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No, You Can't 'Save' Your Addicted Partner

Photo: an.nikonov / Shutterstock
Woman holding glass of alcohol

It's the shame I remember most. The feeling I was failing him. The feeling that if he loved me more, I'd be worth staying sober for.

To love an addict is to live in a constant state of wonder and worry. Wondering when the bottom will drop out of your world, worried it could be any second. Somehow, you still never see it coming.

As Hunter Biden has promoted his book, "Beautiful Things," I've been thinking about what it was like to be on the other side of the memoir in my own life.

I'm so happy for Biden. Sober, happy, and owning his story, he appears in control in a way so many addicts — and the people who love them — grasp for their whole lives.

But there is one bit of his story I can't help but question — and no, it has nothing to do with Ukraine.

Biden credits his wife, his father, and the love of his family for saving him, for his sobriety.

But as someone who's been that wife, who's loved an addict with every piece of her soul, there is no amount of love that can make someone sober.

RELATED: How To Love An Addict: Balancing Compassion And Self-Protection

There's a saying in Al-Anon, "I didn't cause it, I can't control it, I can't cure it."

I have had to repeat these words to myself constantly, in my marriage and in my divorce, through every peak and valley. I am not responsible for any drink or relapse, and I am not entitled to credit for any period of sobriety.

It's hard sometimes, separating yourself from the person you love.

We call it codependence, but it's more like you're fused together by a shared life.

Your partner's failures and successes and pain and joy, those are shared experiences so tangible they are genuinely truly yours. That's what it means to love someone.

But in a relationship with mental health issues, specifically addiction, the waters are muddier and the waves all the more treacherous.

RELATED: Help: My Children's Father Has A Drinking Problem

I engaged in the magical thinking that I could somehow love my partner sober for far too long.

I believed that I could say the right thing, scare him the right way, be the right wife in a way that made sobriety worth being.

The pressure I was putting on myself was untenable, unrealistic, and the pressure I was putting on him to let me save him was impossible. It gave me an endless circle of anxiety, one I was desperate to end.

In a way, I think I needed him to save me by letting me save him.

And the truth is there was nothing — no magic words, no amount of love, no perfect wifely act — so powerful to knock the addiction right out of him.

Because whether or not you believe an addicted person is powerless against their addiction, everyone else absolutely is.

You can't save someone. You cannot control them or fix them, no matter how hard you try.

But you can still love them and support them.

The fact is there is no right answer when it comes to "how to love an addict." You just... do your best.

As best as you can for as long as you can.

If there comes a point where your love becomes enabling, or you are being hurt by supporting them, then you may need to let them go.

And whatever happens next is also out of your control.

Because there might be something that happens next. And you can't save them.

And that's the hardest part of all.

RELATED: To The Man Who Chose Drugs Over Me

Courtney Enlow is Editor of Pop Culture and Good News at YourTango. Her work has appeared at Vanity Fair, Glamour, Pajiba, SYFY FANGRRLS, Bustle, Huffington Post, io9, and others. She is the former co-host of the podcasts Trends Like These and Strong Female Characters. She has two kids, two dogs, and requires more wine, please.