When the obstacles of a mixed orientation relationship are complicated by addictions, challenges multiply. Whether the addiction is to drugs or alcohol or some other debilitating habit—pornography or gambling perhaps—layers of complexity make the family’s burden even harder to bear. Addiction kills relationships. Without outside help, liberation is nearly out of reach.
To address this issue, I sought advice from a close friend who nearly lost his life to his own addiction. He is now actively engaged in Alcoholics Anonymous and has been free of substance abuse for fourteen years. He mentors others in the 12-step program and offered the following approach to recovery.
Concentrate on working the steps with a trusted, seasoned sponsor within a peer group, such as AA or Al-Anon. As AA’s Big Book emphasizes, staying sober requires a “psychic change” that entails spiritual undergirding. The spiritual quest begins with identifying your own “higher power.” Individual concepts of this power vary greatly. If you are connected with a particular religion, that is an obvious approach. If you have no religious affiliation, you might seek support in one of many perennial wisdom traditions of east or west. These offer truths that have lasted through the ages. Read widely and experiment to meet your unique needs.
There is no single “right path,” but identifying a power beyond yourself fosters courage to fight addiction, as well as straight spouse challenges. For many, the well-known Serenity Prayer is helpful in times of discouragement. Written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, it offers valuable aspiration:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Most spiritual traditions emphasize kindness toward others as a basic value. That principle is included in AA's work through personal assessments, unloading resentments, and making amends for previous harm done to others. Perennial wisdom traditions also teach compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, helpfulness, and right-sizing the ego. These values appear in some form in most world wisdom teachings, though AA has codified them specifically to address addiction. In addition, the organization also reminds participants not to be a doormat for the world's judgments. Treat yourself kindly as well.
At every meeting, AA testifies to the fact that addiction kills. To support recovery, establish some personal goals with a reasonable time frame. Overnight cures are unrealistic. Progress is always “one day at a time” for sobriety and for advancement of personal psychic change.
This tested advice applies to both addiction and to straight spouse recovery. My friend’s counsel, summarized here, is based on his long involvement with AA and the witness of his own recovery into a clean, sober, and happily married state. His life was saved and renewed through that organization. If AA is not available to you or does not fit your needs, alternative resources can be identified online.
During any kind of recovery, it is also important to have a trusted person to confide in--a relative, friend, pastor, or qualified counselor. Talk your situation through. Peer groups are invaluable. Find a network of people who are also faced with your specific problems, and contact them in person or online. Today, the internet is the first and most accessible way to locate such allies. Above all, know that you are not alone, that others have faced and overcome these ordeals. It is possible to recover and thrive!
These suggestions from my friend have been proven effective for decades by Alcoholics Anonymous. My personal advice for straight spouses and also those suffering addictions is to take care of your mind, body, and spirit in the best ways you know. Don’t sacrifice yourself to any toxic situation. Listen to your innermost feelings and consider your best options, then go forward with resolve.