It seems easy to split roles into ‘hero’ and ‘villain,’ looking in on addiction. The addict as villain, and long suffering family as hero.
In my experience it is not quite that simple…
On Monday, in my favorite local cinema (a beautiful art deco building) I saw the Angelina Jolie film ‘Maleficent’ the story of the villain of’ ‘Sleeping Beauty’. If we came in at the end of the film to see the cold rage in Maleficent’s eye, her fire breathing dragon wreaking destruction to the innocent Aurora’s palace home, we could be forgiven for thinking she was indeed, through and through, the villain of the piece. And yet the film told the story behind that story, the narrator describing Maleficent as both hero and villain. It did so by revealing the causal factors behind Maleficent’s selfish, destructive behavior. We gained sympathy with Maleficent as we saw that it was betrayal by someone she thought truly loved her, the pain, the damaged trust in intimate relationship which caused her to withdraw from the world to her dark tower and to do such damage. Which of us I wonder can fail to have a little empathy with that? My guess is that to some degree, we have all done similar after being hurt ? She built a wall of thorns around her and protected her narrow world ferociously with snarling beasts.
Betrayal causes withdrawal.
To be betrayed, be it hurt physically emotionally, mentally by those whom we trust to love and care for us leaves a wound that festers and takes time to heal and in truth maybe always will leave a scar. The men and women I treat for the wounds of betrayal protect themselves by building their own wall of thorns; a barrier to close relationships for fear of being hurt again. This may be created by aggressive behavior, and a cynical view of relationship,” There is no such thing as true loves kiss” (Maleficent) a fierce drive for absolute independence or a dark depression created by suppressing their feelings about their painful, fearful experience. Isolated and alone they then are vulnerable to addiction to shine a little light into their darkness, to take away the pain they feel they can trust in nobody to share.
Betrayal spreads, eventually reaching those trying to be close to the person hiding in their addiction.
As addiction takes its tight grip, partners, family and friends are mystified by the negative change in their loved one and hurt by their withdrawal, preoccupation and manipulation they experience. On discovering the dark secret of their loved one’s addiction, they in turn feel betrayed, scared, angry. Damaged trust leads to fear of the addiction returning, of allowing themselves ever to be hurt by their loved one again. They often then attempt to manage their understandable fears either by ‘walking on egg shells’ ie becoming compliant to the point of resentment in an attempt to ‘please’ the addicted person into stopping their destructive behavior. Or becoming excessively controlling of the addicted person. Or to begin to build protective walls of their own, They too may become bitter, cynical of intimate relationship and aggressive. “There is no such thing as true love’s kiss”… They – just like the addicted person- attempt to protect themselves from who they now feel is the villain of the piece; the person they once loved and trusted to in return love and care for them.We can see how sadly the themes of betrayal and withdrawal are replayed.
My experience in working with addiction is that the transformation in their relationship often lies in education.
Often, because addiction has been hidden, those close to the person with the addiction ‘came in at the end of the film’ to witness only the destruction the person with the addiction has caused. They do not understand that causal factors of addiction frequently are suffering, not selfishness. In understanding this they can understand that, as painful as it is to experience, their loved one’s behavior may not be a personal attack on them.Those close to the addicted person can benefit by counselling and therapy of their own, to come to terms with understanding their own natural feelings around being betrayed They can learn how to be truly helpful to the recovery of the person with the addiction. For example, in my specialisation with gambling addiction, often have I heard a person in recovery speak of how the well meaning friend, who repeatedly bailed them out with loans, they now see was not really helping after all, merely preventing them reaching their rock bottom. Importantly, the partner or friend can learn how to be helpful to themselves, for example by learning how to set healthy personal boundaries.
Trust takes time to re build. it is slow work and to make a start it requires both the person with the addiction and the person they have hurt, coming out from behind their wall of thorns and facing the truth about themselves and each other. In part the truth is that given the right or wrong circumstances, there is perhaps a bit of the hero, and a bit of the villain, within us all.