A reader named Steve writes in and asks:
“What do you do when you have a couple who has admitted their problem of addiction….and have isolated themselves from friends and family, but yet continue to feed off one another?”
I suppose I have lived in this situation before as one of the people who was addicted and in a relationship. Based on that experience I can tell you this much: don’t expect both people to get clean and sober at the same time.
It would be natural for us to imagine this happening with a couple — that they might decide to get sober together and make it work out. But the truth of the matter is that it almost never works out like that.
Look at it like this: people grow at different rates. And many addicts struggle for decades, maybe for over half of their life, trying to get clean and sober. What are the odds that 2 people are going to get clean at the same time? It’s not a realistic proposition.
Consider also the intense level of surrender that is needed to get clean. You can’t just have a half hearted commitment to sobriety and expect it to work. And yet with 2 people deciding to get clean together, one of them is inevitably NOT going to be at this state of surrender. That’s because true surrender that is needed for recovery is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is not something that is arrived at lightly. Some people lose their job, their marriage, their home, their car, and they are still not ready to surrender to the disease.
So just because one person in a relationship decides to get sober, does not mean the other person will lean towards sobriety with any greater conviction. Remember that getting clean is an all-or-nothing kind of event; a ground shaking experience for anyone who goes through with it. It is pretty much inconceivable that 2 people would arrive at this point at the same time in their lives.
And the point I am really trying to make here is this: if you have two struggling addicts, and one of them hits bottom and surrenders and decides to make a change in their life, this will have NO lasting impact on their partners decision to do the same. None whatsoever.
Now it is true that the partner might make an attempt to get clean at this point, but unless they go through this very personal process of surrender in their life, then they are not going to maintain any sort of meaningful sobriety.
This level of surrender and this idea of hitting bottom is not something you can just decide to do one afternoon.
So I would say that all the basics of helping addicts still apply here in this situation: encourage treatment, attend Al-Anon meetings yourself, don’t enable the addict or rescue them, don’t deny them of their pain and consequences of using drugs, and so on. But just realize how unrealistic it is for a couple to get clean and sober at the same time. It almost never works this way so don’t necessarily expect that or count on it.
Realize that one of them will probably come to terms with their addiction first and seek help. The other person might follow later on but just realize that they would have to go through their own process of surrender, completely separate from their partner.
So just be aware of this concept and use the basic guidelines mentioned above. Good luck….