The people with whom we are the most intimate with in our lives are usually the most common targets for our negative mood swings, which are a hallmark feature of an addictive illness. Our loved ones become the key focal points for our targeting system because they are the most revealing mirrors in our lives.
When the mirrors tell you the truth about what you have become, you must either face that truth and get help, or break the mirror! We like to call the struggle of breaking that mirror of close partners who reflect our truth to us as “Eliminating the Witnesses.”
This pattern of eliminating the witnesses occurs most when we are attempting to maintain a particular image, especially when we are not doing so well in our recovery.
Eliminating the witnesses is dangerous ,however. It is an integral part of the fatal process of making relapse okay. The behaviors associated with eliminating the witnesses will be aimed at helping to obscure from the recovering addict’s perception that he or she is in any danger. If the input of the recovering addict’s loved one might cause him or her to experience an honest self-appraisal, the loved one will need to “be eliminated”!
This process is progressive, it will not stop with the partner or spouse. If the addict’s support group begins to complain about his or her unavailability, the relationships involved will need to be re-defined. If prayer and meditation time or favorite fellowship meetings begin to illuminate the addict’s distress, then routines will have to change.
All the behaviors found in the process of eliminating the various witnesses in our lives will seem perfectly legitimate to the addict at the time because he or she will view himself or herself as “only trying to take care of their own emotional interests.” If someone is bringing bad or unwanted news the easy thing to do is to “kill the messenger.”
The execution of breaking these recovery mirrors will usually not be as overt as directly exterminating people or cutting them out of your life; but you will find however, that death by character assassination and starving someone emotionally will have nearly the same impact.
The witch in the fairytale asks the mirror who the fairest in all the land is, and when she is told that it is someone other than her, she smashes the mirror for telling her the truth. The act of “eliminating the witnesses” is a lot like the fairy tale but with much greater real human costs. The addict has the greatest urgency to silence those he or she has come to depend on the most. When we silence people whose input, love, attention, and support we need, it serves only to threaten the security we set out to preserve in the first place.
First we push people away to avoid the pain of seeing ourselves the way that others see us. Before long a sense of isolation develops that threatens our emotional security and increases the attraction that relapse has for us. The vicious cycle is hurling us closer to relapse because a final decision to act out or take an addictive substance is always preceded by a desire to change the way we feel.
While eliminating the witnesses in your recovery, you can do as much damage to the important relationships in your life as was inflicted during the active use of addictive substances or behavior. This is the time when we do whatever is necessary to discredit or dismiss the concerns that our loved ones have for us. Our partners and sponsors can be the first causalities because they are likely to be first to know that we are in trouble. Support group members, co-workers and extended family members are not usually far behind because of the likelihood of them having more frequent contact with us that gives them the opportunity to observe our behavior and experience our mood changes.
We push people away because their caring input and fearful concerns open the windows to our soul and the darkness we see growing there reminds us where the relapse process is taking us. We have to “eliminate the witnesses” to the destructive course we are on or we cannot continue. The available strategies for “eliminating the witnesses” are limited only by the imagination and resourcefulness of the addict.
The strategies that individual people use to eliminate the witnesses are tied to the defects of character that they have developed over the years. We are warned that our defects of character will mark the path to relapse but the false sense of security that can develop with abstinence leaves many believing that all will be well once the addictive behavior is stopped and regular attendance at Twelve Step meetings is maintained. If all we do to recover is stop using or acting out the change in our personality will be minimal.
Strengthening your accountability to your loved one, therefore, is not going to result in your becoming indentured to your spouse or romantic partner. Rather than making you vulnerable to being manipulated in some way, the process of shared accountability will allow you and your partner to assume the responsibility of holding up a mirror for each other to look into. Both of you can then identify positive changes that the other is unaware of and to highlight areas where change is needed.
This article was written by John & Elaine Leadem, senior supervisors of the Leadem Counseling & Consulting offices in Toms River, NJ and East Brunswick, NJ. The content of this article is based on the soon to be published book from Leadem Counseling on relapse prevention titled: An Ounce of Prevention: A Course in Relapse Prevention
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Last reviewed: 21 Jul 2012