This is an email that my father sent to my boyfriend shortly after I had told him about my addiction. My father had only himself known about the drug taking for a few months but had a good idea of the extent of my previous alcohol problem. I think it provides an interesting perspective on addiction. It’s also particularly poignant as it was over a year ago, I haven’t ‘triumphed’ and am still as lost in addiction as ever.
I think the first thing to say is that it is very positive that Emily has told you what’s been going on. I expect that it was a horrible shock. The first step in dealing with addiction is for the addict to accept that there is a problem.
It’s also very good that Emily has told us about this because a lot of addictive behavior causes the person shame so they tend to be secretive about the behavior. This can cause already terrible problems to become worse because the person can’t get help, and because those who are close can be damaged by the things they don’t know about like no money, health problems or violence.
A lot of us are at risk from addiction. It might be alcohol, Nicotine, sex in it’s various forms, exercise, even wealth and power. I have a strong addictive streak like Emily.
We build our addictions through the idea of reward. We do something like have a drink or smoke a cigarette and we feel some relief, or we place a bet and win some money. The feeling of relief or the money are the reward. The reward makes us do it again. The more we do it the stronger the link between the behavior and the reward becomes. Unfortunately it’s also the case that the behavior has to become more extreme to get the same reward. A €5 bet becomes a €500 bet; a picture of a naked woman becomes a video of woman being tied up and assaulted; a glass of wine becomes a bottle of Vodka.
For alcohol and narcotics there is also the physical dimension of addiction. Withdrawal brings horrible feelings of anxiety and pain. Only more of the substance brings relief. This is the downward spiral of addiction.
For Emily as an individual there is the obvious complication of her mood disorder.
On the other hand the longer the person resists the temptation to seek the reward then the link between the behavior and the reward weakens. If you have tried giving up smoking you will know that the craving slowly becomes less. But you may also know that one cigarette can put you back to the beginning. And the risk of relapse is also always present and therefore must be guarded against.
What can you do?
It is essential to take it one day at a time. Because the “pull” of addiction is so strong the idea of doing without the “reward” for ever is too much to cope with. Better just to think, “can we get through today?”. One day at a time.
Be as consistent as possible. Take the rough with the smooth because if Emily is serious about facing this massive challenge it’s unlikely to be plain sailing.
Managing access to money is a good idea but in the light of what I’ve written already, addiction encourages secretive and dangerous behaviors. Heroin addiction is very powerful and the loveliest person can be powerless to behave normally. Addicts have been known to steal from their families, to sell anything and everything, to lie and to trick to get what they need if money is short. This is why it’s also so positive that Emily is being open with you; she wants to change and she trusts you.
Make sure that you both stay as well as possible by eating well. See if exercise can become a bit of a substitute.
Most importantly I would discuss with Emily and your Doctor the idea of professional help. I have no idea of the quality of “Specialist Drug and Alcohol” services in Germany but if they exist then you both need to think seriously about accessing any support on offer. Emily has made that essential first step but the journey is long and difficult and will have ups and downs.
In the UK there is AA for drinkers and Narcotics Anonymous for those addicted to drugs. There are similar groups for the families of addicts. Your doctor should have more information.
But Emily is brave and strong as well as beautiful so hope burns brightly!
P.S – Emily will need to speak for herself but the original “motivation” to start on such a risky, destructive and ultimately unsustainable path only she knows. We can guess that it may be a way to mask anguish and distress, it may be that she doesn’t value her own life, it may be a way of living that she has come to rely on. The difficulties of a “normal” life are too great to bear without “help”.
It’s important to say that we might feel that it’s because we’ve not provided enough help to Emily; that somehow we should have been able to rescue her and keep her safe. As her father I do feel this; as her partner you needn’t feel this. But you need to be aware that Emily’s addiction has been an ongoing theme all the time you’ve known her. Let’s pray that the “real” (sweet, intelligent, capable, energetic, hard-working and loving) Emily can triumph.