Rehab and recovery is one of the most important, yet also at times one of the most difficult, periods of your life. Recovering from a substance use disorder is incredibly emotionally taxing and traumatic on its own. Despite that, it’s also a point when we are very likely to face divorce and estrangement from spouses, even those we’ve lived with for decades. Losing loved ones and marriages during a period of intense trauma can trigger you into relapsing, it will make recovery harder, and it will mean putting in more work and asking for more help. Essentially, it means dealing with two traumatic events at once.
If you’re facing a divorce, you already know you have to manage and navigate heartbreak, stress, and loneliness. You’ll have to deal with legal battles and fees, take on emotional responsibility to be fair and level-headed in the face of emotional stress, and to cope with massive changes in your life. This is made even worse if you have children. Taking time to get therapy, get help, and to plan how you can stay in recovery will be crucial to your successfully navigating this difficult time.
Understand the Divorce and Your Spouse
Most of us would think that going to rehab means saving your marriage. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Stepping away from substance use, going to therapy, and coming back a changed person can all result in ending the relationship, even if your partner profoundly wanted you to go to recovery.
This seemingly counterintuitive fact stems from two realities:
- You Are a Source of Trauma to Your Partner – Your spouse has lived with you, likely through the worst of your substance use disorder. Even if they didn’t and chose to move out during it, you have to take responsibility for that. Even unintentionally, you caused stress, arguments, negative emotions, and pain. Substance abuse causes you to draw away from the people you love by literally changing the reward circuit in your brain, and that can be an intensely difficult thing for them. The logical behavior for a traumatized person is to step away from that, to give themselves distance, and to cope with that pain. Why didn’t they do it sooner? Chances are, they were afraid that without someone by your side, you’d overdose, hurt yourself, and things would get worse. They stayed with you out of an act of love and now they might need distance to focus on their own healing and recovery.
- You’ve Changed and the Old You Isn’t Coming Back – Many people cling to relationships long after they’ve stopped “being in love with who you are now” because they imagine that the old you could come back. That they’d wake up one day and you’d be the person you were when you said your vows together. That’s reasonable to maintain while you’re addicted to a substance. After all, you just get someone to quit and things go back to how they were, right? Recovery and rehab drive home the fact that the old you is never coming back. That’s okay. But it can seriously impact your relationships. If it’s difficult to face a moving goalpost of “when they quit, everything will go back to how it was”, it’s even harder to face, “My partner is not the same person they were and never will be”. Of course, that’s a good thing for you. The old you was in pain, needed to turn to drugs or alcohol for self-medication or feeling better, and eventually became addicted. The fact that your spouse doesn’t recognize the person they married and therefore doesn’t want to be married anymore isn’t your fault.
In some cases, a divorce can stem from serious mental health problems on the part of your spouse. Here, PTSD and Codependency are the most common.
PTSD – Your spouse may have developed PTSD as a response to traumatic events. These don’t have to be “you threatened or hurt them”. PTSD can develop from the sudden emotional withdrawal of someone you care about. It can result from car accidents and reckless driving. It can also result from sudden changes in finances, in someone’s behavior, or in lifestyle expectations.
Codependency – Codependency occurs when a person become behaviorally addicted to helping and caring for someone with an addiction. Here, the partner becomes so invested in being the caretaker or provider that they simply don’t know who they are without it. Here, it’s healthiest for that person to step back, get therapy, and learn how to function on their own again. Codependency can result from trauma, from certain personality types, and from past trauma that has nothing to do with your substance abuse.
Eventually, the act of being in rehab can give your spouse the time they need to realize they simply don’t want to be with you anymore. That’s fair, they’ve likely invested a lot of time and energy into you and they need time and space for themselves. Whether that remains permanent or allows you to eventually build new friendships with them after they’ve had time to heal depends on you, them, and the situation.
Be Brave. Get Help.
Continue to Seek Out Help
You might be out of rehab, but it’s no time to stop. Most therapists recommend reevaluating and re-seeking out help following any major life event. This means talking things over with your counselor, continuing to go to therapy, and investing heavily in your group support options.
Family Therapy – Feel free to ask your spouse to attend family therapy with you. Just because you’re divorcing doesn’t mean you can’t work out your relationship and part on amicable grounds. Your partner might not be up for this.
Therapy – Attending regular therapy sessions is a normal consideration following a divorce. It becomes even more important if you’re going through recovery as well. You need all the support you can get to maintain the mental stability to stay clean and sober.
12 Step Group Support – Investing time into group support options like AA, NA, SMART Recovery, or similar will give you a significant amount of social support and accountability. Many people going through recovery know what it’s like to lose loved ones, and you can seek out real advice, support, and emotional validation from people who know what you’re going through.
Family Group Support – If you need help but are not yet ready to leave, self-help and support groups like Al-Anon and Family Anon can be extremely helpful in giving you the support and outlet that you need. Al-Anon enables you to talk to people in similar situations, discuss problems, and learn about possible solutions, which can help you to relieve stress and possibly see your situation from a third-party perspective.
Maintain Your Coping Mechanisms
It’s crucial to maintain your existing coping mechanisms throughout the divorce. These include taking time to yourself, eating well, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, building strong habits and structuring your day, taking care of your living space, and investing in hobbies and social activities. These all help you to ground your life, find emotional balance, and to build a physical and emotional base for your recovery. They are harder when you are sad, going through a stressful or traumatic period, and in recovery but it is more important than ever that you stick to them.
Consider Moving – If your spouse moved out, consider moving anyway. Being surrounded by old memories in a place where you used to drink or use can only be negative for you. Unless you have children involved, there’s no reason why you cannot sell your house or change your lease and start fresh.
Divorce is life changing, traumatic, and hurtful to everyone involved. It’s regrettable to go through it at any time, let alone during recovery. But, with good planning, by sticking to your coping mechanisms, and by investing more in therapy and support, you can and will make it through. Hopefully you also have supporting friends and family you can turn to, perhaps stay with, and share your hurt with.