This blog is a little different from my usual offerings. I hope that it’s helpful for some of you to read.
For almost 20 years I lived with a partner who was addicted to various substances. I am sharing this now because I have only just, five years after his death, felt able to publicly speak about this experience. I have no doubt that this totally shapes who I now am. I am also sharing this because this year I have become involved with the Rite to Freedom charity as a trustee. I would like to share and explain the experience that so many who have family members, friends and partners with addiction issues, live through every single moment of every single day, as well as giving some hope with Rite to Freedom, who are offering support that can help.
Because addiction is such a taboo topic in our society this experience often goes unspoken about. By its very nature addiction brings deceit, crime and conflict. The shame, secrecy and fear that comes alongside loving someone with addiction is isolating, destructive and all consuming for family members, friends and partners.
Addiction of a loved one touches every single part of our lives. From the second we wake up in the morning, all day, every time the phone rings or the door goes, in the street, at work, and all night in our dreams and wakeful restless moments. There is no break, there is no respite, there are no answers. Physically, psychologically and emotionally we become exhausted, depleted, and yet we still continue. Why do we continue? Because we love this person, and this is not to be underestimated. We can see the real person, we know the person beyond their addiction, and this is what keep us engaged, keeps us wanting and needing to help, to support, to be there for them always. This is how it works in reality. This is what is not understood by so many in society.
Support services will talk to us about ‘boundaries’ and ‘stopping enabling’. Well, I say easier said than done. Having been a worker in those services as well as a partner of someone addicted, I can say from experience that although yes it may make rational sense to say no, it is not always easy, in terms of dealing with the person, the wider community and yourself emotionally. There is massive judgement. They and we are judged by society, our peers, by the community. As I said addiction is a taboo topic, and so when the ‘secret’ gets out it isn’t always well received. This in itself is difficult to bear, and this prevents people from seeking much needed support.
Take some time out for yourself they say, self-love and self-care. You may if you’re lucky get an opportunity to go through the motions, but the shadow of the addiction is always there in the background, showing up as an anxiety in the belly or persistent tension in the body. Just as the addiction is always with them, so it is always with you. I remember a spa day I went on, a gift from friends. I was anxious all day about what was happening at home and when I left and switched my phone on at the end of the day, I had the almost inevitable message that my partner had left the house unexpectedly and gone missing. This is one of countless times that this kind of thing happened. This is why we feel we can’t switch off, let go, even for a moment. Because of the fear, the gnawing anxiety that we will lose them, although we have to a large extent already lost ourselves.
There are no easy or clear answers to the whole relationship with those we love and ourselves when addiction is part of the picture. Boundaries don’t work for everyone. The support offered doesn’t always fit our needs. Lots of previous face to face services are now replaced with online meetings or automated chat lines. I know for sure that when, over 20 years ago, I was able to make a human connection for support. This is what made a difference to me. It did not change the outcome for my partner, but it did allow me to be heard, valued and not judged, to perhaps consider myself in the wider picture. That service is also sadly now all online.
As I said at the beginning, because of the shame, secrecy and fear that comes alongside loving someone with addiction we often feel unable to even consider accessing support, because we do not feel we can speak out. We may also feel that we don’t need any support. Often all of the focus is upon the addicted person, they are the priority and we are left to continue as though nothing out of the ordinary is going on. The power of emotional support within this situation is not to be underestimated. Rite to Freedom now offers friends and family support (more info on the link below).
Having accessed and experienced various types of support over the years I would say that in my experience this is the most held, safe and understood I have ever felt. The Rite to Freedom approach is unique and gentle, yet incredibly powerful. It is non dictating, non judgmental, it is loving and accepting. There are online meetings, there are also face to face daytime sessions in Devon.
I have been a part of Rite to Freedom Family and Friends support group at online and face to face gatherings and have personally found them immensely powerful. There is no expectation to share your own personal circumstances if you don’t feel up to this, the group approach is very informal and relaxed. You are welcome without sharing to sit and listen to others. It is then that you will feel that you are not alone with this. Just knowing this, being aware of your common ground with others, can change how you feel inside.
As well as the more face to face part of the experience there is time spent in nature, alone and with others, which allows the healing power of the land to somehow hold whatever it is you need. This is a cornerstone of the Rite to Freedom approach. This being in nature and with the land has been something that has been used for centuries to soothe the tired spirit, to heal and nurture. This nature connection approach fully gifts us what we need. Inclusion, belonging, community and a sense of coming home to yourself. We begin to remember who we are, beyond all of the madness, sadness and badness. Together we grow stronger and more resilient, we laugh and cry share and support. Together we begin to walk forwards, we find some kind of hope within and for ourselves. It’s hard to fully explain what happens exactly as a result of this gentle and subtle yet strong process, it really is best to experience it yourself.
Please if this is helpful for you check out Rite to Freedom and everything they are offering. Click HERE for the Family and friends program and HERE for the general website with all offerings for recovery and beyond.