I read somewhere that you meet people for a reason: you need them to change your life or you will change theirs.
But it is arrogance that has us believe we wield any such power over anyone's life.
Because no one can ever really change anyone. And as flattering as it is to be called an angel, it is often the other way around. We are not the angels, they are – our angels of death, put in our lives to kill us and through that death set us free.
It was a bottle of champagne, a gift from well-meaning friends that I was unable to leave behind. "Let's keep it in the car for now." "What would your AA buddies say?" But nothing worked.
His face tightened, a black shadow took over and he looked like he would break anything – including me – that came between him and the bottle. And in the months that followed, he did.
I have learned a lot since that cold winter day. For one, there were no AA buddies; he had lied about being sober. But also that nothing is ever in the past. The past is a demon that, unless exorcized, follows us our whole lives. It mutates and disfigures and takes on different appearances. It disguises itself in quirks that are tolerable in our twenties, but as we get older it starts burning away at our core, singeing us and anyone we get close to.
I have learned that no one can change anybody else. No matter how strong your love, if someone is not motivated to help themselves, no matter how much they beg you, you cannot do the work for them.
It was time to walk away, to turn the focus away from his disease and onto myself.
You see, the thing about addictions is that there is so much more to them than the actual act. Drinking is just the tip of the iceberg; alcoholism is a disease of the mind. What breaks you eventually is not the alcohol entering the bloodstream but the diseased behaviour -- the lying, the cheating, the anger and the denial. It is the abusiveness, the blaming of others, the aversion to routine and discipline, the refusal to take responsibility and the excesses which spill over into every other aspect of their lives. It is the cloudy, muddled thinking, the missing inner compass, the dissolving of all sense of wrong and right, that makes this disease as destructive as it is.
Yes, his disease was apparent to most people who knew him. But what about me? Why had I failed to see the signs that were clear to everyone else? What was it in me that made me close my eyes to the shaking of the hands, the sweating, the lack of energy, the fluctuating moods and the constant lying? Why had I made excuses to justify his trouble with the law, the plummeting relationships and careers? Why had I been drawn to a man -- once more -- who was a taker?
It was time to walk away, to turn the focus away from his disease and onto myself. It was easy to see what was wrong with him. But what about me? What huge areas of my own self lay unexcavated? Why the deep desire to help someone who, despite making all the right noises, did not want to be helped? How unhealthy was my willingness to put someone else's needs before my own, expending all my energy worrying about him, shifting the focus away from what was important to me to what I thought he needed?
His disease was evident. But what was my disease? What was I unable to cut out of my life even though I knew it harmed me? Without a doubt, I too harbored a malady -- perhaps not as obvious as his but one equally as cunning as it lay lurking in the dark corners of my life like cobwebs, invisible to most.
It was time to start the journey -- not just away from him but into my own self. It was time to start uprooting and expunging those beliefs about myself that had consistently attracted damaged men. Limiting beliefs that came from generations of misogyny, notions of women having to settle, compromise and compensate for others' weaknesses, whispers in corridors, disapproving headshakes, raised eyebrows ... how we internalize that which so many others ignore and allow those impressions to create our reality.
I was not a victim. I was a willing accomplice, an active participant who had manifested a toxic man in my life through her own thought patterns. And it was not the first time. There was much that would have to be brought to the surface.
I had no idea where this journey would take me. All I knew was that there was so much more energy left for myself when it was not spent making sense of someone else's turmoil.
It would be a long journey. But I had taken the first step. And that -- in simple terms -- meant acknowledging that my old approach did not serve me anymore.
A lot has happened since that cold December day. And as I keep saying, I have learned a lot. But first and foremost, I took the first step: I learned to surrender to the fact that I was powerless over somebody else's addiction and, because of that, my life had become unmanageable.
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