I had just asked to hang up my call at the rehabilitation clinic to help save my boyfriend, my face burned with furious indignation.
The woman I spoke to had asked me to describe the hell Will experienced with his drug addiction.
& # 39; I am used to picking up the pieces, & # 39; I told her. & # 39; I even visited your clinic a few years ago with my father, who is an alcoholic. & # 39;
We only talked for a few minutes before she gave her opinion. & # 39; You need as much help as your boyfriend, & # 39; she said bluntly. & # 39; You are just as addicted as he is. & # 39;
How dare she? I had never touched a drop of alcohol or used drugs. They witnessed the damage each caused and scared me to death.
Nicola Vivian (photo) became addicted to saving her boyfriend Will and her father with their addiction to harmful substances
But it appears that not all addictions are harmful. This psychotherapist told me she thought I & # 39; co-dependent & # 39; used to be. In other words, I was addicted to my supporting role in the life of Will and Dad.
The personality traits I proudly attributed to myself – a strong problem solver with bottomless patience – suggested that I was as ill as she was.
I could not believe what I heard. This was not an addiction, it was love. I was mad.
But in the days that followed, I kept thinking of all the times I scraped my drunken father from restaurant floors, always editing my version of events later when he asked how bad it had been to spare his shame.
I had lost count of the nights I was alone in bed, terrified, because Will had not come home and I had no idea where he was.
So often I felt choked by the frustrations I kept swallowing to be there for both of them. I really believed that this was the greatest test and proof of love.
Now I started to consider that my actions might be less noble, more dysfunctional.
I expect you to read this and think, god, that sounds extreme. You may feel immune or superior if you know that you would never fall for a man who uses drugs or tolerates such behavior with a parent.
But this mental disorder can take the most impossible forms. Drugs and drinks do not have to occur at all.
It can happen in any relationship where their problem is somehow yours. That can be a family member, your partner, your child or even your best friend.
Nicola (pictured with her father when she was a child) was told by her psychotherapist that she & # 39; co-dependent & # 39; and was therefore addicted to the supporting role in the life of her loved one
Nicola & # 39; s former friend Will often tried to stop using drugs, but later died of an overdose
If you see yourself as the strong, responsible person in the relationship, always selflessly cleaning up the mess of the other, you may be more like me than you realize.
Certainly, if you are working to make yourself indispensable for someone not to lose them, co-dependency can also be your problem.
For me it started in childhood. My parents' marriage broke down when I was three. In my mind, the reason Daddy left was simple: he had stopped loving me because I had not been good enough.
I wanted to be the best possible version of myself to make him love me again. I was a prize student. I was always flawless and never complained.
Meanwhile, my tall, handsome, fun and charming father, who was a former soldier, was sensitive to erratic behavior and melancholy, especially when he was drinking.
In the rare cases that I saw him, he often put his head on my lap and cried. I never told anyone because it seemed like a betrayal.
& # 39; Make him happy, & # 39; I said to myself, he will stop getting drunk. I thought my love would heal him and he would love me too.
My model for relationships started there: endless forgiveness, infallible support and to hell with my own wishes and needs.
So when Will joined my social circle – handsome, fun and charming, just like Daddy – I overlooked his drug addiction. For me he was another man to be saved.
Will was my first serious relationship. We met in 1985 when I was 21. At that time, drugs, especially cocaine, were everywhere, but I was too scared to lose control to touch them.
Most people in our social circle came from wealthy families, so there was enough money to pay for a hedonistic lifestyle. Fortunately heroin was a few steps too far for most of my friends – but not for Will.
When I asked him why he started using it, he told me that the first time he had felt him so unbelievable that he had been hunting the same feeling ever since.
Will had a career as a banker and somehow seemed to make it work. He tried to stop taking medication many times while I was taking care of him through withdrawal.
I was actually proud that I avoided accusations every time he returned. Instead, I wondered how I might be more interesting to him, so he didn't need the medication in the first place.
Nicola says she was told that she was co-dependent, held up a mirror to her behavior and that she became desperate to regain some control
When he stayed outside all night, I didn't ask questions. When he was verbally violent, I promised not to upset him in the future. I was smart and well-educated, but I was stuck with store work that suited Will.
My life soon turned completely around him and I was reassured that he would put on a suit and tie every morning and wear a light-hearted & # 39; would disappear for his work.
But being told that I was dependent, my mirror held up. Desperate to get some control back, I left, insisting that it was the medication or me, he couldn't have both. A few weeks later he called to say that he had stopped for good.
Will stayed clean for a year, but in the end the attraction of heroin was too strong. He died of an overdose.
I remember at his funeral listening to the pastor who spoke passionately about the healing power of love and the feeling of being crushed by an extraordinary sense of defeat.
& # 39; Give love freely & # 39 ;, he told us. & # 39; Love, and we will heal! & # 39; he exclaimed.
I tried that, I kept thinking. It didn't work. Will lay dead in the coffin in front of me. Dad was still drinking.
Listening to the sermon was the moment when I accepted that the clinician had understood me really well.
I was consumed by grief, but also knew that I had to change. The self-contempt, the fear of failure, seeing myself as a hostage of the drama & # 39; s of life – that everything had to stop.
I tried group therapy, but I found speaking about myself frightening to others. Maybe I would have gotten better sooner if I had kept to it. Instead, I began to heal myself, forcing myself to take stock of the life I had lived.
I began to realize that I had grown up so desperately for approval that I was only happy when I thought other people saw me so well.
And don't we all have elements of this in our personalities – do we want to shape ourselves into forms that will please others, willingly participate in drama & # 39; s of friends to make us feel useful and loved?
Earlier I told myself that I should not make a fuss; I had to swallow my pain, no matter how wrong things felt. Now I started to think about my own needs.
Over time, it didn't matter how other people saw me. I started to accept that their problems were not my responsibility. I felt better for it.
If elements of my story match you, you might have to work to do the same. Understand that fear may be the basis of your co-dependence: fear of not being good enough or sweet enough, fear of being hurt or rejected.
Often such uncertainties date back to childhood – our parents exercise so much power over the way we see ourselves.
Instead, make a bond with your partner, be there for your family and support your friends, but always consider your own interests.
Father died in 2002 due to health complications related to his alcoholism. I will always carry a part of his pain deep within me.
Like Will, he was a good man, despite his mistakes.
I have had relationships since Will, that have been just and happy, and now I try to live alone.
I have learned that I am the one who needs my love most.
As told to Rachel Halliwell. Nicola & # 39; s book, My Will: A Portrait Of Love And Addiction, is now available.
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