Those on the receiving end of addiction are often left dealing with a sense of betrayal, hurt, and uncertainty. Addiction hits at the core of a woman’s relationship and often at the center of her soul. After learning of a partner’s addiction many women report that the relationship now feels false and empty. The partner of the addict is often left feeling vulnerable and disoriented. She will naturally ask, “Who can I trust? Who will be there for me now?” The betrayed spouse does not know where to turn and will often struggle alone. The partner’s identity, security and stability are destroyed. This type of trauma shatters the internal world of the spouse of an addict. All aspects of her life are affected. Her ability to function with employment, household duties, and parenting is disrupted. Her sense of herself is altered. Often her spirituality is impacted. The experience can fall into the category of trauma.
Response to trauma can vary widely, and may include any of the following:
- Fear and/or anxiety
- Outbursts of anger or rage
- Sadness and/or depression
- Hypervigilence (excessive alertness or watchfulness)
- Worrying or ruminating
- Intrusive thoughts of the trauma
- Tendency to isolate oneself
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Feelings of panic or feeling out of control
- Increased need to control everyday experiences (parenting, cleaning, dieting)
- Difficulty trusting or feelings of betrayal
- Feelings of self-blame or responsibility
- Flooding of feelings and/or emotional numbness
- Feelings of helplessness
- Minimizing the experience
- Feelings of detachment
- Concern over burdening others with problems
- Under- or overeating (weight loss or weight gain)
- Shock and disbelief
- Diminished interest in everyday activities
- Preoccupation with body image
Partners are sometimes surprised that reactions to the trauma last longer than they expected. It may take months or even years to fully regain a sense of balance and equilibrium. Too often partners feel that they need to just “get over it” when in reality most partners need support to “get through it.” Research indicates that one of the keys of successfully working through trauma is the level of support an individual has. Many women feel isolated and it can be said that often “when an addict comes out of the closet his partner goes in.” Therefore it is important for the partner to find a safe place to talk about her experience..
Another tool to work through trauma is to focus on “self-care.” Self-care involves finding helpful coping strategies that assist in nurturing oneself at a very difficult time of life. Some examples might include:
- Connecting and talking with others, especially with those who share similar stressful experiences.
- Allowing yourself to feel and express emotions such as anger, sadness, hurt, and fear, which are all common emotions at a time of crisis.
- Engaging in physical movement and/or exercise to deal with the stresses of the trauma.
- Participating in relaxation activities like yoga, meditation, stretching, or massage.
- Seeking plenty of rest. Often sleep is disrupted and as much as possible it is important to maintain a normal sleep cycle.
- Writing about the experience in order to begin the process of sorting through the details and emotions of the events.
- Maintaining spiritual practices such as praying, meditating, and attending religious meetings or gatherings.
- Taking relaxing baths or showers
- Listening to calming and uplifting music.
Just like anyone who has been through a traumatic event it is important that you treat yourself with gentleness and patience. If possible, try not to make major life changes at this time, as thinking and judgment may not be as clear as usual. And again, seek support and information about addiction as this is a very difficult experience to navigate by oneself.
Dorothy Maryon, LPC
LifeStar of Murray, Utah