The Wall)

In my last post I discussed the fact that we tend to mask our hurt and pain with anger. The spouse of an addict, for example, is going through incredible trauma, but she is also in close proximity to the very person who caused that trauma in the first place. It’s completely understandable that she’s wouldn’t feel safe breaking down and crying in front of the same person that made her cry. So instead she builds a wall of anger.

Something that every addict would do well to remembers is that the incredible height and width of his wife’s wall of anger is a testament to how massive the reservoir of grief being held behind it is. The more anger she is showing, the more hurt she is hiding. It is worth asking yourself whether you have truly allowed yourself to empathize with that magnitude of her pain.

Of course, whether you have direct access to empathize with that pain is entirely up to her. You can try to imagine that pain, but it would be far better if she could explain it to you. She may not be ready to do that yet, and one of the chief reasons why she may not be able to do that is because she has no idea that this is even going on.

The Unknown Self)

Something that we often forget is just how little consciousness we have of our own self. We assume that our conscious mind captures everything about ourselves, but this is demonstrably false. We have no control of our own beating heart, our own digestion, or our own body temperature. We can examine and measure each of these from an external perspective, but we cannot in our own mind observe the signals that we send to regulate each of these complex behaviors. These instructions and processes are unquestionably a very real part of ourselves, and yet we have no conscious knowledge of them.

The same is true of our reflexes. We do not have to consciously think through the process of withdrawing our hand from heat or throwing it out to catch us when we fall. Clearly there are mental processes and calculations behind these movements, but they occur in the subconscious. If asked how we knew how to move our hand we can give no intelligent answer.

And what does all of this have to do with the trauma suffered by the spouse of an addict? Well, the subconscious mind also reigns over our emotions. The spouse is most probably not even making a conscious decision to hide her hurt and respond in rage. She, herself, can be totally ignorant that this is the reason behind her aggressive behavior. If you ask her why she is screaming at you she probably isn’t going to say “because I am very close to revealing my overwhelming grief, and I don’t trust you enough to do that, so I’m going to shout to cover that all up instead!” She isn’t going to say that because all of that rationalization happened in her head reflexively without her ever observing its occurrence. All she knows is the minimal and direct output of all that subconscious calculation, which is to express anger.

Sometimes, though, in the midst of carrying out a subconscious reflex we can become aware of it happening and then override it with a conscious decision. After dropping a knife we might instinctively move to grab it, but if our conscious mind is quick, it might be able to halt that action so we don’t end up cutting ourselves. We can learn to externally monitor our reflexes and impose our higher reasoning upon them.

Similarly, it is possible to gradually become aware of our emotional reflexive actions after they have already begun, and then make a conscious choice to override them. With guidance and practice, the spouse can learn to understand her own self and process all the complex things that she is feeling.

Both she and her husband have to understand that this is a journey, though. Just as he is learning the subconscious processes that kick off his destructive behavior after encountering an addiction-trigger, she must learn the subconscious processes that kick off her rage after encountering grief. They both need to do this work, because they both need to have a greater awareness of truth and self if they are ever to find healing.

It’s hard work, and particularly for the wife it might seem to be unfair work, but there’s no going around it, under it, or over it. If you want to be happy and healthy as an individual, let alone as a couple, you have to go through it.

NOTE: Throughout this series I refer to the addict as “he” and the injured partner as his “wife.” This is merely a convenience for maintaining consistency. It is entirely possible for the addict to be a woman and the injured partner to be her husband. It is also entirely possible for the strained relationship to be between non-romantic partners, such as with a parent and a child.

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