Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Teaching People How To Treat Me

Anytime I’ve entered into a new relationship there’s always a learning curve.  Whether it was a new love interest, a new job, a new neighborhood, it’s part of the necessary first steps.  Typically it doesn’t take too long to discover what works and what doesn’t.

When my husband and I moved in together, we learned things like, each other’s daily routines, what was OK (or not OK) to say about each other’s family members, or how our money should be allocated.  That’s pretty normal stuff for most couples but what wasn’t so normal for us was learning how to avoid all those pink elephants in the middle of the room.

It was this last one that eventually began to destroy not only my marriage, but all the important relationships in my life.

Over time, everyone knew exactly what lines I had drawn in the sand.  That’s what living an addiction-filled life causes.  I set non-negotiable unhealthy boundaries which were not to be crossed.

For example, most people finally stopped asking me things about food and/or my drinking because one, they were frightened as to what they might hear and two, it just became tiring to get such a defensive and rather “how dare you ask me something like that” type of response.  Bottom line, I taught them to stop asking me things and to just keep their comments to themselves.

What I really taught them was I cared more about my addictions than I did about them.  And the one who suffered the most by this self-centered mindset was my husband.

When I went through the action steps in early recovery, I came to understand how to best help those around me unlearn what I had taught them.

I know this idea of “unlearning” may sound rather odd, but think about it.  I lived a 24/7 lie.  All of my mannerisms, the adamant refusal to acknowledge my addictive behaviors and my unwillingness to change, flat-out affected people and the relationship dynamic.

To my husband, I set the stage for a very powerful lesson by my ongoing reluctance to let him know what was really going on with me. Sometimes verbally and most times non-verbally, I was controlling what was OK or not OK to say, do or feel around me.   Eventually these directives became our “normal.”

You see no matter how we shake it, having addiction along for the ride in any relationship is destructive.  It doesn’t discriminate.  It not only destroys marriages, it tears down relationships at work, with extended family members, with neighbors, etc.  The list can often seem endless.

By putting the needs of my addiction first, I was actually saying, without saying, I was choosing that before any other relationship standing right in front of me.

Eventually I had taught everyone my addictions were more important than they were, including my husband.  For years I allowed him to feel he was second choice, or second best.  I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had to stand in those shoes, it’s not a good place to be. It messes with self-esteem and self-confidence, and causes me to second guess everything.

On the positive, by being in a place of healthy recovery from addiction, I am allowing others an opportunity to let go of what they learned from my past behaviors.

How am I doing that?  Simple.  Each day I remain sober and healthy, I’m teaching others I’m respecting myself, and in turn, they’ve come to respect me.  Amazing how that works.

You see it is only by my action, not my words, that I’m able to illustrate changes I’m making to better my life.  I don’t have to say, “See how I’m acting now?” or, “Hey look, I’m not doing what I used to.” I don’t need to call it out.  How I act and how I treat those around me, in time, allows them to relearn how to interact with me.

Bottom line, my actions are a far better teacher than my words could ever say.

I’m wondering what you are teaching the people in your life today. I’d love to hear about that.

Until then, be good to yourself and to those you love.


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