If you've ever loved an addict, you know there's nothing more painful than the feeling of powerlessness you experience while watching someone you love destroy themselves.
No matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, no matter what sacrifices you make on their behalf, no matter how often you keep tabs on them and no matter how much you love them, it seems impossible for them to stop.
Loving an addict is like spending your entire waking life in that moment right before a fatal car accident when you're bracing for impact.
You're constantly wondering when you'll get the call that this person might actually have died.
And sometimes, in your worst moments, you actually wonder if their death would bring some sort of relief to the hell you've been living in.
Then, a miracle happens.
Somehow, through some divine intervention that you can't fully understand or comprehend, your loved one gets sober. Like really, actually sober.
They start attending meetings, and after a few months go by, your once-drunken mess of a friend/boyfriend/sister/parent starts cleaning up their life.
They make a bunch of new and supportive friends who seem to love them unconditionally, in spite of all their past mistakes.
They're suddenly able to accept the kind of love you've been trying to give them for years, which is fantastic.
Your alcoholic loved one is looking better, feeling better and seeming to have a new purpose in life.
But somehow, it also makes you fucking sick.
Meanwhile, the purpose of your life, which up until a few months ago was to keep them alive and safe, has vanished.
Frankly, you don't know what the fuck to do with yourself.
Then, the realization hits you that while you were caught up with caring for them, you forgot how to take care of yourself.
You have no idea how to begin.
This is why it feels like shit to watch someone you love get sober.
You have to learn basic things that you used to know about yourself all over again.
Taking care of someone with a debilitating disease like addiction (and the codependency that results from it) often leads to putting aside everything, including your hobbies, your friends and sometimes even your work obligations and basic hygiene.
But the bright side is, having so much newfound free time gives you an opportunity to rediscover yourself.
Darlene Lancer, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of "Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You," writes,
The goal is to bring your attention back to yourself, to have an internal, rather than external, 'locus of control.' This means that your actions are primarily motivated by your values, needs, and feelings, not someone else's.
Be willing to take risks, to try new things outside of your comfort zone, to meet new people and to develop new interests.
Soon enough, you'll begin to notice your focus shifting back to the things you genuinely enjoy. It may take some time to break the habit, but you'll begin to stop denying your own feelings, needs and desires.
There are 12-step programs to aid those in recovery from codependency, and you might find it's easier to change when you have the support of others who have been through the same thing as you.
You may fear the consequences of disappointing your loved one by finally putting yourself first, but this too will be a habit you'll eventually learn to break.
The personal freedom that comes from embracing outcomes, rather than trying to control them, will be the single most liberating thing you'll ever do for yourself.
Above all, be gentle. You've been hard on yourself for far too long.