Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Using drugs to escape


Dear Edahn,

I've been in a relationship for several months now, and it's absolutely great. We both support each other and I feel fulfilled and at peace when I'm around him. My problem is that I worry about the way he handles major issues. We have similarly traumatic backgrounds (physical and sexual abuse). I did the therapy route and, along with the support of family and friends, I've been able to accept the things that have happened to me and move on with my life; but he's still in a great deal of pain. He has gotten into drugs because he feels that getting high is the only way he can be happy. I don't like that he relies on drugs in order to be happy.

I know that everyone deals with traumatic events in different ways, but I don't want him to have to be dependent on anything for his own personal happiness. Other than continuing to be a loving girlfriend, what can I do to help him? I don't really want to confront him about this, as I think he would be very uncomfortable discussing the topic. Although he has been opening up a little more lately, he doesn't share much about personal things like this. I'm not even sure if he's aware that I know this much about him, as this conversation took place after a night of drinking and I'm not sure how much he remembers. Above all, I want him to be happy, but I'm not sure how to help him.

Alright, alright. I'm trying this again because I didn't like the last answer. Here goes nothing.

The thing that worries me is that you're started to judge him for something. You're not comfortable with the way he's doing something. That can lead to a dynamic where you are the superior teacher and he's the student. I know you don't MEAN for that to happen, but I can see it developing down the line.

The other problem is that you can't really change that part of him, at least, not easily. If you try to put pressure on him to refuse drugs and confront his issues the way you did, or even some other way, he'll probably be keen on it for a while but eventually he'll start to take it personally and resent you for looking down upon him. When you do work on yourself it has to be personal or it doesn't stick. That's a big lesson I've learned. When you try to change for a non-personal reason, e.g., to please someone else, to meet some requirement, it doesn't really last because it's not meaningful.

There ARE ways to make self-improvement personally meaningful. Open up any self-help book and read the intro and first chapter or so. I guarantee it's focused on making the journey personal. It might ask some probing questions like "how do you picture your future?" or "what's meaningful to you?" or "what do you need to move forward?" or "what is your heart saying?" or "what's really going to make you happy in life?" The purpose of all these questions is to get the person in touch with their own needs, rather than your needs. It's to create a strong emotional reaction that invigorates the self-improvement campaign so it can be effective.

So what can you do? Well, you can try to use some of these techniques and questions. You can even buy him a book that has some of these techniques. But if he senses that the fate of his relationship depends on his changing his habits, it's going to be very hard for him to believe that he's changing FOR HIMSELF. That's what makes this situation tricky. That, and the fact that I don't see you giving up your position; I don't see you accepting his progress right now, and I don't blame you. I wouldn't date someone like him either. Not that he's a bad guy, but I want someone who's self-aware and emotionally responsible.

So, as I see it, your options are (1) inspire him to change without making him feel like he's changing for you, a very, very difficult task but not impossible or (2) cut your losses and move on before you get deeper into this relationship.

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