Feed the Person, Starve the Illness

I never could keep my Grandmother’s advice straight. It is starve a cold and feed a fever, or feed a cold and starve a fever?

It’s just as well that I can’t remember it right; modern medicine discredits the practice of withholding nourishment from any sick person, regardless of whether they have a cold or a fever. Therefore, I propose that we modify the old saying to something that actually makes sense.

Feed the person and starve the illness.

We’ve been talking about how addiction, like any illness, can take over a person so that there is little of him left that is unaffected. When addiction is done with the person, when he is mostly overcome, then addiction takes over the relationship. Even the partner who is not herself addicted can begin to act in ways against her own self interest. She will nourish the addiction and starve the people in it.

You know what he’s like when he drinks too much, so why do you buy beer for him? You give the drug addict pills prescribed for you. She put herself in hock to drug dealers, bookies, or the credit card company, yet you bail her out every time.

You do it because addiction talked you into it, even though it’s counter to the best interests of both you and your partner.

There are many more examples of how people feed addiction. If you read the last chapter, you know how to distinguish your partner from the illness. Now is the time to put that discernment to work. What are the things you do that serve the addiction and dis-serve your partner? Be honest. Be ruthless. Get real.

This doesn’t mean that you stop doing all nice things for your partner. Feed the person. Identify those actions that make her stronger, that promote your bond. Continue to do those, or resume them if you have stopped. In fact, the ratio of nice things to tough things should be at least five to one in any relationship. In yours, given the extraordinary stress, it should be more.

Let there be no question about it, starving the illness is a brave thing to do. It won’t seem like you get any credit for doing it from your partner. He, after all, has already been overcome by addiction. Even if you’re acting against the addiction, he’s going to take it personally because, as far as he’s concerned, he and his addiction are one. He’s not going to like it when you say no, but it’s really his illness talking. When he’s in his right, true mind, he’s going to be glad that you made that call.

The fact that you have to take action against addiction is what makes the next step necessary. Get help. At times like these, you’re going to need support to do the right thing.