DIVORCE AND ADDICTION: A PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 02:48PM
Site Administrator in Counseling Articles

By Isaac Schaver, M.D.

Getting divorced is difficult. Getting clean is difficult. Getting both clean and divorced is downright painful! Yet, some people make it. If done for the right reasons, recovery from this "double whammy" can lead to a new and fulfilling life. I know from personal experience.

Let's take first things first, which means getting clean first. There can be no rational decisions, sound thinking, or good judgment while one is high or under the influence. A reasonable period of sobriety is a must before important decisions can be made.

So what does getting clean mean? And what does it take? Every user must ask him or herself the question, "Am I addicted?" (FACT: The substance can be alcohol, drugs, or any mood altering chemical that is assimilated into the body). How does one answer that question? The experts suggest a lot of answers, ranging from a detailed analysis of personal habits and patterns of behavior to "If you think you might be one, you probably are." Personally, I think that when someone continues to use in the face of negative consequences, one is addicted. If a person honestly answers "yes" to "Does using cause me difficulties?" and "no" to "Can I really stop when I want to," in my view, that individual is addicted.

Please note my emphasis on the word "honestly." Much like oil and water, honesty cannot coexist with "denial," the hallmark of addictive disease. And now for the kicker..... If a person is addicted, denial kicks in; if a person doesn't have denial, the person is not addicted! Therein lies the catch 22..........unless one can take advantage of what the recovery culture calls the "window of opportunity" which occasionally presents itself throughout the addictive cycle. For a variety of reasons, the addict experiences fleeting moments of clarity, realizing he has a problem, needs help, and can't do it alone. This "window," when externally generated, often takes the form of a police arrest for a DUI or other inappropriate behavior, job failure, financial ruin, serious medical diagnosis, abandonment by family and friends. The "bottoming out" experience, as it is called, is unfortunately the extreme that many addicts must reach to get the "reality check."

The temporary separation from the addiction and associated denial can afford the addict the brief opportunity to step up and get help. And quickly, before the heat is off, leaving the door open for denial to set in once again. A tip-off that the opportunity has passed can be heard in comments such as "Yeah, I could stop if I really want to, but I don't want to," or "I can drink socially, or use recreationally."

If you are like me, you'll do anything before admitting to being hooked. I tried it all: will power, psychotherapy, psychotropic medication, aversion therapy, scream therapy, EST, religion, to name but a few. Finally, my lowest and highest moments came when I lost everything to the addiction, and finally admitted that I was defenseless against drugs and alcohol. I found that giving up an addiction is not based on will power. For me, it was based upon a life commitment to Alcoholic Anonymous' 12 step program. I'm here (fortunately) to tell you that I'm not only recovering, but I'm a much happier and healthier person now than I was before I started using!

So, what does all this have to do with divorce? PLENTY! The addiction may have caused the marital problems, or marital problems may have aggravated the addiction. It doesn't really matter. What does count is the vicious cycle that addiction and marital problems cause. The addict becomes isolated and resentful of anything that hampers his using. He becomes withdrawn, deceitful, abusive, and cunning. The negative consequences of substance abuse are blamed on the "stresses of marriage," and the "burdensome" family becomes the scapegoat. The spouse, in turn, becomes resentful and insecure, wondering what he/she did wrong, and how things can be restored to the way they were before (the co-dependent dance). The spouse has the choice of enabling the addict further, or escalating the marital conflict to bring it to a close. In either case, the addict feels justified in using more. Both husband and wife get more desperate and resentful, and often one of the spouses lets go. This crisis again accelerates the addiction.

I was served divorce papers in a mental hospital where I was being treated for depression. So, not only had I lost my drug, I now lost my family! It was too much. I needed solace in the drink. The addiction thrives on internal messages such as, "Just when I needed her the most, she leaves," "I'm a bum, and she deserves better," and "What about the kids?"

This scenario is common, but the varieties are endless. One thing remains constant: the marriage only holds second place to the drug, and all members of the family are affected and sick. Ideally, recovery is best undertaken with the participation of family members, although many go it alone and succeed. For my marriage, sadly, it was too late. For my children, our bonds have strengthened. For me personally, I go at it one day at a time.

Article originally appeared on Divorce Online | Divorce Resources | Legal, Financial & Counseling | State Statutes (http://www.divorceonline.com/).
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