Drug addiction and alcoholism are devastating diseases that affect many people’s lives. Watching a spouse’s struggle with addiction is confusing, frightening, and induces much anger for the entire family.
The focus is always on the person with the addiction, whether it is tiptoeing around their mood, praying they get better, making plans to avoid them, making plans to take their drugs or alcohol from them, and the list goes on.
It is all consuming, and being the spouse of a person with an addiction can cause one to lose sight of who they are as a person.
A strange level of uncomfortable familiarity
Many people who are married to people with addictions come from homes where one or both parents are, or were, addicted to a substance.
The cycle of addiction is devastating, but in a strange way there is a level of uncomfortable familiarity. So what happens when that focal person sobers up? When the spouse is sober and you feel walking on an unfamiliar territory.
Many spouses think life is going to go back to “normal” when you achieve having a sober spouse, and realize that “normal” is so uncomfortable, they do not know how to manage life. The very thing that was always the focus of their plans, their behaviors, the way they think, what they focus on, how they schedule their time it is no longer there.
Interestingly enough, being in a relationship with a person with an addiction trains the spouses to respond in certain ways, it trains them to think and manage their lives according to the person’s addiction. Once the person starts to recover, you encounter odd challenges of having a sober spouse.
Challenges of having a sober spouse
The spouse, when one partner gets sober, can be left with a void, guilt because there is still anger, and they want to be happy that something they wished and prayed for, now has happened yet, they are left with a mixed bag of emotions.
Identity crisis for the caregiving spouse
The person who has an addiction, when recovery starts, many times is typically deeply involved in treatment, therapy, twelve step meetings, a group of new friends, and a new found freedom. But what happens to the other spouse, when partner gets sober ?
Many times what happens is a “identity crisis” for the caregiving spouse, when the spouse is sober.
Often times, the marriage to a person with an addiction is a continuation of their parents’ marriage.
The person will not have the drugs or alcohol to blame, yet there is so much anger and pain left to deal with once someone gets sober. It is imperative for the success of the relationship for the spouse to seek outside help as well.
Al-Anon family groups are the sister groups of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step peer support groups. Al-Anon is peer support for family members of people with alcoholism, and other addictions.
They teach compassion for oneself, and keep the focus on personal recovery. It is a great resource for recovering from a family member’s addiction. Seeking additional counseling to work through the pain and anger, as well as building coping skills to deal with past, present and future issues is also very helpful.
Path of recovery for the spouse when partner is sober
Much like how the person with the addiction uses substance to cope with stress and emotions, the spouse many times uses the person’s substance use and behavior as a way to distract themselves from really looking into their own emotions, by .
There are professional counselors who work with families as well as spouses who have their own path of recovery. Remember that alcoholism and drug addiction is much more powerful than one person.
Reaching out to help, and being open to seeing a new way to live helps the entire family recover from the damage addiction has on the family system and most importantly on the partner, when spouse is sober.