If you’re an addict in recovery, you may have already noticed this. Those who are closest to you are the last to believe you’re changing. Your wife, your husband, mother, father, children, close friends, don’t get as excited as you do when you celebrate one week clean, one month clean, or one year clean. They’ve heard it before. They don’t want to hear it again.
You feel offended. You wish they trusted you, believed in you.
Well, it isn’t just you. This is a universal phenomena. Your loved one is acting as your lookout. This is a good thing.
Your addiction was custom-made just for you or you would not be subject to it. It sneaks up in your blind spots. If you could see it coming, it never would’ve gotten you. It fits you like a glove. When anyone is tricked by your addiction, it tricks you first.
If you’re in a close relationship, you have a resource that others don’t have. You have a lookout. Your addiction was not custom made just for her (or him). It doesn’t sneak up in her blind spots. She spots it coming before you do. She can see through the deceptions more easily. She has a vested interest in keeping you safe from relapse. She could warn you that it’s approaching, if only you will listen.
It takes hard work to cover from addiction and eternal vigilance to keep from using again. Relapse can be expected. It takes an average of seven real attempts before recovery feels solid and, even then, you won’t know if you’re going to need eight. Moreover, addiction of all kinds will often go into hiding when it feels threatened, so that what appears to be recovery is really a more pernicious hidden phase of the same madness that troubled you before.
Paid professionals can help, they have the knowledge, they have the objectivity, but they don’t have the access your partner has. They don’t see you on the weekends and at night when triggers often strike. They do not have as much at stake.
Far too many people fail to use their lookout. The lookout sees the relapse coming and they argue with her, deny it’s happening, get defensive. This is a mistake. It’s as if a lookout on a ship, up in the crow’s nest, saw an iceberg up ahead, and the captain yelled, “You’re crazy, I’m not going to hit an iceberg. You never trust me. I’m going to do what I want. Get off my back.” It would not be good if a captain did that.
To be sure, many lookouts don’t execute their role too well. When they see relapse coming, they often make accusations, rather than observations. It’s as if the lookout, up in the crow’s nest, called out, “You’re hitting an iceberg again! Don’t you care about me?” They should just warn you that there’s an iceberg. You might be tempted to dismiss their warnings as crazed paranoia. It would not be good if you, or any captain, did that.
However, you’ve got to realize that you’ve hit a few icebergs in your day, already, and your lookout should be excused if she gets excited when she sees another one.
There’s a few things you can expect from a good lookout. Don’t be surprised when you see them.
· A good lookout doesn’t resign.
If your partner comes down from the crow’s nest and tells you that you’ve got to look out for your own addiction, you can figure that next she’ll be going off in a lifeboat. True partners do not resign as lookouts, unless they’re about to leave the relationship, or they’re a damn fool. She has to be a lookout, if only to guard her own interests.
· A good lookout stays awake.
She doesn’t watch like a hawk in the beginning and then forget about it later on. If it’s months or years since madness last struck, don’t be surprised if she still on the lookout. She has to be. That’s her job.
· A good lookout scans the horizon.
She doesn’t keep looking in the same place. The main thing to look out for is the way the madness arrived in the past. It is likely to come that way again. If, for instance, Christmas is a difficult time, then she should be especially on the lookout at Christmas time. But understand, the same difficulty can come wherever there is busy-ness, family contact, alcohol use, overeating, darkness, or an imperative to be merry.
· A good lookout is not deceived.
Addiction arrives in disguise. No one starts off drinking three six packs a day just to feel normal. No, they start off with a glass of wine at dinner, a beer during the game, or doing a shot with a friend. These things are all good things, there is nothing wrong with any of them in themselves. They are only evil because of where they lead. A good lookout sees through the disguises. She knows the masks that your addiction wears.
· A good lookout is jumpy.
She’s got to be vigilant. If you keep driving by that place where you used to score drugs, she should be seeing red flags. This may very well be the way relapse creeps up innocently.
· A good lookout raises the alarm.
If she sees relapse coming, she should say something, not keep that information to herself. You need to know it. She may not want to do it, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but this is what lookouts are for. If the addiction has given the two of you a lot of trouble in the past, she might not want to believe it’s back. If the addiction has already taken you over, she might get an argument.
· A good lookout keeps her eye on the hazard.
If your lookout spots a relapse approaching, she should keep her eye on it, even if you say it’s nothing. Don’t be surprised if she looks for confirmation in the form of a home drug or alcohol testing kit to eliminate suspicions. She may want to get a second opinion from a professional; sort of like calling in another lookout and asking what he sees.
· A good lookout keeps herself safe.
She shouldn’t be so busy being a lookout, watching out for your relapse that she gets overcome by her own kind of madness. Yes, everyone, even your partner, has her own kind of madness.
· A good lookout has someone looking out for her.
Be your partner’s lookout, just as she is yours. Watch each others’ backs. You can see her madness more clearly than she can her own. If your partner has been dealing with your addiction for a long time, she’s probably worked very hard to keep herself strong. Someone in the house had to function. The laundry, the cooking, the kids, the relatives, the shopping, and going to work don’t get done by themselves. She may not be accustomed to relying on you for anything; you just haven’t been reliable. That’s going to have to change. She needs a lookout, too.
If you’ve ever complained that your partner doesn’t trust you, let her be your lookout. This is how she learns to trust you again.
Keith R Wilson is a mental health counselor in private practice and the author of three self-help books, three novels, and innumerable articles.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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