Even my strong feelings for him couldn't hide the fact that his demons were bringing me down, too.
Everyone has their own list of romantic "deal breakers" — those quirks, habits, and routines that you can't get past in order to have a successful relationship. Some people won't put up with smoking or credit card debt. For others, it's messiness or a strange and unhealthy reality TV habit.
Most people, including myself, would put drug addiction at the top of their list. But that was before I fell for one.
I didn't fall for the addict who prioritized drugs above everything else; I fell for the person who wasn't using — the charming, sweet man who made me laugh. He captured my heart and kept me from giving up on the relationship long past when I should have called it quits.
Here are the 5 stages I went through as I fell in love, tried to help, and finally let go of a man with an addiction:
1. Infatuation with the facade.
When I met my boyfriend at a friend's party, I was immediately attracted to him. He had striking green eyes and this ability to talk at length about everything from art to philosophy and science. When he wrote me an eloquent email the next day, void of any grammar mistakes, I was sure he was as close to perfection as humanly possible.
He had flaws, just like everyone does. He recently dropped out of a graduate psychology program and was living in his parents' basement, but he had ideas and ambition.
I was sure he wouldn't be down for long. If he drank a little too much when we went out or showed up late and seemed out of it, I let it go. After all, no one's perfect and his many good traits made up for any problems.
2. Riding on a cloud of euphoria.
It was the first relationship I had that felt truly mutual. We were both really into each other and shared the same interests. We'd watch foreign films, then stroll through the city hand-in-hand, drinking strong coffee and discussing whatever came to mind.
Eventually, everyone comes down from the clouds. When you're dating an addict, though, the end of the honeymoon phase comes hard and fast.
One day, he asked if he could borrow money. He had a job waiting tables at a nice restaurant but said he wasn't making enough in tips to cover his undergrad student loan payment.
Since I was making decent money at the first "real" job I ever had, I figured it wasn't a big deal to give him $100. I believed him as I looked into those pretty green eyes and he promised to pay me back.
3. Adopting the "I can fix him" mentality.
That loan was never repaid and soon his requests for money grew more frequent as the reasons got shakier.
His mood fluctuated wildly and he'd explode with anger over small things. I stopped feeling safe around him. After he lost his job — which, of course, wasn't his fault, rather, due to the manager's prejudices against him — his behavior got out of control.
When I realized his bloodshot eyes weren't from allergies, and all the bottles of pills in his room weren't prescribed to him, I wanted to help. I read everything I could about addiction and recovery so that I could be there for him as he battled his demons.
4. The catalyst that brings clarity.
Unfortunately, my boyfriend didn't see things as I did. We argued over whether he had a problem, and he rebuffed all my efforts to help him cut drugs and alcohol out of his life. But instead of giving up, I became consumed with his problems.
My friends stopped inviting me out, and my job suffered as I spent hours reading online forums where other loved ones of addicts shared their woes. I wasn't sleeping well, either. I prepared myself for that late night phone call, meaning he was in trouble somewhere and needed me to pick him up.
Finally, I realized the relationship wasn't contributing anything good to my life. He was dragging me down with him.
5. Detoxing and rebuilding your life.
It wasn't easy to end things. My boyfriend kept calling and pleading for another chance, swearing things would change. I knew nothing would change until until he was willing to try rehab.
I also realized I'd become so used to the drama of dating an addict that life without him felt a little boring. Slowly, I returned to the things I used to enjoy. I started making plans with friends again.
I also had to let go of my guilt and realize it wasn't my fault. No one can make an addict get clean; they have to want it for themselves.