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Divorce and Addiction – 3 Family Myths

Everyone wants to believe that they are in control of their own lives – at least most of the time.  Why is that?  First, the effort to control our personal environment can be seen as a necessary step toward accepting maturity and adult responsibility.  It makes us feel strong and effective.  But second – and probably most important – we as human beings hate uncertainty and like to plan instead toward an intended result.  The unknown is frightening.

For families who live with a loved one who is an addict it is no different.  They want to continue feeling that the life of their family is under control.  The need to feel in control can be so strong that they even fail to notice when things spin completely out of control.   Why is that?  It’s because they are still exerting so much energy to get things functioning well – efficiently and orderly – that they start to lose their own sense of perspective on reality.   They start to lose their personal, objective truth.

In order to maintain the delusion of control, family members frequently need to tell themselves the following things:

  1. I caused this (addiction), or at least contributed to it;
  2. So, I should be able to control it; and
  3. I can cure it.

Addicts may support these myths along with their family members, because keeping this belief structure in place will sustain the only pattern the addict is interested in – maintaining their addiction.  The emotional manipulation used by addicts supports these myths in subtle and not-so-subtle ways:  “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be this way” (guilt); or “If you would only take responsibility for all my financial worries, I could focus on getting better “ (sympathy); or, “If you really loved me, you would cut me some slack and see I’m doing my best – I’m changing” (hope).

It can be a cruel trap for loved ones to think their feelings of love for an addict can bring him or her back to health.  This love frequently takes the form of “doing more” for addicts (paying the bills, laundry, social obligations) but can also be well intentioned efforts to bolster self esteem or simply “make them feel better”.  Such acts can come from a sense of guilt (“maybe I could have tried harder”) or hope (“this time it feels like he/she really wants to get better”).

Perhaps there is one more myth of addiction as well.   That would be:

“Abstinence is the Solution”

Many addicts think, “I can quit any time I want” – which really means:  “I can stop and start again whenever it feels good”.  But simply stopping drug or alcohol use does not treat the underlying issues:  patterns of avoiding uncomfortable feelings and situations,  patterns of deception and loss of trust, and generally disordered thinking patterns.  Real recovery brings a deeper sense of emotional maturity, authenticity, integrity and intimacy to life for all family members.  It helps to find effective resources to begin true recovery.

Collaborative Team Divorce of Minnesota recommends that families facing both addiction and separation issues contact The Retreat in Wayzata to learn more about the family dynamics of addiction (  A good book to read regarding the disordered thought of addiction is:     Addictive Thinking:  Understanding Self Deception, by Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. (Hazelden Foundation, 1990).