The hardest decision I ever made was whether to let my drug addict husband leave or to try to keep the family together for my son. I was raised Catholic and no one in my family had been divorced. I didn’t want to be a single mom and I didn’t want my son to grow up without his father. But my life was becoming unmanageable.
When my husband was transferred to the Northwest from Arizona, I thought the move would help him get away from all his druggie friends. Did I think they didn’t have drugs in the Northwest?
My Dad was an alcoholic and growing up I thought if I just loved him enough, he would stop drinking. I was able to let go of that craziness when I moved out at 18. When I married I thought if I loved my husband enough and was the perfect wife, he would give up the drinking and the drugs and become the perfect husband and father.
All of the love songs said, “love is the answer,” “all we need is love,” and “love makes the world go round”. Why wasn’t my unconditional love enough?
After we moved I struggled with the dark days in the Pacific Northwest. They were a depressing contrast to the sunny desert. I worked as a sales rep but was alone with my son most evenings because my husband was out “entertaining” for his job. His credit card bills were over $4000 a month. Thank God, his company paid for most of it, but every month was a struggle to make the bills.
One morning after he had been out all night he called to say he had driven up the river with some friends the night before to see the falls. That was it for me. I was done. I told him to get out. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I would figure out a way to take care of my son somehow.
What I finally realized was that I was not doing him any good — that I had actually created a monster. I never once objected to his late nights or the thousands of dollars spent on cocaine and booze. Many times I called his office when he was hung over and lied that he had the flu.
All of this I did under the guise of trying to love him enough. I was the perfect codependent.
Ross Rosenberg says it the best in his book, The Human Magnet Syndrome, Why We Love People Who Hurt Us, that “when a codependent and narcissist come together in their relationship, their dance unfolds flawlessly: the narcissistic partner maintains the lead and the codependent follows. Their roles seem natural to them because they have actually been practicing them their whole lives. The codependent reflexively gives up their power and since the narcissist thrives on control and power, the dance is perfectly coordinated. No one gets their toes stepped on.”
And so for me “the dance” went on for years until I said, “no more.”
Out on his own, my husband struggled for a few years and did some time in jail, but eventually he remarried, had a daughter and started a successful software company. He has remained clean and sober.
My way of “loving” him did not help him get his life together. We had the perfect codependent relationship. My part was huge in keeping the insanity going.
In my second marriage I began “the dance” all over again. With the help of counseling I learned how to step away from my role in the crazy dance by detaching. No amount of love can make someone do what you want them to do or stop them from what they want to do.
I finally realized this truth along with my part in the relationship: Once I began forgiving myself, I was able to love myself enough not to put up with the abuse anymore.
In Karen Casey’s book, Let Go Now, Embracing Detachment, she explains that “making the decision to detach from a loved one may well be the most important, as well as the kindest, gift we can give ourselves. Ever.”
When we step back and see the situation without the emotion, we learn to see our part in the drama. As we remove ourselves from “the dance” we realize this is the most loving thing we can do for them and ourselves.
Love IS the answer. But it is love of ourselves that makes all the difference.