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Atwater: Addiction ballet has couple dancing in circles

If it wasn’t the drinking, it was the pills. She denied it every step of the way.

She made it so painful to bring it up that it wasn’t worth talking about almost no matter how ugly it got. Her days were spent taking care of ailments she might have some symptoms of, ailments she dreamed up to get the pills she needed and ailments that were caused by the drugs she was taking.

Her personality had changed from a caring mom and wife to an angry, withdrawn, self-centered shell of who she used to be.

Her husband was at his wits’ end. He was afraid to go to work many days because he didn’t trust that she’d get out of bed or off the couch to take care of the kids. The house looked like a bad garage sale; the dishes stayed in the sink until he got home, and the shades were always down. His 6-year-old daughter had a terrible school attendance record largely because he had to leave before she was supposed to go to school and mommy would keep her home to watch her little sister so she could stay high.

The relationship had deteriorated into a hopeless and hateful ballet in which she accused him of trying to control her, spy on her and of being uncaring about her health. The truth was he was trying to control her, didn’t trust her and was trying to manage everything.

He had tried calling some of her doctors to beg them to stop giving her drugs, searched the house for hiding places, begged friends to talk to her, made counseling appointments for her (some of which she kept to explain to them what a controlling jerk her husband was), lectured her, begged her to stop, had her arrested for domestic battery and threatened divorce. He was running out of energy and options.

The one thing he hadn’t tried was getting help for himself. He had set up appointments for marriage counseling, but his secret agenda was to get her into the office so he could expose her exploits and get the satisfaction of the counselor’s agreement that she was a bad mother and wife.

To his great surprise, the last counselor they had been to suggested he needed some help, and that despite his wife’s condition, which he called a disease, he should go to an Al Anon group for family members of those with addiction problems.

He was desperate enough to try anything, so he started attending, skeptically at first and mostly to help her. But he soon began to see his part in the addiction ballet. He began to stop trying so hard to manage, to stop snooping and controlling. He realized that his need to control was about as strong as her need to take pills.

She got a little worse before the prescription police caught up to her and she was levered into rehab. She has continued to have some problems despite a run at recovery, but her husband is doing well, the kids are safe and happy, and he’s a lot clearer about what he can control and what he can’t.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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