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Tiptoeing Through Chaos: The Struggle of Loving an Addict

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Shadley Grei launched Grei Matter to help bodies and businesses use narrative-driven tools to rewrite the stories around the challenges of embracing change, deconstructing corporate silos, building forward-thinking cultures, and uncovering IP opportunities. Through coaching, workshops, ideation, and partnership research, he works shoulder-to-shoulder with individuals and teams ready to roll up their sleeves and do the work to turn ideas into action.


Addiction, drug addiction specifically, has planted its ugly feet in my life and there are days when it tiptoes and others when it kicks holes through the middle of my equilibrium.

And this addiction—the one I’m referencing here anyway—is not my own. But like many things, it’s a heavy burden for the afflicted that feels lonelier than it actually is, because addiction is a grenade, not a bullet. It sends shrapnel through the quiet corners, fragile minds, and soft corners of everyone with a heartbeat connected to the addicted one.

I’ve been researching resources and guidance for those living on the outskirts of the disease and a lot of what I find feels too well-mannered for tackling the unwelcome guest who has crashed the simple pleasures of my life. I read reminders to stay detached, but with love. Set boundaries. Don’t judge. Manage expectations. Exercise.

And mostly what I hear in my mind as a response is, “F*** that.”

There are days when I struggle to lift my eyelids, let alone go for a walk. How can I have a realistic understanding of what to expect in a world built on booby traps and quicksand? I’m not allowed to be enraged by the moral decisions that have led us here? How is my self-care supposed to compete with their self-destruction? My body isn’t built for holding the one’s I care about the most at arm’s length.

I don’t want to talk calmly about how to treat addiction with the kind of respect it isn’t giving me. I want to scream and smash plates against the walls that swing at me when I’m sleeping. I love the addicted and I hate their addiction, and there are days when these feelings are so intertwined that I can’t tell if the red I see is finger-painted hearts or blood on my hands.

I don’t want simple solutions in pretty fonts on a checklist. I want a time machine that can carry us both back to the day before the invitation was sent to the lie dressed as a promise. I want to untie all the knots of self-hate that have turned to barbed wire around the brilliant mind I know still exists within the cage now hardwired with needle-point cravings. I want to hide from the hurting I can’t heal.

Addiction is a kind of madness that splinters how the afflicted perceives the world. It’s a dazzling trickster that introduces itself as the savior, the solutionist, the sidekick to our superhero. But when our hero starts to question the truest motives of this addiction, it shows its true face as a gaslighter, manipulator, and thief. It convinces its chosen prey that it and it alone is the one true love that understands the secret pain hidden inside our loved one, conveniently failing to mention that the addiction itself created this singular pain so that only it could offer the cure.

There’s an ugliness to the struggle of loving an addict that gets minimized in an effort to respect the struggle the addict is going through. Shame and anger are the exact triggers the addiction is hoping for so it can offer up its bittersweet salvation, and it’s our job to create the safest place possible to keep itchy fingers free and clear from these triggers. The addiction is daring us, begging us to fail and it’s so easy to let it win in the moments when exhaustion has left us unable to hold back the ocean with our hands. I get that. I’m here for that fight. And, most of the time, I’m willing and able to wrestle my tongue into submission in order to extend a helping hand that will hopefully find a trembling hand reaching back.

But, today, it’s not easy.

Shadley Grei

Comments (1)

Thank you for capturing in words the unspeakable in my heart. There is no preparation for the mourning that addiction creates. The mourning for the innocence lost, the mourning for the dreams a mother once had for her child. There is no preparation a parent is given to be in a state of constantly planning out the for the inevitable funeral for their child. Inevitable, because you’ve been told by several addiction specialists that the odds are against your child living to age 27. Yet this is my reality. So again, thank you for your words as it helps me to feel less lonely in this world knowing others feel the same range of emotions and tensions between the past, future, and present. At least for today.

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