I was washing conditioner out of my hair the last time Pete and I had an argument. He started to talk about his frustrations and I braced myself behind the shower curtain. There was some blame, some minimizing, a general lack of empathy and the conversation ended with me dripping wet in my towel, tears streaming down my face as I begged him to leave me alone.
“We’ll talk about it later” I sobbed.“But we never will.” He said as he left.
After that last discussion there were those typical days of awkwardness and chilly silence. I felt the impending doom of the next phase of Pete’s addictive cycle.“Maybe it’s time to totally let him go.” Scabs told me. “Let him fall.”
So I tried. And he did. A relapse, or slip or lost battle or whatever you want to call it. He had one. And then another and another, dutifully confessing them to me each time.
The first disclosure came on my way home from work. I said nothing. That night we sat at the kitchen table and he asked me if I wanted to talk about it.“No.” I said.
The first time was the hardest time. As he got up and walked out of the room it was all I could do to keep my butt in the chair. I wanted to chase after him, extend an olive branch, I wanted to reconcile. I wanted to ease his pain. I desperately wanted to feel close to him.
He told me that he didn’t think he had ever hit rock bottom. Part of me wonders if I have been the emotional safety net that has caught him above the depths of his stony pit. Validating, encouraging, comforting, engaging, participating.After each confession in the last two weeks I have tried to respond the same way. “Okay. Thanks for telling me.” No more emotionally exhausting, late-night conversations analyzing the relapse. No more questions about how it happened or how he handled it. No more invasion of his addiction. I’m on the sidelines this time. I’m not in the game, and I’m not even the coach.
Feeling a little nervous about this method of detachment I asked my counselor if it was healthy. She pointed out that my previous methods had done nothing to help Pete’s cycle of addiction, but more importantly my previous methods were not getting me to the place I wanted to be. After obsessively trying to detach the “RIGHT” way, she kindly pointed out that because all addicts and codependents are different, every method is going to be different. What is effective for one, might not be effective for another. When I told her about how I was letting it all go, almost completely, she smiled and said“Try it. See how it goes.”
The other night Pete asked me what I expected of him. I told him I had no expectations. For the first time I am not emotionally attached to any outcome. I expect, that tomorrow morning I will wake up. And I will live my life. I will do what makes me happy if I want to be happy. If he is not healthy enough to be a part of that, then maybe he’ll pursue recovery. Or maybe he won’t. But I’m not going to mope around about it. If I feel like being pleasant, I’m going to be pleasant.I’m not saying I don’t have my sad moments. But when I have them, I own them. They are not obligatory, and they are not a parallel of his. They are not an inevitable, uncontrollable response to his addictive cycle.
I don’t have to punish him by invoking the silent treatment. I don’t feel compelled to be in a sour mood toward him as a demonstration of my hurt. Nor do I feel responsible to make a soft place for him to land. I am totally relinquishing any responsibility I felt for his happiness.The other night I watched an episode of Parenthood where Sarah says to her teenage daughter
“I’m done trying to control you. It doesn’t work. I just don’t want us to be like this. I love you so much. I think I’ll just try and get along with you.”
And that about sums it up for me.