Dear Carolyn: I have been dating a wonderful man for about six months. We love each other and see a future together. He is a recovering addict, which isn’t exactly the problem.
The problem is I live in fear that he will relapse. He told me he has relapsed numerous times, never getting much past a year sober, but people don’t notice because he has been high-functioning. He just made it to 15 months and I feel like I’m looking for signs of a relapse and living in fear of one.
How do I manage this? For what it’s worth, he says this time he is more committed than ever to sobriety.
Will He Fall Off the Wagon?
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He shouldn’t be white-knuckling his sobriety, and neither should you.
How he handles his recovery is up to him, so I won’t address that.
You’re treating your future as up to him, too, though, and that’s not healthy for either of you – just as it’s not healthy to make any plans that count on anyone to be strong on your behalf. Your plan has to be that, whatever happens with him (or anyone else), you won’t come apart.
I’m not saying this because I think we’re all slogging through grim lives alone; quite the contrary. It’s just that it’s ultimately on us to draw from the world what we need, whether it’s to locate a source of fulfillment, or find it in what we already have, or diagnose and remedy its absence. To wait on others to behave exactly as we need them to behave, because our sense of well-being depends upon it, is to feel insecure in our happiness and future – to “live in fear,” as you say. You’re leaving someone else in control of you.
Obviously you can’t control whether he relapses, but you can control your ability to handle it if he does. You can train yourself to know what to look for and how to respond. You can find assurance in your own past and present that you’re able to withstand bad news and keep functioning on a basic and essential level. You can learn ways to support without enabling and to care without getting sucked in – which includes knowing you can and will walk away if that’s what the situation demands.
Since addiction affects loved ones so profoundly, treatments for addicts and their families are, figuratively speaking, within arm’s reach of each other. Ask him to steer you toward the best local resources for loved ones, then get to work on your own codependency.
I imagine most people reading your letter thought, as I did, that you’re like a jealous person scanning the earth’s 3.5 billion men and choosing … a philanderer; why do that to yourself? But in most cases it’s not a rhetorical question, it’s a serious question you need to ask yourself: If you’re so scared of the specific risk he represents, then why are you drawn to him versus repelled? We all have homework to do toward understanding ourselves – answering this question is yours.
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