Forgiving an addict can be emotionally challenging. It can be even more difficult if you are emotionally close to the addict and have suffered because of his or her addiction. The addict may have stolen from you and abused your trust. You understand that not only did the addict suffer with the addiction, but those close to them suffered as well.
Why an Addict Behaves in a Certain Way
How can you move on and let go of the hurts of your past? You must learn how to forgive your addicted loved one, and one of the first steps in doing that is gaining an understanding of the addiction. First, start looking at the addiction as a disease, a disease that is separate from the addict themselves. Though it is likely evident that the addict made bad decisions and might have hurt you in some way while they were under the influence of their addiction, remember that the disease of addiction can cause them to lose control of their actions. If you start to look at their addiction in this manner, it may be easier for you to forgive the addict.
Some of the most common behaviors of an addict include the following:
Addicts lie. Their lies often multiply as their addiction grows. They lie about how they spent money and they lie about how they spent their time and who they spent it with. It can be especially difficult to deal with an addict’s lying if you’ve known and trusted them for years, and it seems like they suddenly start lying to you.
It is possible that the addict is participating in criminal activities. While this is not always true, it is a definite possibility. An addict will be more likely to start stealing from family after pawning everything that they can think of. They might eventually go on to burglary, theft or even identity theft, as addiction has so much control over them that they will do almost anything to be able to get money for their next fix.
The behavior of those who are addicted to prescription drugs is a little bit different. They may try to shop multiple doctors so that they can obtain more prescriptions. They may even attempt to feign illness so that they can be admitted to a hospital with the hope of getting their drug of choice. Drug and alcohol addicts may drive while under the influence. Their behavior while under the influence may change so greatly that what they do may be a criminal act itself, such as assault.
Addicts become masters of manipulation. They may manipulate their loved ones into believing that they can stop their addictive behavior at any time. They may also claim that loved one are responsible for their addictive behavior by saying things like, “It’s your fault that I am like this.” If the loved one is a spouse or significant other, the addict may make promises to do better, stop using or stop hanging around their associates who encourage the bad behavior. The bottom line is that the addict will stop at nothing to continue to use the drug of their choice.
Addicts can often become abusive. They may become physically or mentally abusive, or both. Often, an addict will lash out at those closest to them, such as a spouse or partner. Some of this abuse is a result of the addict’s delusional behavior as a direct consequence of addiction. This type of behavior can result in attacks that may be physical in nature and directed at those who are weaker than the addict such as the elderly, spouses or even children.
An addict will likely blame others for almost anything. If they lose their job, they may say that it was their boss’s fault. Even though family and friends may plead with an addict to stop using drugs, to think of their family or to stay away from their drug-addicted friends, the lure of the drugs is too powerful. It takes over their life to the point that they will do whatever they can so that they can keep using.
Effects of Addiction on a Relationship
Statistics show that when faced with addiction, a couple’s risk for divorce is four times greater. According to Bob Navarra, PysD, “a Master Certified Gottman therapist, trainer, consultant and speaker”, there are many divorces that actually occur when the addict is in recovery. In a study by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, those who participated and had present or past cases of alcohol abuse would get divorced at an alarming rate of almost 50%. And while it is totally understandable for the spouse of an addict to have an unwillingness to trust again, both parties to the marriage need to come to the realization that sometimes the damage done to the non-addicted spouse is too great to be repaired.
However, if both parties are willing to work on the relationship as the addict is going through recovery, they need to think about the possibility of attending couples counseling. While professional counseling is ideal, they may also seek support through groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Going to these types of support groups as a couple will enable both parties to gain support from others who have shared similar experiences and let them know that they aren’t alone in their efforts toward recovery.
What to Consider to Make Forgiveness Easier
Understanding the process of addiction will make it easier for you to forgive the addict, and the better your knowledge about addiction, the more likely you will be able to forgive. Concentrate on the terrible pain that the addict must be feeling as they realize their imprisonment by addiction. Think about the guilt that they must have experienced as they find that their body and mind have been consumed by their addiction, to the point where they can think of nothing else. While having this empathetic focus on the addict should in no way minimize the harm they’ve done to you, it might make it easier for you to forgive them.
Forgiveness may also be easier if you think of it as not a physical action but a sense of mental well-being. When you forgive, it will likely improve your emotional and mental health.
Though forgiveness and repairing your relationships with the addict are two completely separate issues, and you should forgive even if you decide not to resume your relationship with the addict, forgiveness is imperative if you want to repair and reestablish the relationship.
If you have decided to work on salvaging your relationship to attempt to trust the addict again, you will need to think about ways in which you can forgive the addict. Understanding that forgiveness may be difficult, you can think about some ways that will make it easier for you.
Educate yourself about your loved one’s addiction so that you can understand the impact that it has on the person who has experienced it. Educating yourself doesn’t mean that you are excusing their behavior – it simply means that you are seeking to understand it.
As an addict is going through recovery, they are likely going to be struggling, both mentally and physically. Additionally, they will be trying to find their new normal outside rehab as they embrace the world they once knew and do it without the use of drugs or alcohol. Don’t hold onto your anger. Addicts may relapse and will likely become frustrated trying to figure out their new normal. Holding on to old resentments and hurts will only make their recovery process more difficult and will not help you heal your relationship with them. Don’t keep reminding the addict of the past. This will impede their ability to recover and maintain sobriety. It will also prevent you from healing by constantly reopening old wounds
Don’t Have Expectations
You may be fervently hoping that your loved one stays clean and sober, but their journey towards sobriety isn’t an easy one and is filled with pitfalls and setbacks. If you feel that you can’t handle these setbacks, you may want to distance yourself physically from the addict. This is okay, especially if you believe that your own emotional well-being will suffer if you are not able to cope with potential setbacks.
Let Go of Past Hurts
Understand that forgiveness is not only for the addict — it is for you as well. Letting go of past pain will lift a burden from your shoulders and allow you to move on so that you can begin to heal from the suffering that you may have endured from the addict’s behavior.
Ridding yourself of old anger and hurt is one of the best ways to start the forgiveness process. If you continue to harbor old pain, it can fester and make you a very bitter person. Getting rid of the anger will not only make you more content – it will help you move on with your life.
Reflect on Your Relationship
Think about how having a relationship with an addict has taught you about life. How will you become a better person by your experience? Even though having a relationship with an addict was likely an experience that you would not want to repeat if given the choice, focus on the positive and how this experience can give you wisdom that you can share with others.
Try to Forgive
As children, we often complain to an adult that another child’s muttered, “I’m sorry” wasn’t sincere because they didn’t mean it. The same adage applies in your efforts to forgive the addict. Genuinely try to forgive the wrongs that they have done to you, and you will likely be surprised at the amount of healing you both will experience.
Forgiving doesn’t mean that you are forgetting. Because the addict likely caused you significant physical, mental or possibly financial damage, you don’t need to forget what happened. As both you and the addict have likely learned from the experience, you can remember it with the idea that you will move on.
Remember that it will take time to heal. Don’t expect that you will be able to forgive entirely with the snap of your fingers. Forgiveness is a gradual process.
Don’t think that forgives means that you must automatically let the addict back into your life. If they have no interest in discontinuing their addictive behavior or if they will not seek treatment, it is okay if you want to distance yourself from them while you are forgiving them for their past behavior. You don’t need the addict to express the sentiment that they are sorry before you can forgive them. Don’t forget that the forgiveness you are offering to them is as much for them as it is for you.
How to Forgive a Drug Addicted Spouse
Though there are numerous ways to consider how to make forgiveness easier, there are certain things to consider when forgiving a drug addicted spouse. Because of the nature of your close relationship and the fact that you both depend upon one another to make your relationship and family work, it becomes more likely that you could suffer, both mentally and physically, from a drug-addicted spouse.
One of the best ways that you can forgive your drug-addicted spouse is to stay detached because you love them.
In reality, this doesn’t mean that you would necessarily divorce or separate from your spouse, but you would stop any type of enabling behavior that has encouraged their addiction in the past. For example, you would stop calling your spouse off work because they were too high to go and couldn’t call off themselves. You would also refrain from telling them that it is not big deal that they missed another band concert for your child because they were out with their friends getting high. These types of enabling behaviors encourage the addiction to continue.
And don’t forget that while you can forgive, you must also have a concept of what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you need to excuse someone’s behavior. Excusing your drug-addicted spouse because their addiction led to them losing their job is considered enabling on your part. You can forgive them for losing their job, but you don’t need to excuse or absolve them of their responsibility.
You can forgive your spouse, but that doesn’t mean you need to pretend that their drug addiction hasn’t caused you to be angry. It is okay to be angry at them, but allowing destructive emotions to fester inside ultimately causes you harm.
If you have physically distanced yourself from your addicted spouse, potentially through legal separation, you can forgive them. That does not mean that you need to reconcile with them as a part of forgiveness. As the old wounds and hurts may be too great for you to reestablish your relationship with them, you may still forgive them. Don’t mistake your ability to forgive with the process of reconciliation. They are two completely separate concepts.
As the spouse of an addict, you need to understand that your decision to stay with them — to not separate or divorce, is ultimately your decision. Nevertheless, if you tell them that you will leave them if they engage in their addictive behavior again, you need to be prepared to do just that.
Forgiving an Alcoholic Spouse
First and foremost, you need to remember that an alcoholic will think about things differently than someone who is not an alcoholic. The disease of alcoholism impedes the ability to use the logical reasoning used by someone who is not an alcoholic.
After you have come to an understanding that you know that your alcoholic spouse thinks about things differently than you do, and much of this relates to their alcoholism, you need to be calm and think about all the pain you have experienced from your alcoholic spouse. You can even write down what caused that pain. After you have done this, let go of the emotions that are associated with those hurts. You need to consider that part of the process of forgiveness means that you will be better able to forgive if you realize your capacity to do so should be focused on forgiveness alone, and not continuing to wish for the outcome to be different.
Once you have released the negative emotions, you need to start thinking about all of the positive effects that the alcoholic has had on your life. You should write those down as well and consider giving thanks for all of those positive effects.
And if the alcoholic is still engaged in destructive behavior, you need to physically distance yourself from them. However, if they are now sober, you’ll need to maintain your decision to let go of the past and make a fresh start for you and for your newly sober spouse.
One of the most important parts of forgiving your alcoholic spouse is to remember that while they are in recovery, they may have relapses and engage in destructive behavior again. You will need to think about how you will forgive them each time as you can let go of the negative thoughts. Though this will often be a difficult process, it will enable you and your spouse to move forward as your spouse continues on the journey towards sobriety.
Don’t set your expectations too high. The process of forgiveness is as much of a journey as the quest towards sobriety.
And if you or your loved one has a desire to take that first step towards sobriety, it is time to contact 12 Keys Rehab. Someone is always available to talk for a personal consultation, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 12 Keys Rehab is here to assist you on the journey towards recovery.