Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.

'I fell in love with an addict - and the healthiest thing he did was leave me'

By Jill Rothenberg Time of article published Oct 28, 2018

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Washington - The interstate is dark and my windshield wipers can barely keep up with the rain pelting down, making it hard to see. It's after midnight but I'm wide awake, speeding down Interstate 25 from my home in Denver north to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where my boyfriend is in the hospital.

"I need you here," he said, his usual deep voice replaced by a whisper when he called to tell me where he was. "I'm not doing so well, and the doc is worried."

It was August, and he had been at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, a yearly pilgrimage he made with friends where he drank whiskey nonstop and still rode his motorcycle. I knew that lecturing him about his drinking was useless.

"I don't want to hear it, sweetheart," he would say.

Eight years later, when I watched Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine in A Star is Born passing out in bed, lurching drunkenly through hotel corridors and parties, and humiliating Lady Gaga's Ally by drunkenly peeing on himself as she accepts a Grammy, I felt as if I was reliving the past.

Those of us who have loved an addict or who have ourselves battled an addiction didn't just see a film that pulled us in from the beginning and made us care about Jack and Ally. We also knew that there was another person in that relationship - a mistress called alcohol.

"The only thing more hellish than being addicted is loving someone who is addicted," said Laura McKowen, 41, of Boston, who writes about sobriety. "The nausea I felt through a lot of the movie was that feeling of waiting for other shoe to drop."

I know the feeling. Like Jackson Maine, my ex was easy to fall in love with. He looked at me like I was the only person in the room. The lines in his face and around his eyes crinkled when he smiled, which was often, at first. When I told him he was like one of those soft-serve ice cream cones from Dairy Queen with the hard chocolate shell, he brought me one.

But his drinking turned him into a beast, a glass sent flying across a bar full of people crashing against a brick wall and sending everyone running for cover. That time, I took a cab home, shaking with the same fear I had when I heard my father throw glasses and bottles, punching his fist through walls in alcoholic rages.

That should have been the moment I walked away. But I stayed - because he apologized, saying things like: "I'm sorry that I scared you and got out of control. It won't happen again. I promise."

"When someone is in the throes of addiction, it's really hard to have healthy communication patterns with that person," says Carla Stover, an associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center. 

"And you can have one person in the couple thinking: 'If I just love this person enough, or if this person loves me enough, then they would just stop.' And that is a misconception, because someone who has an addiction can love their family and want to stop, and they feel like they can't."

After he gave up alcohol, my ex-boyfriend turned to other substances, ones that made him meaner, more unpredictable and violent. I absorbed his fists, his anger, his cruel taunts and his love. And still, I didn't leave. I didn't have Ally's well-defined boundaries.

It was his decision to leave me, which should have been the relief that my friends said it was, and which I saw only years later as a blessing. All the love in the world was not going to fix him. Like Ally, I couldn't love him into being well.

The Washington Post

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