Therapist in Los Angeles
Darren Haber PsyD

Addiction Division

There is a saying in recovery:
judgment wounds, mercy heals ...
mercy unites, judgment divides.

There is a saying in recovery: judgment wounds, mercy heals…mercy unites, judgment divides. How true for an alcoholic marriage or romantic relationship. I see it in my office too often: a couple comes to me for help, one partner struggles to control his or her drinking or using while the "co-alcoholic" tries to control the partner. The relationship is built on addictive logic which is, in short, it's my partner's fault. If only he / she could pull it together and quit drinking / using (or nagging/controlling), we'd be fine. Often I hear things like, Well if you lived with her, you'd have to drink, or, I have to look after him every second, otherwise he'd set fire to the place!

The dark irony is, of course, that while each person is pointing the finger, a dark pit of self-loathing smolders within. The finger-pointing is only a projection of the person's own agony and self-doubt, which if it were verbalized might sound like, Why can't I pull it together? Why am I such a screw up? Why can't I figure this out? Why am I so miserable? If my partner loved me, he/she would stop drinking/using/controlling/monitoring.

From my perspective, what is destroying the relationship is addiction (or alcoholism) itself. The disease is an invisible saboteur, a transparent terrorist hiding in plain sight. Each partner is, in fact, powerless over the other, and the corrosive doubt and fear lurking within.

Addiction feeds on fear. Most of the time, the "co" addict has a history of loving other addicts, may be the child of an alcoholic, while the user/drinker has often been struggling with control for a while, or has a history of it in their family that (they hope) will not be repeated. Each needs to confront those inner demons before the relationship can be repaired. The other person is not the devil. The devil is the disease.

And the disease's agenda is clear: divide and conquer. How pleasing to the disease when partners turn on each other with hostile fury. (The same could be said for alcoholic families.) The division is between and within each of them. Head becomes divided from heart, and heart from hope…fertile soil for emotional ruin. The cycle continues through years and generations until someone has the humility or opportunity to finally cry uncle and ask for help.