Tuesday, 04 April 2017 04:15

Addiction and Your Loved One: The Toll it Takes

Written by  Barbara B.
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One Sunday, as my husband and I were leaving church, we drove by a well-dressed couple walking down the sidewalk to their car.  Though I tried not to stare, something about them caught my eye as we drove by slowly.   After we passed them, I turned to my husband and said, “I believe that man is an alcoholic.”   He quickly looked in the rearview mirror at the man and then asked, “How in the world can you tell?”  I said, “Because I looked at his wife.”  I saw it on her face.  I saw it in her eyes.  I’ve seen that same look many times on the faces of friends, family, and strangers.  I know the look all too well.  I have had that same look many times in the past.  It is a look of desperation... often a look of hopelessness.   Many months after that Sunday, I met that lady and learned my assumption was right.   Addiction had taken a big toll on her.


I know firsthand the high cost of loving someone with the disease of  addiction.  I am the granddaughter of an alcoholic, the daughter of an alcoholic, and the wife of a recovering  addict.  Addiction runs deep and wide in my family.  I have heard it said: “Addiction is a family sport and everyone gets to play.”  Sadly, that is so true.  The disease of addiction takes an enormous toll on the family... financially, emotionally, and often spiritually.


The effects of alcohol and drugs on the user are very evident, but the symptoms of the disease on family members too often go untreated and unnoticed by others.  The family disease of addiction often shows up in the form of stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, depression, isolation, digestive problems, fear, confusion, racing thoughts, stomach ulcers, and heart palpitations.  I know, because I have experienced all of these symptoms.  It is a heavy toll to pay.


As a young child, I remember sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of my father yelling at my mother.  He was one of the kindest and most generous men I’ve ever known, but when he drank, the alcohol changed him.  The first true emotion I recall feeling as a very young child was fear.  Like so many other homes where addiction exists, we had the elephant in our living room that no one talked about.  Today, counselors and therapists call that “denial,” but when I was a little girl, it felt more like a family secret that we dared not share with anyone.  And, of course, our secrets keep us sick.  It was a very high toll to pay as a child.


I was completely blindsided by my husband’s addiction.  We were just short of our twenty-first wedding anniversary when drugs took over his life. Prior to that, he was a great father, a great husband, and a great provider.  Never in a million years would I have ever suspected he would be someone who was capable of using drugs.  When I married him and said “for better or worse, in sickness or in health,” I was thinking something more along the lines of the flu or the occasional stomach bug, but drug addiction? No way!  His addiction was relentless. It changed him, changed us, and changed our family in ways I never thought possible. By the time it was all said and done, we had lost everything... our home, our automobiles, our direction in life, our serenity, and we were penniless.  We went from “having it all” to having nothing.  I had felt great fear before in my life, but never had I known fear like this... that gut wrenching raw fear that turns your stomach, breaks your heart, robs you of your peace, keeps you from thinking clearly, keeps you from breathing deeply, and keeps you awake at night.  It was all-consuming, and a very high toll to pay as a wife.


Those of us who are family members of someone in active addiction often become very good “hiders.”  We withdraw and isolate to avoid having to talk about our situation with others.  We hide our secrets, hide our fear, hide our emotions, hide behind fake smiles, hide our keys, and hide our wallets.  Yet, when asked by others, “How are you doing?” we are always “fine”, the acronym for “failure to identify numerous emotions.”    


Yes, the toll addiction takes on family, friends, and loved ones is enormous and it is painful.  But, before you start thinking this is just a story of gloom and doom, I want to assure you, it is not.  There is help and, most of all, there is hope. 


By the time I made it to my first Al-Anon meeting, I was totally exhausted in every sense of the word.  I had no idea what to expect from this meeting, but from the moment I walked in the room, I felt safe. Though I did not know a single soul there, I knew them; and, I knew that they knew me.  We sat in a large circle and as we went around the room, person after person began to share their hope, strength, and experience. I can honestly say that even if no one had opened their mouth to speak a single word that night, and all we did was sit in a circle and stare at each other, I would have still felt at peace.  There is something calming, something reassuring, and yes, even something spiritual, about being in a room with a group of others who understand your fear and know your desperation.  I am not talking about “misery loves company.”  I am talking about “hope breeding hope.”


        Today, I continue my own recovery through my Al-Anon program.  Though I have not “arrived,” I am so much farther down the road than when I first started this journey.  For me, Al-Anon has been life-changing--a shelter from the storm, so to speak.


        I am not a spokesperson for Al-Anon, but I want to share with you just some of the things that I have learned.  Some of it I have learned through the Al-Anon literature.  Some of it I have learned through my own trial and error.  But, most of it I have learned from other Al-Anon members who faithfully show up week after week at meetings and share their own hope, strength and experience, so that people like me can also find hope and strength to go on.



I have learned that “if nothing changes...nothing changes.” And, whatever I am willing to tolerate will continue.


I have learned that though enabling the addict “feels” like love, it is actually  harmful and not helpful to the one I love.


I have learned that “letting go and letting God” is a huge step of faith for me, and though it was not always easy for me to do, it restored my sanity on more than one occasion.


I have learnedeven though pain in my life is unavoidable, misery is optional.


I have learnedthat turning my life and my will over to the care of God is something I have to do on a daily basis, and when I do that, my day goes a whole lot better.


I have learnedthat starting my day with prayer and meditation helps me stay focused on the solution and not the problem.


I have learned God never intended for me to shoulder the weight of the consequences of someone else’s poor choices or addictive behavior. 


I have learned it is not within my power to fix or change another person, and I breathe so much easier just writing that statement.


I have learnedserenity is a matter of choice and not chance.


I have learnedthe Twelve Steps of Recovery truly work, and it is an amazing way to live my life.


I have learnedforgiveness sets two people free – the one I forgive, and me.


I have learnedmy higher power, who I know as God, is almighty, loving, full of grace, and full of compassion.  He is a God who rescues, restores, and redeems.  He is a God of hope.



When my father passed away in 1982, he died a godly man with many years of sobriety.  By the grace of God, my husband has been clean and sober for more than 22 years.  Just as there is help and hope for the addict and alcoholic, there is

help and hope for those of us who love them.  For me, I found help and hope through Al-Anon.  No matter what you may be facing today, I pray you never give up and that you never, ever, lose hope.



© 2017 Barbara B.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 04 April 2017 04:22
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