Rehab and recovery are difficult, traumatic, and often one of the most time-intensive and emotionally intensive periods you will ever go through as an adult. Despite that, many of us have to cope with losing loved ones and marriages during this period. While it’s always better if you can avoid tumultuous life changes during the recovery period, life is unpredictable and people will, and reasonably so, choose to look out for their own mental and physical health before they will look to yours.
If you’re facing a divorce, it will only make this difficult period harder. The added pain, heartbreak, and stress will make your recovery harder. You will have to struggle with additional legal and emotional responsibility. Making time to cope with these changes, with your partner’s estrangement, and with the implications and impact for your life and, where applicable, your family, is crucial to maintaining your sobriety.
The Correlation Between Rehab and Divorce
Today’s divorce rate is lower than it’s been in 4 decades, with most marriages surviving well into 15 years. This reduced rate of divorce tracks to increases in education, changes in domestic law, and increased access to family and relationship therapy. But, individuals going through rehab are still significantly likely to divorce, thanks to a range of complex socio-economic factors. Understanding these reasons may help you to understand your spouse, which may help you to better cope with the divorce.
You Are No Longer the Same Person – Addiction changes you. No matter what you are addicted to, substance use disorder changes how you think, react, talk, and love. Addiction changes the reward system in your brain, influencing how you seek out social and romantic contact, how you engage with others for reward behavior, and how you interact with them. Pre-addiction, you might have sought out attention and love or even wanted to hold hands for the sake of it, but addicted persons rarely do so. These changes to the dopamine and serotonin production and absorption in the brain intrinsically influence how you would treat your spouse, even if you don’t notice. Even if you maintained an exemplary level of romance, sexual interest, and social contact throughout addiction, you are no longer the same person. Recovering from an addiction means recognizing the underlying causes behind addiction, changing behaviors, and changing your approach to things. You cannot and should not be the same person you were before addiction. It’s natural that your spouse may not recognize the person they are married to, and they are not obligated to stay to find out.
Emotional Trauma Requires Distance – Addiction of any kind typically results in emotional and sometimes physical trauma for loved ones. That can be difficult and painful to cope with, but chances are, you hurt your loved one while addicted. Dealing with that will take therapy and treatment and the ability to step back from anger and hurt to process and forgive. Your spouse doesn’t owe you that. They might not be in a place that allows that. Most importantly, they might not trust that your recovery is a permanent one. Coping with this can be extremely difficult. It’s important to seek out a family or relationship therapist and honestly discuss your relationship, who you were and how you treated them. Even emotionally distancing yourself from a loved one can be heavily traumatic to them. While it’s important to recognize your actions and their role in your divorce, it’s also important not to start blaming yourself. These actions were caused by addiction, which you are actively working to prevent and to improve. You cannot change the past, but you can make the future better. It’s also important to remember that their trauma might not be related to your actions, but rather their own. Codependency, where your loved one becomes reliant on being needed in a relationship with someone who is addicted, and enabling behavior are each extremely traumatic. Your loved one may need help, and they might not feel able to seek it out while remaining with you.
Taking time away from a loved one can make many realize they no longer understand who you are, they are grateful for the time you spent away, and they are simply unable or unwilling to continue investing energy into you. This results in a high rate of divorce, despite you needing them in your life now more than ever. Unfortunately, as an individual, your spouse has to take care of their own emotional and mental health needs first.
Taking the Right Approach
If you’re going through divorce, it’s important to take the right approach. This means taking care of yourself, continuing your recovery, and preparing to face legal difficulties.
Legal – In most cases, you should attempt to settle your divorce out of court, through mediation. Here, you are very likely to have your addiction recognized as a mental health disorder. This is the most advantageous in the case of your eventually seeking custody of children or when attempting to balance a division of property, alimony payments, or other legal division of rights. IF you go to court, it’s crucial to remain calm, bring proof of treatment, and show support and love for your estranged spouse.
Mental – Divorce can push you into a state of extreme stress and grief at the best of times. When you’re in recovery, it can push you into relapse, into states of depression, and into periods where you stop taking care of yourself. It’s crucial that you continue the habits and personal care you learned or are learning in recovery. This includes your nutrition program or simply eating healthy foods, getting regular moderate exercise and enough of it, and maintaining social contact throughout.
Going through a divorce is stressful and traumatic. Make time for yourself, allow yourself to be distressed, and ask for help.
Getting Help for Your Mental Health
Most people need some form of therapy while going through divorce. You have more reason than most. It’s important to seek out a relationship or family therapist, especially one who also specializes in addiction treatment, to get ongoing help. Your therapist can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms to deal with grief and loss, can help you deal with the frustrations caused by divorce and losing a loved one, and can help you move onto a healthy path based on your personal situation.
It’s also important to seek out ongoing support for your recovery. This should involve a self-help group with regular meetings such as SMART Recovery with weekly meeting or a 12-Step group like AA or NA, hopefully a sober buddy, and a network of friends and family you can talk to and share emotions with. Getting this support is crucial for a healthy individual, and more so for someone in recovery.
Divorce is often a fact of life. It’s traumatic, hurtful on every side, and incredibly difficult. Getting through it and maintaining your recovery will require a cast amount of effort on your part, focusing on new coping mechanisms, and surrounding yourself with people who can help.