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“There is no emergency kit for marriage...

No neat plan you can turn to when

the ground shifts under your feet.”

—Michelle Richmond

living with an addict


Few experience the level of confusion, betrayal, and devastation as those who are hurt by the ones they love most. If you are a partner, sibling, adult child, parent, friend, etc. living with an Addict of any kind, your life probably feels out of control at best, in a tailspin at worst. It can feel like the very ground beneath you has shaken. Nothing feels stable.


does this sound familiar?

  • Extreme and rapid mood swings/irritability

  • Increased depression (lethargy) and/or anxiety (hyperarousal)

  • Shut down, numb, or checked out

  • Disturbed sleep (insomnia, nightmares, etc.)

  • Checking behaviors and ruminating (spinning) thoughts

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, aches, and pains, etc.

  • A constant sense of tension and mistrust in your relationship with the Addict

  • Guilt and resentment (often simultaneously)


Spend ten minutes watching television, and it's clear that there is plenty of help for the Addict once they decide to get sober. There are meetings and support groups, elaborate treatment centers, and endless professionals who specialize in addiction.


But who is there for you?

Those living with an addict in their life are often expected to focus on, and support, the addict’s recovery while their own very traumatic experience is overlooked or minimized. When they are unable to express the appropriate support for the addict's progress, addiction and psychotherapy professionals often label them as "co-dependent," implying that their behavior played some role in the addict’s behavior. They are often expected to move into forgiveness, understanding, and support without any acknowledgement of the effects of the crisis on them, the relationship, or other family members.

Be clear: co-dependency is an addiction to trying to fix someone. Many symptoms of co-dependency may match a Partner's, and maybe you have always had some qualities that qualify in the category of co-dependency. But living with an addict creates an environment that is unsafe and insecure. You're walking on eggshells, waiting for the next shoe to drop. You are pathologized for your efforts to "control" or check on the addict's activities. You're reactive and angry, depressed and anxious. This behavior can be, but is not necessarily "co-dependency." It can be an understandable response to the relational trauma that occurs when your world feels unstable. People who live with an addict are constantly looking for safety. These symptoms are those of a wounded partner, family member, child or friend desperately seeking safety. And that's normal.


The saddest part about this dynamic is, in the wake of all of this neglect, relationships often explode, end, break, or become irreparably wounded. Broken relationships are never in the best interest of the Addict or anyone else.


Addiction is a relationship disease.


The Addict isn't the only victim of Addiction. Everyone around the Addict is a victim. Sobriety is not enough. In order for the relationships with an Addict to survive and thrive, both Addict and those living with an Addict in their life must be allowed to wholly and completely heal from the experience together with a "felt sense," in order to create a renewed sense of safety.

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