Q: My ex and I were together a long time. We blended our families, but after 12 years of clean and sober living, she started using drugs again after being laid off from her job. Drug use is my boundary and she knew it. Our kids are now in high school -- one in college, as well, and I just don't know how to face the fact that we are breaking up. The holidays made it worse. All the kids are with me, she's in rehab. Do you have any tips on how to survive this? I'm at a loss. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: To begin, you have got to know you're not alone. Just about everyone either has someone close to them or a family member who faces some sort of addiction -- I know I certainly do, and its rough for both sides. If she's in rehab, hopefully that means she's taking a proactive approach to her recovery. For those of us who are not addicts, it's easy to think you're home free after 12 years of sobriety. You see now it's an ongoing journey for the addict and those who love them. Unfortunately, relapse is part of the process.
With that in mind, you may want to rethink your boundary. Granted, I know I always say keep clear boundaries and I know firsthand how life with an addict may play out, but there is also the possibility that she takes her recovery seriously and will get a sponsor, work the steps, and stay clean and sober. If you see that as a possibility and you're committed to supporting that effort, walking away at this juncture may not accomplish what you want. You see, she was an addict before you met her, and if you educated yourself about addiction prior to combining your families, you knew that relapse was always a possibility. If you've been living together for 12 years, your family is probably reeling. These kids, in college or not, need stability and someone they can count on. That's your role right now. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule NO. 1, "Put the kids first.") Writing to me was a good first step, but a family in crisis needs face-to-face professional help. If you're looking for resources, start by asking the rehab facility for suggestions. Don't forget Ala-non and Ala-Teen for additional support.
One of the 10 Rules of Good Ex-etiquette I have been mentioning quite a bit over the last months is rule No. 8, "Be honest and straightforward." Honesty is an issue when facing addiction for many reasons -- physical and psychological dependency, personality, life experience, you name it. I don't know if this was a one-time relapse and she got herself to rehab or if it was an ongoing issue that you recently figured out, but either way, honesty on both your parts is critical. Also, to protect your own psyche, I point you to good ex-etiquette rules 5 and 6, "Don't be spiteful" and "Don't hold grudges." It's easy to point fingers and blame -- that won't help you or the kids. And, you're right, things just seem much more emotional around the holidays. Calling it quits is always an alternative. One day at a time. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)
(c)2020 Jann Blackstone
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