The Challenges of Recovery - Focusing on our own Stuff

One of the hard realities I've learned on my journey is that sometimes recovery means things get more difficult for awhile. As my husband and I have worked our separate programs and gotten healthier as individuals, there have been times it seemed as though the strain on our marriage got worse. I didn’t expect that. Three years down the road, things can still take a stressful and emotional turn.

One of the hard realities I’ve learned on my journey is that sometimes recovery means things get more difficult for awhile. As my husband and I have worked our separate programs and gotten healthier as individuals, there have been times it seemed as though the strain on our marriage got worse. I didn’t expect that. Three years down the road, things can still take a stressful and emotional turn.

The most recent of these times was the night Paul was to officially work Step 1 with his mentor. He had prepared a written document which he printed to take with him. Unbeknownst to him, our computer printed the document twice—one copy Paul grabbed and took with him; the second printed after he walked away from the computer, and got left behind.

When I got home that evening to relieve the sitter, I saw papers sitting in the output tray of the printer. Thinking that she had printed a homework assignment and accidentally left it, I quickly picked it up and started for the door so that I could try to catch her before she pulled out of the driveway. Glancing at it as I hurried across the room, I immediately realized that it was not high school homework. It was Paul’s Step 1 work! I should have put it back on the printer immediately, or on his bedside table, as I had become accustomed to doing if I came across anything related to his recovery work. I’ve learned the hard way that if I’m going to focus on my own recovery, I cannot let myself slide back into the maddening habit of “search and destroy” that used to rule my life. I knew that anything related to Paul’s recovery process was a huge trigger for me. Despite this, I made a conscious decision to read it, rather than lay it back down.

What a mistake! What I read wounded me very, very deeply, and threw me way back into a state of questioning things: things about my husband; about my marriage; and about everything he had ever told me, from the time we met until now.

Later, I confessed to Paul what I had done. But that didn’t end the codependency that had instantly reignited within me. For the next couple of days I spent my free time searching our computer files, and reading everything I could find that was related to his recovery.

I knew, of course, that this was not a healthy thing for me to do, but it took those two miserable days for me to reach a place where I managed to stop. When I did, I again told Paul about my relapse into my own addictive/co-addictive behaviors. I also made a pact with my accountability partner and promised to remain more responsible to her about my co-addiction.

Paul and I also talked extensively about what I had read. I told him that there were things there that I should have been told previously—things that I had a right to know. There was much in what I had read that I had to come to terms with, as well—attitudes reflected in Paul’s written step work that I didn’t recognize as the man I had loved for ten years. Those attitudes left me feeling that I had been used and manipulated from the first day we met.

I am grateful for Paul’s willingness to patiently talk with me, and to work through my reactions to what he had written, and I had read. Through our discussions, I came to realize that these attitudes and insights were just beginning to surface in Paul’s consciousness, so they were new for him, as well. He was learning to recognize and own them for what they really were, rather than the dressed-up, sanitized version of history that he’d created with his denial.

Through his willingness to talk honestly and patiently with me I also came to see that there was nothing in what he had written that he would not have told me at some point. Had I left his step work alone and stuck to my own recovery plan, I would have heard them later when Paul had had more time to come to terms with his own reality. He would have then shared that reality with me in a much more appropriate and gentle way, rather than me reading his Step 1 work, in which he was being brutally honest with himself in admitting how the addiction completely took over his life and his decision making process. That document was not meant for eyes other than his own and his mentor’s because of its frank, blunt language. I had briefly and painfully derailed my own recovery process by reading it.

Yes, I needed to know much of what that document contained. I had a right to. And, had Paul been showing any signs of being deceptive or withholding information from me, or any of his old acting out behaviors, I would have had the right to do whatever I felt was necessary to find out what was going on. But, none of that existed. When he was actively in his addiction, he was very careful about not leaving things where they could be stumbled upon by accident. All his files on the computer were password-protected, and he would act “sneaky”. None of these behaviors were present, so the situation did not fit the criteria we’d agreed upon that would allow me to do what I did.

I’ve picked myself up and gotten back on track. I have been able to redirect myself when I’ve felt tempted to search through Paul’s things since then. I’ve found that doing something productive for me is a good way to redirect my attention. And, as always, God has used a situation that hurt me tremendously, to help me learn important lessons. I learned first hand how honest Paul is finally being with himself after years and years of self-deception. I wish I had found this out in a different way, but at least I will carry this whole experience as a reminder to do it differently next time. The event also serves as a reminder that I need to work my own program—that I can sabotage myself by choosing to give in to my own addictive behaviors, just as easily as Paul can. I hate that. I like to be in the right. I admit it. But part of our process of letting go of responsibility for their behaviors is focusing on and taking responsibility for our own. If we do not do that, and are only focused on their stuff, we cannot heal, and will repeatedly be thrown back into the mire of our pain. I learned that the hard way. Hopefully, you won’t have to.