In the fall of 2015, my wife finally asked me to move out. She was soft spoken and outwardly showed little emotion when she said those words. I remember it being mentioned casually, almost in passing. Likely wanting to avoid a confrontation, she did her best to frame the idea as a temporary break, but I knew that I would never again be welcomed back into our home.
At this point in our relationship, I was too broken to even put up a fight. I complied with her request and shuffled my way out the door. Divorce is not what I wanted, but I could barely get myself out of bed most days, let alone be a husband. Small daily tasks seemed unmanageable. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I was close to dying, and honestly, I felt indifferent towards my potential death. My entire life felt confined within my mind, unable to consider anything or anyone outside of myself.
Over the course of our six-year relationship, I caused a lot of wreckage. My wife always tried to keep the wheels on, cleaning up my messes and keeping up the outward appearances of our perfect life. I held that woman hostage with me in my disease, and she probably should have thrown in the towel long before she did. I moved out, and the divorce papers came in the mail soon after.
Will we invest ourselves into something if the outcome is not guaranteed?
When I finally found my way into recovery and put together several months of sobriety I made an effort to reach out to my now ex-wife. My ego wanted her to know how well I was doing and how full my life had become in recovery. I wanted her forgiveness and for her tell me that she was proud of me and was happy to hear from me.
None of those things happened as I had hoped. She had no interest in knowing what I was doing and firmly asked me to never contact her again. My expectations of the situation were not met, and I had feelings of resentment for her not appreciating my efforts.
As someone in recovery, this response could have been especially devastating. Attaching my self-work to the expectation of healing a relationship, or to gaining forgiveness from another person, could derail my sobriety if those expectations are not met. It’s always risky for me to attach my well-being to the outcomes of my recovery efforts. It requires humility to accept that I don’t control the reaction of others to me or the amount of praise and validation I receive. In retrospect, it was selfish of me to reach out at all, and it was unreasonable to have expectations of her reaction.
Marcus Aurelius said it best when talking about tying happiness to other things or people:
Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do. Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you. Sanity means tying it to your own actions.
Will I continue to invest myself into something where the result is not guaranteed? If I approach my recovery correctly, I should focus on fulfilling my own standards of myself. I should find serenity in doing the work instead of being consumed by expectations of the outcomes. The work that I do in recovery every day is enough; the reactions of others do not determine my value.
It’s important to find peace in knowing that you are doing the right thing and focus on what is within your control. Having expectations about someone’s reaction to your efforts will only set you up to have resentments, and it could potentially disrupt your recovery.
What someone thinks of me is not my business
My marriage is in the past, but I still struggle today with forming healthy relationships and dating. I can get caught up in what other people think and in wanting to control their reactions to me. These feelings typically manifest strongest for me when I am dating someone. My ego wants to control what a woman’s friends and family think and say about me. “Recovering heroin addict” isn’t the resume that most parents want to hear when vetting a potential partner for their daughter. Because of my past transgressions; I feel like I always need to prove myself worthy to other people.
When I feel attacked, I find myself wanting to say: “Forget them, they don’t appreciate my efforts anyway.” The reality is that some people will judge me based on my past and the stigma surrounding addiction. I can’t control these reactions, and it’s in my best interest to not consume myself with things beyond my control. I’m learning to be happy with my actions and the way that I carry myself on a daily basis. I know that I shouldn’t tie my happiness to other people’s reactions to me, but it can be a hard thing to practice.
In life and in your recovery, you will be unappreciated. You will be attacked. You will have failures, and your expectations will not always be met. I know I’ll only keep my sanity by instead focusing on my efforts in recovery and in becoming the best version of myself. What someone thinks of me is not my business and most importantly not something I should tie to my happiness.