My partner and I both struggle with addiction; his is alcohol. Mine is cigarettes. Neither is particularly easy to overcome, and while we both want to, we continually find ourselves in different phases of “quitting”. Which leads to us actually helping each other justify our slips and bad decisions instead of helping each other stay strong and overcome.
Recently, though, I ran across some information that has changed the whole dynamic of our respective addictions in our relationship and that has been the most beautiful thing.
Have you heard about the Rat Park study? It’s really rather incredible. In my understanding, the basic premise is that the root of addiction is not necessarily a chemical-brain thing. It appears to be more closely linked to the degree to which each of us feels alone and caged. With friends around and some sense of freedom, addicted rats partook of the available drug much less. Voluntarily. This information by itself was not only fascinating to me, it also felt like a relief, another way to understand myself and my desire that didn’t leave it as hopeless as an “illness” I’d essentially given myself over the past decade.
But the really incredible thing, for me, was the way it changed the way I interacted with my partner and his addiction. It didn’t take much reflecting to realize that I had been trying to “help” him – which often likely felt more like parenting him. I was contributing to his CAGE! I immediately resolved to be more of a friend to him. After all, he IS my best friend. I just focused on loving him, and tried to treat him the way I would a friend. If he had a few too many, I was kind, and friendly. I took care of my own ‘stuff’ and loved loved loved him. And you know what? It worked almost immediately.
I could – and honestly would rather like to – go into a long analysis of what all of this means, what it represents, but I’ll spare you the boredom and the time. In a nutshell, it has completely changed the way we are together, the way I support and love him, and there is so much more peace and joy in our home. Not only that, but it has helped me with my own addiction. I’m trying to be a better friend to myself too. When I have a slip I don’t shame myself, I remind myself that I’ve done really well overall, and I continue to do better and better. When I feel myself caving, I find a non-smoking friend, or something to do that makes me feel free and empowered. And those are the best feelings of all.