FULL TRANSCRIPT – DIVORCE ETC… PODCAST
DIVORCING AN ADDICT – SEASON 3, EPISODE 50
Jessica: Is your ex an addict? Maybe they drink too much, use drugs, or even have a gambling problem? Being in and getting out of a relationship or marriage to an addict is really hard. Knowing what to do in order to support yourself and protect your kids is essential. Or maybe you need to know those things so you can support a friend or a loved one who’s in this situation. Those are the things we’re talking about in today’s episode of the Divorce etc… podcast. We are the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We help you navigate your divorce and successfully move on with your life. Make sure to follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS, and go to www.exexperts.com for free divorce related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.
T.H.: Hey guys, T.H. here with exEXPERTS. We have Kim Kassnove here. Now Kim is a relationship and life coach, but we really are going to hone in on the relationship with an addict. Certainly, that’s complicated no matter what, but then to add a layer of a bad marriage, divorce pending, or divorce happening, and holy crap, how and where do you even begin with this? We’re really happy to have you on the show. I think that you’re really going to help a lot of people today. So, thanks, Kim.
Jessica: Thanks Kim.
Kim: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really thrilled to be here.
Jessica: I wonder if there are certain times of the year when this becomes more of an issue, or as the marriage starts to deteriorate, things become worse than they were before. What can you tell us about the patterns that people can look out for?
Kim: Yeah, I think one of the patterns to look out for is are you someone who you believe is living with an addict? So many people who enter into relationships with addicts don’t realize they have a problem until they are years down the road. You may have married or partnered up with someone who was a lot of fun in their twenties, and now you’re in your thirties and your forties, you’re like, “This isn’t fun anymore. This behavior is not acceptable.” And so there’s addressing that issue in the moment when you notice it. But then when there is no change, when that behavior persists, you may discover, like many of my clients have, “Oh my gosh, I believe my spouse is an addict.” To answer your original question, are there patterns, are there times of year? Addiction is actually something that’s pretty sustained over time. Sure, holidays, parties, going out with friends will exacerbate those symptoms, and you’ll see those certain behaviors out in public and out on display. But addiction is something that is pretty consistent and pretty reliable in its own way.
T.H.: There are so many people I know that do casual drugs and casual drinking. I’m sure they do casual porn. I’m sure they do a lot of things casually. How do you know when the line is crossed and now it’s an addiction? Now it’s not casual. Then the second part to the question is, what if you used to do that with them, the drinking and the drugs and everything, and now you’re like, “I’m not into it anymore.”? How do you identify it? And what do you do if you’re wrapped up in it? Like you were saying in your twenties, then maybe in your thirties you’re like, “I’m not into this anymore.” So, how and why again?
Kim: Yeah, I think that’s also a really common phenomenon. Usually, you are, or often you’re a part of the scene of whatever it is that’s going on, and then you grow out of it and your partner doesn’t and the behavior persists. I’m a coach. I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not a diagnostician, so I just want to be really clear about that. It’s actually relatively unimportant to know whether or not your spouse is actually truly an addict. The thing to really check in with yourself around is, is this behavior okay? When I raise it and when I try to address it and talk about it, what’s the response that I’m getting? Are you getting blamed for it? Are you being told that you’re imagining it and it’s not real? Are you being told they’ll take care of it, and they don’t? What is the response that you’re getting? Well, first checking in, am I okay with this do? Is this impacting my life in some way that just does not work for me any longer? Then what kind of a response am I getting when I bring this up to my partner? Then the question is, what do you want to do about it once you get all of that?
Jessica: Well, I also wonder, one of your questions is, is it impacting my life in a way that I don’t like, but I feel just not liking it can be enough of an impact on your life, right? I am happy to go out and have cocktails. There are some weeks where for whatever reason the way my calendar lays out, I could be out with a friend in different situations over the course of a week, maybe four times, and it’s like, oh my God, I had a drink or two drinks all of those nights. I never drink at home. I don’t even think about it, honestly. And so it couldn’t be something as simple as, every day they come home and they’re having a drink or two, which is so common. I feel I almost don’t know anybody who doesn’t do that.
T.H.: Yeah, or they smoke or whatever to take the edge off from the day. Then when you say something, the response could be, “Listen, I had a rough day. This is how I cope.”
T.H.: So that’s back to how do I know?
T.H.: I guess, look, if you’re uncomfortable with anything in your life and you can’t talk about it, that’s one thing. But addiction is an illness.
Jessica: But it doesn’t have to be that they’re drunk at your kid’s Little League game.
T.H.: Totally not.
Jessica: It could just be that not a night goes by—
T.H.: A pattern.
Jessica: —or whatever, right? Or I was out over the weekend with a huge group of people, but a couple of them were high school friends. One of them—it was all women and one girl’s husband—he seemed fine when I was there. But one of my friends told me later that he was so sloppy by the end of the night, he couldn’t stand up, couldn’t walk. They had gone back to my friend’s apartment building and couldn’t remember which apartment she lived in. They’re knocking on one of the neighbor’s doors in the middle of the hallway in the middle of the night. I’m like, “At this age, really? Shouldn’t he know how much he can tolerate?” My friend was like, “It happens every time.”
Kim: I see your face. That’s where, for me, and it sounds like for you in many ways, that would be a line, right? Every time we go out, I have to worry that my partner is going to need to be taken care of. I fear for their safety. I worry about their capacity to be able to get me home safely, take care of me as well, right? I don’t feel qualified to say whether or not that person has—
Jessica: No, and I don’t even know them well enough to say it. But I was more like, I would be annoyed if I have to be thinking about that every time I’m going out with a group of people.
T.H.: Yeah, that’s angst.
Kim: Right. Many of my clients have a relationship in which there is an addict in the relationship, and they are worrying about those things. They are calculating for those things. Oftentimes, they’re calculating for those things on a daily basis. Can I go out with my friends and leave my partner home with the kids? Will I be able to get them out of bed to go to this family commitment? Are they going to be well enough and healthy enough to participate in this activity? Addiction is a degenerative disease. If someone has been in active addiction for many years, there’s often a major physical and mental and cognitive impact on their bodies, and so that shows up in a variety of ways. The spouse, the person in relationship with the addict, is always calculating for those things. I would say another indication for you, if you’re trying to figure out is this a thing that I’m dealing with is, are you doing that math all the time? Are you trying to figure out how to navigate these situations with your partner because there is a substance involved?
Jessica: That’s a really good lead. And so let’s say the answer is yes.
Kim: Yeah, right.
Jessica: I mean, listen, this is our Divorce etc… podcast. For everyone out there listening, if they’re like, it is a problem for this reason or that reason, what do we want to be doing to get our ducks in a row to make sure that we’re moving forward in a productive, healthy way?
Kim: Sure. Well, acknowledging there’s a problem is step one, I think always, when we’re talking about ending a marriage, right? Let’s name it; there’s a problem. Many people who are married to addicts actually don’t get divorced because the person is an addict. There is so much else that’s going on at the same time, whether it’s gaslighting or just nasty language being used in the house, or neglect of the kids. These are all products of addiction. It might not be that you are using substances that this would happen. Really figure out what are the problems in the marriage? Go get counseling. Try to work this out. There are so many people who are in active addiction who get help and who recover. Recovery is an absolutely beautiful thing. It will not solve the other problems in your marriage—
Kim: It won’t. However, if the addict is willing to get help, support them to do that, because recovery is an absolutely beautiful, amazing, miraculous thing. Particularly if there are kids involved in the equation, whether or not your marriage stays intact, having two sober or at least highly functioning healthy adults in their lives is massively important.
T.H.: Let’s take the next step. You’re unhappy. You want a divorce. You just feel that that is where you’re going to go, and you have kids, and you’re all still living in the house. How do you protect your kids? Or what can you do to shield your kids from this happening in the house together? I know you disqualified yourself from so many things, but you are an expert, and you do have clients who have gone through this. What do you do about the kids? It’s one thing to put on your own armor and deal with it on your own—what about your children?
Kim: So, a couple of things. There are organizations for people who are in relationship with addicts. There’s Al-Anon and there’s Alateen.
T.H.: Can you spell those out? Can you spell those out?
Kim: So, Al-Anon and Alateen. I’m actually not sure how to spell Alateen.
T.H.: Alright, we’ll put them in the show notes for all of you.
Kim: It’s the kids’ organization. Those organizations support families who are in relationship with people who are addicts, whether they’re in recovery or not. The focus of those organizations is to work on your own codependency, because every addict needs a codependent. They need someone who is going to support their addiction and who is going to make those excuses for them, organize the family structure around—
Kim: Enable them, exactly. If someone is in active addiction, it means that there are a variety of people enabling them. And so these organizations essentially support the enablers to set boundaries, to understand what’s happening, to understand their role in what’s going on in this addiction cycle. Those are beautiful organizations. I absolutely recommend you get involved in them. Also, know so many people stay in relationships with alcoholics, with addicts, because they want to protect their children.
Kim: I think that is an incredibly noble and understandable move—
T.H.: I don’t even understand that. How are you protecting your kids?
T.H.: How can you think that you’re protecting them?
Jessica: They’re afraid of how the person’s going to react. They’re afraid they’re going to act out. They don’t want their kids to see that. Or—
T.H.: Yeah, but they’re seeing their parent be an addict.
Jessica: They may not be. They may not be seeing it.
Kim: They might not be. They might not be seeing it.
Jessica: I have a childhood friend who—lovely family—and the mom always had a glass of wine in her hand. It didn’t matter if we had a half day at school and we were home at noon. It didn’t matter if I was there at five o’clock on a Wednesday. It didn’t matter if I was there two o’clock on a Saturday. It didn’t matter. Never sloppy drunk, always in control of herself—now as an adult, she had to have been drinking a bottle a day at least. It is not about your kids seeing that because sometimes the kids don’t know that. I had no idea my entire life what probably was the reality of the situation. Yes, it was a different generation back then blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but I think that we are much more aware and in touch with the concept of addiction these days. We want people to talk about it, we want people to get help, we want people to go through recovery, and we’re trying to destigmatize it on a major level. But I don’t think that kids always see it. They only see it if the parent is a sloppy, angry, violent—
T.H.: Right, right. That’s all they know also.
Jessica: Sure. But they may not know that. If your spouse comes home, and every night, they have a couple glasses of whiskey or whatever before they go to bed, that could be a problem. It could prevent your partner from ever wanting to go out. It could prevent them from wanting to socialize. It means that when you’re out with other friends, you may be worried about that. But your kids may not be seeing that.
T.H.: We’re going to pause for a quick minute here. Because did you guys know that in addition to the Divorce etc… podcast, we have an awesome newsletter? We don’t clutter your inbox. Instead, we connect through our personal stories and give you a laugh and tons of valuable divorce tips. We just recently heard from an exEXPERT of ours, and she said, “I really love your newsletter.” And she isn’t even divorced; she’s happily married. But wait, there’s more. You’ll also gain access to our exEXPERTS Divorce Rulebook for free, which you will use even when your divorce is over, as a gentle reminder that you have a voice, you have choices, and you’re not alone. Sign up at www.exexperts.com. You don’t know what you don’t know, but we do. I’m sorry I cut you off there.
Kim: That’s fine. I think what the kids are seeing, even if they’re not seeing mom or dad passed out or using, what they are seeing is one parent trying to hold it together for the family. Even if they don’t have a name for what’s going on, they are experiencing life with an addict. They are experiencing that parent maybe not being 100% present because their addiction is impacting them in their lives.
Jessica: Right, maybe missing a lot of the events. Right, they’re not going.
Kim: Exactly. I think this notion that you want to protect your children, especially when you have little ones that you can’t leave alone at night, or you need to drive them everywhere, there are real safety concerns.
Jessica: That’s scary.
Kim: And so knowing that if this other parent has them alone when I’m not there, I really truly worry for their safety. The other thing is it’s not illegal to abuse drugs and alcohol. And so I am, again, not a lawyer. If you are married to an addict and you want a divorce, you must go to a lawyer to understand what your rights are. It is really important to know how you can protect your children in an agreement and really ensure that the law is working for you to protect them. That as someone who has been protecting someone who has been abusing drugs and alcohol for years and years and years and years and years is a very hard thing to confront when you’re sitting with a lawyer.
Jessica: That’s right because you likely also have been defensive of them and you’ve been covering for them. But then there’s also the whole part at home. They’re probably not picking up their part of the slack. They’re probably not participating in an equal division of the responsibilities. You’re carrying everything on your own. All of that aggravation I’m sure gets all tied up in the psychology of like, what’s going on and how do I deal with it?
T.H.: I have not been in this position, but I’m just assuming, how do you get away from the feeling that it’s your responsibility to make sure that person gets better? Fine, I want a divorce and we’re going to move out, but I need to make sure that he or she’s in treatment, calling all the time, and who’s taking care of you? How do you kind of push that off? What about the family—the extended family? Are you like “Hey guys, your kid’s in trouble here, I’m out.” Listen, I’m simplifying this very—
Jessica: No, but look at the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Garner situation. They were divorced, and I’m sure she felt a tremendous sense of responsibility because years later, she was the one who was evidently took him to another rehab and was there for him. I feel like you are always going to feel that.
T.H.: Right, like, it doesn’t end.
Jessica: That’s right.
Kim: Well, it’s the parent of your child. Even when you have had the most tumultuous, vicious divorce, which many of us have experienced, there’s always a moment where like, “Well, this is my kid’s mother or father, and I can’t hate them. They have given me the most important people in my life.” There’s always going to be some connective tissue. But to answer your question, how do you recover from this cycle of codependency, which is really what you’re describing, work with people. Talk to people. Find your community of people who have been through this, who have traveled this road. I have some experience with this, being in relationship with an addict. My path to recovery on it was therapy, was coaching, and was learning how to pour every resource I was pouring into this person, into myself and into my children. It is a learning. It is a total reorganization of your life, and you can’t do it alone. You can’t will yourself out of it. You can’t will the addict out of it. One of the very common traits that codependents have is a deep desire to change other people, to find that person who you’re like, “If only you would do this, you’d be perfect. If only you would change. If only you would try this.” And it never works. It only exacerbates the problem.
Jessica: I’m curious though, even though I was like, the kids don’t always see it, which I firmly believe, but let’s just talk for a minute, when or how do you have that conversation with your kids? I mean, is it an age based thing? Is it based on the behaviors themselves that the kids may have witnessed? If it wasn’t a big, hot mess, necessarily, like, that’s still something you might want to discuss with your kids as almost a warning sign of this is something that you don’t want to have happen down the road type of a thing. How do you open that conversation up?
Kim: Yeah, so it really comes down to how you want to relate to your children. My personal approach with my kids always is radical honesty. We talk about drugs. We talk about what drugs and alcohol do to your body. We talk about what happens if you try something and you feel like you’re in an unsafe situation, and you need to get a ride home. We talk about excess and that experimentation can lead to excessive behavior, and knowing the difference, and what I’ve tried, and what I wish I hadn’t tried. I talk about the nights when my head was in the toilet because I drank too much wine. I think it’s really important for our kids, and you even said it Jessica, like, “I don’t know a single person who doesn’t have two glasses of wine every night of the week when they’re going out or something.” It’s such a part of our world and a part of our culture. You walk down the streets of New York City and they smell like weed. It’s there. To ignore it and to pretend like it’s not happening is really unhelpful. It is a hereditary gene. If there are alcoholics in your line, you have more susceptibility to it. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, but I think knowledge is power no matter what. Educate your kids and share with them the ways that you made mistakes. Let them know there’s making a mistake and then there’s making a sustained mistake. There’s not learning from that. There’s thinking you can overcome it on your own, not getting help when you feel like you need it. Talk to them about all of it. I would say start early. Kids are vaping in middle schools and elementary schools across America. Start talking about it because it’s there.
Jessica: We’ve talked a lot in a number of episodes in terms of being prepared for what the road is going to be when you’re getting divorced. When it comes to your finances, even if you haven’t spoken to your partner yet, make sure you have all the passwords to your financial accounts. Make sure you have documents downloaded so that you know where your assets are, that you know what the balance in the account is so that you’ll know if there’s a change being made. Are there tangible steps that people should take if they are in this situation you would consider telling clients, like make sure you do X, Y, and Z in order to prepare yourself for the way out?
T.H.: Yeah, like an emergency plan?
Kim: Yeah, it is so circumstantial.
Kim: What I would say first is just make sure that you’ve acknowledged out loud that you believe there’s a problem.
Kim: From there, a lot will follow. The other thing is if you are willing to work on the marriage and on the relationship and supporting the person who has an active addiction, get help. Go to counseling. Don’t try to muscle through it alone, because it is disorienting and confusing and scary and emotional, and it is not something you can just get out alone. Otherwise, definitely consult a lawyer. Understand what the limits of the circumstances are. I say this because oftentimes, folks who come to me are in situations where there may be instances of some domestic violence, there may be instances of arrest, or DUI, or other issues around legality. The other thing that happens quite often in these circumstances is the partner who’s in addiction is often unemployed, or is currently unemployed in that moment. So, really ensuring your professional path, your legal awareness is in place, and you have all of the information that you need. Don’t avoid it. Don’t be scared to name with professionals who deal with this stuff—“We have a problem, this is what it looks like.” There is so much shame involved in being in relationships with people in addiction. This is not the time to have shame about it. This is time to actually put it all on the table so you can get the help that you need.
T.H.: I mean, valuable is an understatement in terms of what you’re sharing with us. But you started by saying that make sure you put the energy back into yourself. And so I just want to come back around to that. Because just like anything in life, and I’m not saying that this is any worse or better or anything than other places you might find yourself, but it all comes back to you. Jessica and I had been friends for years, and our husbands were cheating on us in our face, and we never spoke about it to one another.
T.H.: Because the minute you say it out loud, it becomes real. Then you have to figure out what the fuck am I going to do? What you were saying, as soon as you say it out loud, “There is a problem here,” then that’s your first step towards action.
Jessica: That will be a weight off of your shoulders. For anyone listening—
T.H.: You’re not crazy.
Jessica: It’s a secret that you’re hiding. Yeah.
T.H.: There’s something bigger going on right than you know what to deal with. It’s like listen, if any of us go to the doctor and something comes up, you’re going to the best freaking doctor to figure out how to solve it. Look at this in the same respect. This is an illness and there is a problem and there is a sickness in the family. Go to the best people. But just like in sickness, just like in divorce, and it sounds like also just the same in addiction, your kids and your spouse who’s not well are only going to be as good as you are.
Jessica: That’s right. You really need to step away and have your time to heal and to figure out your own stuff. Own your own stuff. There’s a reason you’re in this relationship. So name that too so that you can do the work. Jessica and I are where we are, and Kim is where she is because we have all done the work. It was not overnight and it’s not linear.
T.H.: But we are here to say that it’s all worth it.
Jessica: Possible. That’s right.
T.H.: It is worth it.
Jessica: You can end up better on the other side.
T.H.: It is worth it.
Kim: It is.
T.H.: Some days, you’re going to say, “No way.” But trust us, it’s worth it. Kim, what you’re sharing is just amazing. Thank you.
Kim: Oh, thank you. Yeah, just to echo what you’re saying, it is so hard to turn the mirror on yourself to say, “This doesn’t work for me. How did I get here?” and to look backwards with the therapists to do that deep soul mining work of “I want better for myself,” and “This is who I am in the world,” and then partnering with coaches and partnering with experts who are going to help you to build that life and to get you there. It is hard. It can be so lonely, but only if you create the reality where it’s lonely. You said something T.H., just about naming it, talking to people who you believe have been through this. Since I’ve gone through my divorce, I have had so many women reach out to me to just say, “Tell me everything. Tell me how you did it. Tell me your story. I don’t know if it’s right for me, but I want to learn from you.” Just know Al-Anon is a beautiful organization. It is completely free, and there are thousands of people who utilize their services because there are thousands of people who are experiencing this every single day in their homes. So know that there are people available to support you through this.
T.H.: So, Al-Anon is A-L-A-N-O-N. If you google it, it’ll say in your city. It’ll tell you everything about what they do and their purpose and about the meetings. Definitely start there.
Jessica: Yeah, and again, Kim, thank you so much for everything. For everyone listening also, we had addressed this earlier on, if you were in that relationship that you’re in and you used to partake and you used to be part of it, don’t feel now it’s your fault because you’ve grown up or evolved in some way. It’s okay that now that’s not okay. Don’t feel like, “Well, I used to say it was okay, and now I’m the one”—if it’s not okay, it’s not okay, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And as Kim said, there are a lot of resources to be able to help you. So if you enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then please take a moment to subscribe, rate, and review because that really helps us out by bumping us up on the podcast platforms, and then more people can find us and we can help them as they’re going through divorce and beyond. Check the show notes for more info on Kim and the coaching and personal development programs that she offers. And of course, share this episode with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.