The Thin Line Between Turning Over A New Leaf And Becoming A Doormat

By billymanas 05/30/19

By the time my relationship was hitting the skids in the early part of 2017, I had six and a half years of sustained recovery in Narcotics Anonymous. I mention this because I relied heavily on the advice of my friends in that 12-step program to help me navigate a relationship that netted me two daughters and an endless array of challenges. In retrospect, it seems as if I spent a majority of my time asking the most unqualified people if what I was dealing with was normal or if the relationship was simply flawed. I often wonder if the advice I was receiving helped to extend the situation far beyond its natural shelf life.

The most common thing to hear from anyone in a 12-step program is that you, being an addict for so long, have spent your whole life in a never ending scavenger hunt to fulfill your own needs and now it is your charge and your duty to make amends to the planet by putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. In theory, it’s great advice. Unfortunately, nothing is true across the board. There wasn’t a single person at those meetings that knew my significant other and obviously, not one of them were inside my household observing the dynamic. It was entirely possible that all of my new selfless giving and ascetism was resulting in a life of total dissatisfaction and pent up resentment. In fact, it was more than possible. It was probable and likely what led to my inevitable separation.

The biggest challenge when it comes to relational dynamics, is that once they are set, it is very difficult to change them. People come to expect that the way things have been are the way they will be. It becomes a blueprint of sorts. Once precedents are set with regard to what a person is willing to accept from their partner, it’s hard to go back. This is something I discovered after our first daughter was born and I silently accepted the fifteen months of celibacy that followed.

I’m not entirely sure that my reticence was helpful for either of us. If I remember correctly, I spent the entire time grinning and bearing it and complaining to my sponsor and anyone else in the program that would listen. I think I also shared about it at meetings. This was not a good approach. My girlfriend was not terribly thrilled about how her body changed after childbirth and it was a lot easier for her to just sweep the idea of sex under the rug for as long as possible. Keeping quiet made it possible for a very, very long time.

As time went on, the resentment I was feeling continued to grow until I began to question everything else about the relationship. I was working six days a week, twelve hour days, preparing my own meals and eating them alone, and sleeping on a futon in the adjoining room. When I would allow these realities to eat away at me, in addition to her complete indifference about sex, it was really only a matter of time before I left.

Now, two years later, I find myself wondering if somehow it all could’ve been handled differently. I am beginning to believe that my blind enthusiasm to become this overly understanding goody-goody might’ve been what hastened our conclusion. It was a lot like the person who silently accepts injustice for years until they wind up experiencing a dramatic meltdown. A pressure cooker without a valve will explode and, sadly, I exploded.

Unfortunately, this is not much of a cautionary tale. Anyone who finally decides to walk through the doors of a church basement, or a rehab has a lot more to consider than their moral pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction. We are there in a last ditch attempt to save our own lives and, to be realistic, it’s a messy process. I am not the first person who suffered heartbreak and breakup in the dark alley of recovery’s learning curve.

If I ever do have the opportunity to advise a newcomer in the days ahead, I will warn them about the possibility of going to extremes. It’s addict behavior and, because of that, it’s just as dangerous as being self-centered and selfish. I might say that it is better to air these things out immediately than to allow them to grow in silence. It’s an honorable thing to turn over a new leaf—but never at the expense of becoming a doormat.


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