Alison's Insights

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

“Do Not Engage!”

These are the three words that saved me from myself as I re-entered my life after treatment for addiction.

When I got home from those extended periods of time, my husband was not all that happy.  In 2002 he was extraordinarily angry about how the disease of alcoholism had me in its grip.  He was angry at me for not having the willpower to just stop drinking.  He was angry for the lifestyle I grew up in where daily drinking was considered normal.  He was angry because he couldn’t comprehend any of it.

In 2008, while he had a better understanding of what sobriety meant relative to alcoholism, he was completely baffled as to why someone my age would need to seek help for eating.  Once again he found himself frustrated trying to understand it all.  His anger had softened as he saw the physical changes but understandably he was extremely concerned as to what might happen in the days to follow when I was on my own.

The feelings of anger, frustration and fear are like snakes in the grass, they creep up on us when we least expect them to.  Such was the case in our home.  In those early days after treatment, my husband found his outlet for those emotions by way of taking charge, setting rules and dominating my every move.  Yes, I know that may sound harsh, but remember, I taught him I was incapable of managing my own life.  I taught him I was a liar.  I taught him I was a manipulator.  I taught him not to trust me.  So when the words got tougher to hear and the decibel of conversation peaked, all I kept hearing in my mind was my sponsor saying, “Whatever you do Alison, do not engage.”

This was the advice given every time I called in tears telling her about how awful it was to live in my own home.  She listened.  She let me vent.  What she didn’t do was pity me, instead she cared for me.  Sometimes caring for someone means saying the things that are hard for the other person to hear.  In my case, it was to not launch a verbal missile in retaliation to the words my husband was dropping on me.  I had done enough damage.  I had to back off.  I could not engage.  My past had proven if I did, I’d only make matters worse.

As time when on, that pro-active directive indeed proved to heal not only my marriage, but many other relationships where damage had been done.  Today when I am in a situation where emotions are high and words are said without regard to consequences, before I respond, I can still hear the voice of my sponsor saying what she shared with me years ago.  I stop.  I do not engage.

When you think about it, the military issues that same directive to the troops if entering into combat would be counter-productive.  I suppose if they have relied on that military order for centuries, there’s every reason to believe it will continue to work for me whenever I find myself in a hostile situation.

Have you ever found yourself tempted to launch a verbal missile but thought better of it?  If so, leave a comment here and share how resisting that temptation benefited you.  

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