*This is Part II of a two-part piece. See Part I “The ‘House Drunk’— Irrelationship and Addiction” if you haven’t read that yet.
Well, your fingers weave quick minarets
Speak in secret alphabets
I light another cigarette
Learn to forget, learn to forget
Learn to forget, learn to forget
The Jig’s Up
The only hidden aspects of Ray’s mother’s drinking and his relationship with it were how dangerous the drinking had become and Ray’s complicity in it.
“Memory is remarkable. Something long thought to be forgotten is revealed to have been right there the whole time, working its 'magic' from behind the curtains.”Grant
Ray’s mother played a classic irrelationship role as Audience for Ray’s performance: she acted as if his efforts to reduce the damage caused by her drinking were helpful. In fact, she played the role so well that for a time she believed it. In reality, neither her drinking nor its ill effects were getting better. They weren’t even in a holding pattern — it was getting worse by the day.
As I got older I felt like I was the last one standing–like I was the only one who hadn’t been completely worn down by my mother’s drinking. On the other hand, her drinking was convenient: It explained my non-involvement in the hard parts of being a teenager. I hated sports but nobody had to know. Asking girls out wasn’t an option, so I didn’t have to feel bad that nobody would go out with me. The “feeling different” thing was such a normal part of my life that I basically ignored it. I just didn’t have a life, but I could constantly tell myself that the reason I could never do anything was because my mother needed me.
As happens to people with Substance Use Disorders, Ray was missing out on life. He was also missing out on properly developing through key formative years, missing age-appropriate learning and growth opportunities left and right, and creating a debt he would have to repay in the future. That included learning to date, share intimacy and partner with another person, as well as more self-oriented developmental milestones like being confident, being about to tap into his full personal resources in work, play and love, and knowing himself from the inside out.
Many who have dealt with alcoholism in their families participate in programs like Al-Anon to help them accept and deal with their powerlessness over loved-ones’ drinking. Similarly, recovery from irrelationship means accepting our inability to control our “irrelationship” connection the same way we can’t control other people.
“Heavy drinking can help us to ignore intimacy problems, including irrelationship; while irrelationship can make confronting a partner’s drinking off limits.”Daniel
To recover, we need to surrender old approaches to relationship problems in favor new ways of being with others. These “new ways” involve learning techniques for jointly working through issues and solving problems rather than avoiding dealing with them by relegating them to denial, dissociation or threats to leave or destroy the relationship. Those old habits die hard, making things worse.
At first, I saw my mom’s sobriety as a way out. I had no clue that somehow the way we were living went against my desires. The fact was we were both fighting against thinking about anything like that.
For an alcoholic, losing the caretaker role can be a major shock when the alcoholic becomes sober. The caretaker feels cheated and betrayed as he sees the recovering person putting a life together without help from he who had labored, suffered, and denied himself when his loved one was drinking. He is given no credit, thanks nor payoff, which can lead to serious resentment that all his hard work was for nothing.
I didn’t have a clue how much I depended — yes, depended — on my mom’s drinking — until she got sober. My mission in life had been to keep my mom safe. But that mission also kept me safe from getting close to anybody else. Did I know that her drinking was actually hurting me? Maybe, on some level, but I never, ever, let myself think about that. The payoff from her drinking was too important. It kept everything out of sight that I wasn’t ready to deal with.
…Of Happy Destiny
Ray didn’t know it, but he needed his mother’s addiction to survive. In irrelationship, they created and shared their own personal language — “speak in secret alphabets” — that they lost when his mother broke the implicit covenant by turning to others for help. The conditions of the unspoken irrelationship arrangement required his mother to stay addicted. It required Ray to keep trying to fix her problems in order to maintain the defensive system dissociating away all that anxiety.
“What does that mean, that it’s a road of — not to — happy destiny?”Mark
This is essentially what happens to the person invested in irrelationship when their partner figures out that they want something else out of life besides their carefully scripted song-and-dance routine. Smash, boom! When that partner starts to step away from their routine, all the old anxiety the routine was created to push away comes flooding back in like it was never gone in the first place.
When my mom quit drinking, she could tell that I wasn’t a hundred percent happy about it at first. Kinda weird, huh? Sometimes she actually sneaked off to meetings or lied about where she was going. Funny thing was, when she quit, I discovered how much I liked drinking. Part of me knew I was drinking to get rid of the pain because she’d “abandoned” me! I finally ended up in AA too, but it took some time before I could admit that I actually resented it when my mom quit drinking. Long story short, I started going to Al-Anon to deal with the fact that my mother was an alcoholic who didn’t drink anymore! In AA, they call people like me “double-winners” because we learn to deal with our own drinking and our loved one’s too. But I went one better: my mom and I also got rid of the irrelationship stuff that kept us from seeing any of this as a problem. I think that makes me a triple-winner!
Ray’s story seems off the beaten path of irrelationship, but it isn’t. His story shows us how substance dependence can aggravate irrelationship and irrelationship can feed addiction. It shows us how they overlap considerably while differing in important ways. We hope we can help our readers to learn from others’ experiences so they can move forward more easily, with less pain and fear. We don’t think we can simply fix anyone (real relationship is, after all, something that we do together), but together we may be able to pick a better path to walk down — to trudge the road of happy destiny.