Hitting Rock Bottom
About how a partner needs to hit rock bottom in order to ‘heal’, just like the alcoholic!
A very familiar expression in the field of alcoholism is Hitting Rock Bottom. It is generally assumed that the alcoholic has to get to this lowest point, his or her rock bottom, losing everything, which then might spark the realisation that this is not a way to live. This can be a strong inner force to seek help and stop drinking.
For this reason experts in the fields suggest to people who are living with an alcoholic to not sort things out for the alcoholic. For example, to not lie to their bosses, not to clean up their mess, not to give them money…
“Sometimes we have to reach rock bottom before we’re willing to rise up and overcome our trials.”
My personal story
I had to learn this when I was still living with my alcoholic partner. I did make excuses when he did not show up to teach a group of students in a school and I made excuses when we could not come to family events because of him being drunk. I do remember how that made me feel. It was a mixture of nurturing him, a feeling of protection – I did not want others to judge him, but there was also a part of me that felt really sick. I don’t like telling lies and in fact I cannot tell a lie with a straight face. The excuses for my ex were usually over the phone, so that was easier. Those moments also consumed me. It drained my energy because of the worries that came with it, such as not knowing where he was or, whether he was coming home, wondering how much he would drink and whether he would become aggressive.
When he was drinking he always managed to make it seem as I was to blame for whatever went wrong. And sometimes it felt like that. When I confronted him, deep down inside I always knew what the outcome was… a verbal attack about how everything was my fault, what a horrible person I was, how stupid I was and usually he managed to find exactly those words that hurt me most, to then walk out of the door and often not coming back for the night, leaving me sick with worries. It felt like everything inside of me was broken.
I started to learn how to avoid these confrontations. When he was in a drinking mode it was best to not say anything and just let him do whatever he wanted. At least then there were no arguments, no painful verbal abuse. Just loneliness and sadness and the never ending worries. Looking back at those years I can hardly believe how much I used to cry. On my own, in our bed, when cooking, when eating…. when writing down my feelings and when talking about my situation with some very good friends. But I also started to feel more and more lonely and isolated. My life was no longer about me, although it felt like it was about my pain, my worries and my sadness, the reality was that my life was about him. Everything I did was done with him in mind.
A different country
We moved to Spain to try our luck and he managed to get a good teaching job. In the Netherlands I was fairly well established in the Dutch gallery scene but in Spain it was hard to become part of the art scene. Apart from doing my art work I also had to start working as a translator from Dutch to English to help pay for our bills. I worked from home and my ex also became my proofreader. Something he was very good at. We became even more dependent on each other. He needed me to get the translation work so he could do the proofreading and I needed him as my proofreader.
There were often periods that he wasn’t drinking, which were the best, but it never lasted. It affected my life in every way. There was a large part of me that did not want to leave him, we were so entangled both in work and being together in a foreign country, where we didn’t know anybody. Even though my life was very difficult at the time, I knew I wasn’t ready to give up on him and on us. The truth is, I hadn’t hit my rock bottom as yet!
We were together for twelve years, six years of living together as partners, followed by six years officially split up, but in which we continued our codependency existence in what we called a ‘special friendship’. He lived, more often than not, on the sofa in my house when he had yet again reached a moment of crisis which made him lose his rental place. These periods were always during the summer holidays. Being a binge drinker who only drank during the weekends and during holidays most crisis moments were in those days where he didn’t have a work commitment. Especially during the long summer holidays. However, after these intense, twelve long years, it became clear to me that I had no more excuses left. We split up for good. I had hit my rock bottom!
“The purest form of faith happens when you reach the bottom of your reasoning and find there is nothing that you can do that will make sense out of what you have been through.”
Hitting rock bottom as a partner
I believe that if you are finding yourself in a codependency situation, where your life is no longer about you but about the other person with an addiction, you also have to get to a rock bottom situation. A moment when you realise that your life has become totally dysfunctional, the moment when you know, deep down inside, that your excuses and your thinking that everything will be OK are behaviour patterns which have contributed to the situation. Only after hitting rock bottom you are ready to make the change and start living a new life without your addicted partner.
The only way is up
It won’t be easy as you will experience a sensation of withdrawal. In a sense you were addicted to the addict, being so used to taking care of everything, sorting out the problems, and not looking after yourself. However, you will also find out that letting go of your old life will open new doors. When you start focusing on yourself and put all that energy into your own future, instead of that of your alcoholic partner, things will change. Hitting rock bottom can totally wake you up and make you realise that if you’re not happy and doing well, you cannot truly be there for others. Especially when there are children involved. This is something important to realise.
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
There is only one way to go and that is up, it is the start of building a new life again. The wounds might take a while to heal, but they will. And when you look back at your situation a few years later you will be able to see that it was the hitting rock bottom that spurred you into creating a new, meaningful life and thus something you can be really grateful for.
My name is Renate van Nijen. I am a Dutch born, artist and writer living in Southern Spain. On my website, www.renatevannijen.com you can find more information about my books, including about Cheers, the hidden voices of alcoholism, and my art. If you are affected by the drinking of a loved one please feel free to subscribe to my blog and you will get instant access to two chapters from Cheers! I will also upload one chapter of my book every month!