August 29, 2019:

It took a while for me to understand Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. Three or four weeks, and in that time I behaved very badly.

She was frustrated and hurt. Frustrated: short-term memory was a mess, she'd forget the plans we'd made the night before, simple to-do lists, therapy appointments. Hurt: I'd snarkily snap mean things, like, "Weren't you paying attention? We decided this last night." When I was impatient with her she'd blame herself for not remembering, and question whether her brain was permanently broken. She was anxious, depressed, very scattered. When she thought I wasn't watching I'd catch her quietly crying.

My behavior is especially inexcusable because I acted, albeit on smaller scale, very much as her family had for so many years. I took her new behavior personally, as though it were a language of disrespect focused at me. When it's merely a perfectly common symptom of the brain's struggle to repair itself after years of substance-induced misfunction.

I was ignorant, and insecure. The change in her behavior intersected a particularly raw place of depressive vulnerability — the worry that I wasn't being heard. Ignorance combined with fear: same drivers of blame-the-victim as her family's.

I'm grateful this didn't last as long as it might have. I no longer remember how we got clued-in. It's likely her therapist educated her, probably when she shared how hurt she felt. I remember the two of us going online together to study up, and I vividly remember the lightbulbs going off over our heads. Ah. That's what's happening. Got it.

And I remember feeling terribly guilty, as I do today thinking back. It wasn't her fault. It's what happens when addicts begin their recovery. Although it eventually clears up, it can last many months.

We took steps. We wrote everything down. This is our plan for tomorrow. This is our list of appointments. These are the movies we'd like to rent. We learned to forgive her forgetfulness. It was easier for me than for her. Once I'd internalized the fact that it was not about me I was able to view her scattered state with detachment, as just one more symptom of the disease. Actually a hopeful symptom, this time, because despite how frustrating it was, it was a sign of healing.

You can understand why it was harder for her. It felt to her as though her brain were malfunctioning, which, being literal, it was. The thing is, with alcohol it had malfunctioned for more than a decade. It's that this new malfunction was, well, new, so that a period of adjustment was necessary for her to acquire perspective.

I'm petty enough, and angry enough, to contrast this outcome with two decades of blame-the-victim by her family. To my knowledge not one of them ever at any point chose to get educated about the disease. They were walking repositories of mythologies and misconceptions, all centered on castigation. There's a straightforward reason for this. They were far more broken than she ever was. In the most secret recesses of their hearts of hearts the addiction made them happy, because it gave them permission to behave as they'd always wanted, with fangs drawn and resentments thrown like bricks. They were thrilled to be allowed to treat her as bottom dog, the one the entire pack was free to bite. They loved it, and that's their tragedy. They're small people with petty morals and very narrow lives. They're all terribly unhappy.

August 28, 2019:

Some part of my codependency originated in competition with her family. I held them in such contempt that I was determined not to fail her the way they'd done. Inevitably I failed her in different ways but I did keep my promise not to abandon her. That was important to me, not only because I loved her but because it allowed me to tell myself that for all my failings at least I wasn't as horrible as them.

That family repulsed me by the ease with which they abandoned their daughter-and-sister — then rationalized their betrayal as tough love. It wasn't love, not even a little. It was, first and foremost and last and forever, worship of material comfort. They resented her drain on their disposable cash 'cos they wanted a bigger TV. So they dropped her on the sidewalk — the special needs child they'd adopted knowing her mother was an addict — to live whatever sordid existence an addict's life would bring. While lying to themselves it was not for their benefit but for hers.

Her mother said to me once, seeming genuinely astonished: "You have the patience of Job!" You and I though know I have no such thing. What I did have was a rational understanding of addiction as disease; a working brain which God gave me to allow me to research things like this; loyalty; and a plan.

But that's not what she meant. She wasn't actually thinking of me at all. She was rationalizing her own betrayal by imputing something exceptional to me. Because if my loyalty was ordinary human loyalty — the debt we all owe to the ones we love — then her entire relationship to her daughter was something less than human, certainly less than loyal. Irony indeed for a right-wing Evangelical claiming to revere family values. But hardly unique in that milieu.

That family was a sinkhole of hypocrisy, selfishness, vanity. They claimed the name of Jesus but they lacked even the most elementary compassion for human suffering. Oh abstractly, sure. There are people hungry in whereverthefuck. But they condemned their daughter for being ill, they left her adrift in the cold without food or shelter or, as she put it herself once, sober but in tears of bone-deep hurt, "hugs".

So yah. To me they were foils: negative examples I would refuse to emulate. I stayed with her until she was safe, and I stayed friends with her for a long time after, until I became at long painful last convinced she didn't return my feelings. Then I let her go.

I'm still to this day confused about the line between loyalty and codependency. Her family obviously had neither. Did I have too much of both? That's not for me to say. Only that knowing what I know now about addiction and about this addict, I'd do things differently. I'd still try to help her, including financially. But I'd never in a million years let her under my roof.

August 27, 2019:

At the beginning my fiancée would cut herself, saying, "It's the only way I can feel anything", or "I want to look as ugly on the outside as I feel on the inside". Both statements were lies.

She'd developed a theater of targeted mimicry. In blackouts she'd feign possession by demons, speak in tongues, roll on the floor miming multiple personalities. Sober she'd posture as battered spouse when she was in truth the batterer. These performances were not arbitrary. They insightfully parried the guilt her Evangelical family tried to crush her under for her "rebellion against God". They were a language, shouting to the heavens: This is not my fault. Where the cuts on her arms were punctuation marks emphasizing her innocence.

They told her she was an ungrateful child, a renegade, an apostate. Why? Because the symptoms of her illness inconvenienced and embarrassed them — and cost them money. Like Little League Pontius Pilates they confronted her with the ultimatum: Obey! Or we wash our hands of you.

"They" means Mom. She controlled the family the way she'd have controlled the world if she'd had power. War orphan, shaped in insecurity, a weak sad soul warped by fear: she stumbled through life terrified the world was beyond her authority. Her psychotically relentless craving for control was manic to the most microscopic detail. She demanded of her captive family long into their adulthoods: what color socks to wear, which chair to sit in at dinner, when to laugh at the TV show, what passages to underline, how to pray, who to marry, what to name their children. How to know Jesus: ruling ruthlessly by browbeating and sanctimony. They revered her the way they'd have revered God if only they'd ever been told she wasn't Him. It was inevitable she'd view her daughter's addiction not as neurobiological affliction but contest of wills between her daughter and herself — addiction as childhood defiance of parental and therefore divine authority. She ordered her daughter to be well, and when that therapeutic strategy failed to produce the result she'd demanded she did it again and again and again, more and more stridently, a stunningly pristine illustration of Einstein's definition of insanity, with greater and more insistent accusations of betrayal, not of herself of course but of God, because there was no-one in the world more comfortable than she in ignoring that distinction.

Her daughter replied by cutting. It was her half of the dialog, a language that said: You're blaming me unjustly for being ill. I'm in the grip of a disease which is beyond willpower. I'm neither a rebellious child nor a bad person, and my drinking is not harming YOU.

Granted it was a lunatic's language. But their relationship was forged by her mother's insanity, thus it was a language they both spoke as natives. Playacting at possession was particularly brilliant. That was dialog Evangelical Mom could endorse. Logically, exorcism was a step toward acknowledging that someone other than Mom was the victim. But her daughter was not possessed, she was playacting, and logic is not Mom's world. Failure of the ritual left them where they'd begun: an alcoholic daughter with a mother who insisted it was all about her.

After more than a decade this nonsensical drama ended when I entered the scene. There was a superficial reason, and a deeper one.

Superficially: she couldn't get away with it. I scoffed at her silly Hollywood demon voices, challenging her to prove her supernatural symbiosis by making the lights flicker or flying around the room. Instead she went to bed. Later when sober she confided, "I've been able to manipulate everyone but I can't manipulate you." In other contexts that was very untrue but it was correct in this. I saw through the playacting and it stopped.

More fundamentally, she didn't need it anymore. I responded to her not as a willful child but an adult with a debilitating disease. When she was sober we researched together the neurobiological nature of the illness, searching for treatments. She told me, "No-one's ever stood by me before," and having met her family I believe it. Her violence continued, but the cutting stopped. In my desperation for signs of progress I interpreted that as positive.