How to Survive a Breakup with an Addict and Heal Your Heart

“The positive cannot exist without the negative.” ~Alan Watts

My heart was empty. It had never felt that empty before. Sometimes I felt a gap gnawing at my chest making everything around me feel like half of a whole. I felt like a piece of me had died.

I painted my childhood bedroom grey that summer, picking out the color carefully after taping paint samples on the wall and pondering them for hours.

The old color gave me a headache; it glowed neon green and looked dirty now from years of feet on the walls. Hidden above the moldings, I found pencil drawings from when I was younger. Quotes and such that had meaning to me at one time, but now the point was lost.

These distractions were welcomed. They shifted my eyes from all the stuff I’d crammed in my parents’ dining room: a pile of boxes, a desk, a lamp, and some pictures that I had framed from old magazines I found at flea markets with him. This was all that was left of that life that I ended abruptly one night in April.

He was passed out drunk on the living room floor and I was alone. I had been for a while. So why was I waiting, hoping he’d wake up and be with me? Hoping to see a glimpse of that person that wasn’t consumed by the addiction.

That person was gone and that part of me, gone with it. I made extra noise packing my bag that night so that I would wake him. Tired and groggy, he got up and stood near the stove, squinting at me. Then crossing his arms, he turned away to stare out the window.

He was angry that I woke him. Never wake a sleeping drunk. They won’t care (even if they really do care). I don’t know why I woke him. I wanted to sling my bag over my shoulder and slam the door behind me, and I wanted him to see me do it. He threw his hands up at me—“Just go.” And he went back to the floor. Don’t wake a drunk and expect them to care.

The tears came out heavy as soon as my car door closed. I’m surprised I could drive through it. After eight years I was back at my parents’ house. Even if I knew deep down this was the best decision for me, it felt like defeat.

I had trouble doing even the smallest of tasks. I moped around in my bathrobe smoking cigarettes and lying on the brown leather couch for hours. Skipping meals and flipping through meaningless TV channels. It affected my work as well. I started taking more days off and I couldn’t focus. I had a plan to move forward, but the pain had rendered me paralyzed.

The thing about losing your best friend is that your best friend is not there to help you through it.

After I left, pieces of his old self started to appear to me in sober mid-day conversations. He didn’t ask me to come back, he knew I wouldn’t. And I knew not to be tempted by this side of him while the alcoholic still lurked around his mind.

The transformation into addict was so quick. Around year four we were both drowning in this addiction and consumed by it. Sometimes I wonder how it had even started. It was as though I woke up suddenly from a nightmare. I knew something had to change.

He had alcoholism in his family and had avoided it for years, and still it had come to this. I quit drinking around our sixth year. After two years of sober vs. drunk rivalry, he finally told me the truth. He would never quit.

It was like being stabbed in the chest; I couldn’t breathe.

After you leave alcohol behind, you realize how meaningless it is. In my eyes, he was choosing a stupid bottle over me. My self-esteem started to plummet rapidly.

I felt for a long time I was a broken person incapable of being fixed. But no one is broken forever. We are all capable of healing and moving forward into better phases of our lives.

This will be the hardest decision you ever half to make, to stay or go. When you are in love and have invested your time in someone, when you start to contemplate a different life, your emotions will be like a cruel game of tug of war.

You will start by downplaying how bad the problem is. If you are covering or lying to your family and friends for the addict, then there is a problem. I isolated myself for years just because I was embarrassed to admit how bad it had actually gotten.

I can’t tell you how many times I told my family my partner was just too tired or sick to come when in reality he was drunk or hungover. I wasn’t ready to face the reality that I needed to make a change. It took me a long time before I made the decision for myself.

You will feel guilty and you will be tempted to go back. You are leaving the person you love alone in the most vulnerable stage of their life. But you have to understand that you are not responsible for what they do with their life. You are not doing anything for them by staying with them while they choose to do this to themselves.

In many cases, people make the best decisions when they are at their lowest. The only thing you have to do is to make good choices for yourself. You should never feel guilty about removing yourself from a situation that is harming you.

You will feel anger. It’s been hiding underneath that unconditional love for a while, and it will surface. It is completely natural to feel angry. You hear all these stories about addicts who quit for love, who quit to save the relationship. But this is not always the case.

Just because this doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. To a person looking from the outside into the addiction it’s frustrating, because it seems like such a simple solution that benefits both sides—all they have to do is quit. But to someone that is in the addiction it’s so much more than that.

It’s as though the addict is blind, and he or she is the only one who can decide whether to see again. Quitting is a scary decision and it will be one of the hardest things they will ever do. The honest truth is it has nothing to do with you. You can beg and plead with them, but it’s still up to the addict to get help to release himself from the addiction. You are just an unfortunate casualty.

Through all the pain I felt from the breakup there was not any part of me that regretted the decision I made for myself. All of my experiences have made me who I am, and I have learned to love that person more than I ever thought possible.

Here are four tips on how to heal and become the best version of yourself.

1. Take the time you need to heal and get past the relationship.

I think a lot of people have expectations on how long it takes to grieve a relationship, but we all heal at our own pace. I often felt that my healing process was taking too long, but every step was necessary for me to become the person I am today.

I don’t care if it takes you years, as long as you realize that you will get over this.

Take time every day to meditate and allow yourself to feel anything you want, without guilt. These thoughts and feelings do not define you, these are things you can experience and then let go.

Express your concerns and fears to the people you are close to, who will listen to you. Talk to yourself, even out loud. Sometimes talking it out can help you work through your inner struggles and make sense of it all.

Be kind to yourself. Some days it may feel like you are not making any progress, but you are. Even if the healing is slow, you are moving forward with each day.

Listen to your needs and question your fears. Take the time to invest in you. Take the love you have and pour it back into yourself and your life. You will start to see your mind set changing as you allow yourself to be your true self.

2. Forgive them and create closure for yourself.

Everyone deserves forgiveness, and holding onto anger is only hurting yourself. This anger you feel toward the person, and the addiction that is consuming them, will make relationships harder in the future.

I learned this the hard way and carried a lot of resentment into potential new relationships. I also pushed a lot of people away because I was scared to open up. I had put so much of myself into my past relationship and I wasn’t sure if I could go through the heartache again.

Assuming that every new relationship would be like the last one was ruining anything that was potentially positive.

If you want to eventually find a healthy new relationship, it’s important to work through your feelings from your old relationship.

One thing that really helped me was telling my ex-partner how I felt. When I realized this, I was halfway across the world, but I knew I had to do something. So I wrote him a letter. There was something really freeing about writing everything I felt to him, and then hearing his response helped me heal on a different level.

Sometimes I think we are afraid to tell people how we actually feel, but it can be necessary for our growth. Be kind and be honest and let go of the outcome. You may get the response you’re hoping for, but it’s possible you won’t, and that’s okay. Even if your ex doesn’t give you closure, it is important to create closure for yourself.

3. Let go.

I believed for years that my ex would be in my life for the rest of my life. I had this idea in my head about the happy ending we would have. The addiction felt like a roadblock that I couldn’t tear down. I was frustrated that I couldn’t control it. I didn’t realize I was spending my energy trying to remove a roadblock from the wrong path.

We spend a lot of time and energy trying to control things when in fact it is impossible. We have this idea of how we would like things to be, but sometimes that is not the best path for us. Learning to let go of things I wanted to control freed me from the anxiety I was feeling and lifted a big burden from my shoulders.

Learning to let go takes time. We are wired to control and plan everything in our lives. For me, meditation, traveling, and writing helped.

By traveling, I was able to face my fears and get out of my comfort zone. Traveling put me in situations that I could not control. It helped me learn to trust the flow of life, knowing that there would be good things and bad things, and no matter what happened I would make it through.

Mediation helped even when I was still struggling in my relationship. It brought me to a world beyond the stress and helped root me when I felt my world was spinning in all directions. It helped me to understand that releasing control was the key to peace. It meant that I no longer was tied to worry about what was going to happen, or what happened in the past, and helped me focus on the present.

Writing has always been an outlet for me. When I write my worries and fears out, they seem to transfer from me to the page. Sometimes reading back after I’ve written them, the problems don’t seem so big anymore and I can take a step back and see more solutions.

Everyone has a different outlet that helps them let go. You just need to find what works for you. Whatever your outlet is, make sure you are passionate about it and you will you watch your worries fade away.

4. Follow your dreams.

It’s time to get excited about life! There’s a good chance that you put your personal growth on hold while in this relationship. Go back and find yourself again.

About a month after the relationship I realized I was so focused on the negative aspects of the breakup that I wasn’t seeing the potential path in front of me. Realizing that there may be something better out there for me was important for moving forward.

Separate yourself from the path that you had with your ex-partner and focus on the new path in front of you. Don’t worry too much about finding another relationship. Focus on finding purpose and passion, and love will find you.

Be someone who is hopeful and excited about the future. Remember, your experiences have made you strong and capable of creating endless possibilities for yourself and the future.

About Rebecca Hillard

Rebecca Hillard is a poet and fiction writer. Rebecca quit her job in immigration law two years ago to travel the world. She is currently in Australia and is the soon-to-be-author of an upcoming book. Diagnosed with a panic disorder at a young age, Rebecca is passionate about sharing her experiences with others and taking a creative approach to dealing with anxiety, depression, and addiction. Check out some of her writing here: instagram.com/becca_hillard.

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