DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a recently turned 30 cis woman. I am also a recovering alcoholic who worked at the rehab that helped me. Recently I relapsed, due to several factors, but the big one was helping a fellow person with substance abuse.
This man went to the same place shortly before I did, and was one of two people I trusted to get in a car with. I drove him to detox in May, and before the end of June he had relapsed. I had done nothing sexual with him (even though I wanted to) for over 3 years, but I have loved him for nearly that long. I never met anyone I connected with more, and I was the only person he could talk to about his drinking, nerdiness, and trauma as his use drove everyone away but me. He would go months without replying, but I always sent him “I hope you are doing well” text at the beginning and end of each month.
After he relapsed, I had a bunch of hits in life and relapsed on the 4th of July with him, even though he didn’t know I was drinking. We had sex, fun, and nerded out. Best I had felt in years. However, when I was honest and told him and tried talking, he acted like I had corrupted myself and treated me with disgust and hurt. I tried to apologise and talk to him, not very often, just once every two weeks like I had before. He finally responded and he asked I call him. I did and got too emotional by crying and shedding “crocodile tears”.
He informed me that I was now blocked. I can take rejection, but he is going to kill himself drinking. He is at least 20 pounds underweight and has had multiple seizures when trying to quit. I am the only one who knows how bad he is. I blame myself for not being more patient and just waiting again.
Do I have a duty to tell anyone about how bad he is, or should I just cut him out like he has me? I don’t want him to die or worse. Do you have any advice?
Regrets, I Have A Few
DEAR REGRETS, I HAVE A FEW: So if I’m understanding things correctly, RIHF: you’ve known him for more than 3 years, had unrequited feelings for him for pretty much that entire time, and most of that time was while you both were in rehab. You were one of the few people he could talk with because his trauma and addiction issues pushed people away, but even then, he wasn’t terribly responsive when you would text him.
He relapsed in June, and then on July 4th, unbeknownst to him, you relapsed too. Then, while you were still in the middle of your relapse, you and he finally hooked up. Then he found out you’d been drinking again — especially while you two were involved sexually — and this freaked him out. Since then, he’s blocked you, apparently in no small part because of how you reacted when you called him.
Now you’re wondering how to reach out to others about him.
So, assuming I’ve got all this right… well, I’m gonna be honest with you RIHF: I understand why he blocked you. Recovering from addiction issues can be incredibly difficult; it’s a process that can often take months under the best of circumstances, and requires a careful plan to stay sober afterwards. Your friend had already relapsed shortly before you two hooked up, which is, in and of itself, a tricky area. There’re a number of reasons why many addiction therapy programs suggest that people in recovery shouldn’t be in romantic relationships for the first year: recovery and staying sober should be their number one priority. The early stages of a relationship can be exciting, even overwhelming, and it’s very easy to get lost in the thrill of the new relationship energy. It’s very tempting to devote more and more of your energy and attention to spending time with your partner instead of caring for yourself. That in and of itself can impede their recovery and make it that much harder to stay sober.
Moreover, relationships with someone who’s also in recovery have the potential to be problematic; after all, if one partner relapses, it increases the likelihood of the other partner relapsing as well. Trying to stay sober when your partner is relapsing becomes an even greater challenge, especially if one partner’s addiction has triggers associated with relationships or stress.
So, the fact that a) you hooked up with him so soon after he relapsed and b) you had just relapsed yourself are all pretty damn good reasons for him to not just call it quits with you but to get some very much-needed distance. But the fact that you were being performatively remorseful — those “crocodile tears” you mentioned — is another very good reason for him to decide to block you. The former are a matter of bad judgement. The latter, however, marks a point where you were being manipulative with him. That’s not the sort of behavior that says “I’m sorry, I realize what I did wrong and I’m sorry I hurt you.” That’s behavior that says “I’m going to try to make you feel sorry for me so you forgive me or take me back.”
Fortunately for him, it seems like he’s recognized that and he drew a very firm boundary: you were bad for his recovery, you were being manipulative and he didn’t want you in his life. It hurts, I get that, but that’s his call and it’s one I can understand.
But those crocodile tears are also part of why I have to side-eye your concern for him and your desire to reach out to others about him. On the surface, it’s a noble and understandable desire: you care for him, you’ve seen him struggle and you don’t want him to be hurt while he’s going through recovery. But your attempts at manipulating him make it hard to take your concern at face value; it’s very easy to dress up a desire to reconnect with him as concern for his safety. Reaching out to others because one is “worried” is a fairly common way of weaseling one’s way into the life of someone who’s cut them out. To be perfectly blunt: this sounds an awful lot like wanting to get around the fact that he blocked you.
However, let’s say that you’re sincere and that your only desire is to see to his well-being. On a strictly practical level… who are you going to reach out to? You mentioned that he’s driven other people away; if he’s isolated himself again, then there aren’t folks you to reach out to in the first place. If he’s in treatment or in a recovery program somewhere, I also can’t imagine that they’re going to be terribly receptive to someone getting in touch to talk about his status or his health. I’m not exactly sure how you’d be in a position to help him, even if your motives are as pure as the driven snow.
And then there’s the fact that, frankly, he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want you in his life and feels that your involvement is bad for him. The important codicil to step 9 in the twelve steps is that making amends to someone shouldn’t be done if it would cause more harm. The last thing you want is to make things worse for him, even if your only goal is to try to help.
It would be one thing if you saw that he was about to be hit by a speeding car and you were the only person close enough to pull him out of the way. But your concern is about the possibility of harm, the fear of what might happen. While the odds may or may not be in his favor, they’re also not guaranteed.
As much as it sucks, you don’t really have a play here, and I don’t think it would be wise to do anything even if you did. As of this writing, you’re barely over a month out of your own relapse. There’s a reason why people are taught to make sure their own mask is secure before helping others with theirs. Your priority needs to be your own recovery, not trying to help other people with theirs… especially people who have made it clear that they don’t want anything to do with you.
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