parts that make you…well you…are slipping away. You used to be the person that always saw Marvel movies the day they came out or you used to always be the last person to leave a party because you wanted to help the host clean up. Things are different now. Who knows when your loved one is going to need you? You can’t see that movie on a Friday, you have to take them to their meeting. You can’t even go to that party let alone be the last person there, the pressures from social anxiety will trigger a relapse. Are you even still in there?
YES YOU ARE! I see you. I feel you struggling. I hear your pain. I went through a phase where my whole life revolved around my mom’s addiction. I lost myself and I was hurting for a long time. I loved me but I changed me to try to be what she needed. I desperately wanted to contribute to her sobriety. I thought if I made choices that would benefit her, she would have to get sober. I know, naïve thinking. I blame it on my youth, my desperation for a sober mom, and the hope that my family could recover from all the hurt.
I chose the college I attended in order to help my dad more with my mom’s “episodes”, I got a job at the church my mom attended so I could stay in the loop, and I dated someone I knew would never leave our hometown so I wouldn’t have to risk the threat of “abandoning” my family. These are BIG life choices that weren’t even based off of my own wants and needs. The person I was dating was nothing like me. I became more like them and a stranger to myself. The college I attended, worked out for the best in the end, but it took a long time to get me out of my comfort zone. My part-time job kept me engrossed in my mom’s drinking. All I was doing was getting myself more involved in my mom’s alcoholism. Spoiler alert, that didn’t get her sober.
It took years of my adulthood to realize that I was just staying in the storm instead of trying to get to shore. I was in a perpetual state of drowning and I didn’t even care that people were constantly throwing me lifelines. I was content staying in that horrible state.
It took me moving an hour away from my family to realize how desperately I missed myself. Within the first few weeks living away from my family, I could tell I was getting healthier. I was sleeping better, I was doing things for myself, and I started taking care of my body again. My friends could tell I was happier. My supervisor could tell I was less stressed about work anxieties. My husband reminded me that I was getting less headaches. I was being silly again. I started reading for pleasure. I started caring about my friends more than my own problems. It was amazing. I hadn’t been this “me” in years.
Even though this is WONDERFUL it shows how weak I am. I had to MOVE away in order set my own boundaries. I completely lost myself in my mom’s addiction. How do people manage who still are living in the home? How do you be yourself? How do you take care of yourself? How do you not lose yourself in the disease? Addiction isn’t just suffered by the addict, the whole family is affected.
I was in a lucky position where I could move away. I don’t know if I would have found myself if I hadn’t gotten that distance. If you aren’t in that kind of position and maybe you don’t even want to, that’s fine. But take time to be you. Find a time or a day where your needs are the one on the forefront. Do something that only you would do. Go see that Marvel movie. Go to that party and be the helpful guest. Go to a magic show. Watch an old musical. Find a way to the parts of you that you have always loved. The parts of you that people say “That is so Jane/John.” You deserve that! We deserve to be selfish and to meet our own needs. If our own cup is empty, we can’t pour into other’s.
The best learning experience I have had is that when I left, nothing changed. My dad and sister made me feel guilty because they are still living in that storm but my mom didn’t get better or worse. She’s still an alcoholic. She’s still getting arrested from time to time. Our family is still embarrassed. And I now KNOW that me living there isn’t going to change that because it didn’t. I lived there for 20+ years and she didn’t get sober. I would hate if something happened to my mom but I cannot get her sober.
I am happy now. I have a life. It doesn’t revolve around her drinking. It revolves around me, my friends, my husband, my nieces and nephews, etc. It revolves around life. Fight to have your own life! It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.