No one is obliged to go to "therapy." It should be a choice.

I don’t owe it to myself to go to therapy nor to anyone else. Even in spousal relationships, I don’t think anyone “owes it” to another to go to therapy to “save the relationship.” I must admit I didn’t always feel that way, though. Here’s an example…..

This happened ages ago so I have some hindsight on it. I met Joe when after he had sobered up. He was newly sober so he was gung-ho over AA at first. I was well-versed in the Steps so we used to talk about it. I attended a few meetings with him but not many since I figured that was his turf. He had his buddies there, after all.

I don’t know exactly when he started gambling. He was never a casino gambler. His “drug of choice” was lottery tickets and he told me that all that started one night at a convenience store. He said he went to buy one or two tickets and then went back and just couldn’t stop.

His total purchase for the night was alarming to him, he said, so he had phoned his psychiatrist right away, asking Dr. White, “Doc, am I manic?”

Joe and I were both assumed bipolar and neither of us were. Joe got labeled because he attempted suicide during alcohol withdrawal and it was mistaken for a manic episode. After that, for his own “safety” he was put on drugs. Oh, glorious wonderful hindsight! I know now, decades later, that undoubtedly the drugs themselves caused any further psychosis he had beyond that. He told me around 1990 that he was sure that delerium tremens accounted for everything that had happened years ago, but neither of us could do nor say anything as so much time had passed. We were so afraid to defy family expectations of us. We were pigeonholed into our roles and we stuck to them.

From what I recall, Dr. White had assured Joe he was not manic. Of course he wasn’t! Joe was not ever manic, for godsakes. Sadly, he and I had to play the game. Joe was afraid he would get impulsive with the lottery tickets again, though. That was his fear. He wasn’t an impulsive person so all this was way, way out of character.

He did. It was awkward and uncomfortable between us, and of course took a financial toll. He had plenty of money it seemed but I knew there would be problems eventually. I was starting to feel the drain on my bank account since I had already begun to compensate for the missing funds.

Then, oddly, Dr. White disappeared. No one ever found out what happened to him. There were no news stories, no explanation. Since White is a common name, I was never able to find out a thing. I never knew his first name. That I know of, he was Department Chair of Psychiatry at St. Elizabeth’s in Boston for a while, but I don’t think he was chair at the time he disappeared. Joe knew where his home was because White had a home office there. Joe had driven to his home to see if he could find out any information, but apparently no one was there. This was around Christmastime 1996.

Joe had been gambling around a year then, on and off. It was making me furious by then, but only to the extent that he imposed it on me. He’d ask me to purchase lottery tickets for him. I told him I wouldn’t do it, and he’d get mad. We didn’t fight but it got awkward. He told me he didn’t want to change. It was almost as if I were demanding that he quit smoking, he said.

I told him we were talking apples and oranges. I explained that his smoking wasn’t an imposition on me. His smoking wasn’t making me go broke. It wasn’t embarrassing me. He was disposing of the butts properly and not littering on my floor, I explained, nor blowing smoke in my face. I told him I didn’t even mind buying smokes for him if he paid for them, so long as I didn’t have to smoke them. It was a matter of convenience.

Lottery tickets were another story, I told him. Even if he paid for them I couldn’t comfortably buy them for him or for anyone without feeling incredibly self-conscious and uncomfortable. After going into the same store for him five or six times the clerk had made snide comments to me, I explained, about my “habit” and rolled his eyes when I said “they’re for my boyfriend.” I couldn’t imagine what children of alcoholics go through having to buy booze for their parents, or children who have to buy lottery tickets for compulsive gambler parents.

I made a call to Gam-Anon, but they weren’t too helpful. Their meetings were way over in East Boston. They said to come to a meeting but I couldn’t really get to East Boston and of course Joe wasn’t about to go to a GA meeting anytime soon.

You cannot force therapy nor “treatment” on anyone, nor force a person into a 12 step program and doing so will not save a marriage. You can tell yourself over and over, “I wish he would do something about his problem” and blame “his problem” on your life not being okay.

But is your life really falling apart due to HIS PROBLEM? Gimme a break.

Oh, hindsight is such a terrific thing. Yes, I did blame all my difficulties on HIS PROBLEM for a while. But not forever. I didn’t stay paralyzed in that mode for very long since ECT jolted me out of that so I had to deal with brain damage for the next year and a half.

Looking back, if you are stuck blaming your whole life on HIS PROBLEM you’re wrong. If you are hung up on “If only he’ll go to therapy and get it fixed” and of course he won’t and that’s holding back your whole life, you’re wrong.

I’m sure after ECT damaged my brain, poor Joe blamed his whole life on “Why can’t Jules get her brain fixed and why don’t those doctors do something?” since he took care of me after ECT turned me into a basket case. It was a lot of unexpected work for him and neither of us anticipated it nor were equipped to deal with it.

If you are in a relationship, you cannot continuously point the finger at the other person’s problem and make any claim that YOUR life is falling apart because your partner isn’t getting treatment. To me, that’s a formula for disaster.

My thinking is that your life is your life, and his life is his life. What I had to do was to realize that simple fact. We were two different people. We could still love each other, and love even more deeply if we weren’t so overly involved.

It was a lot of work since we were caregiving for each other by then. ECT made me dependent since my brain didn’t work right. I could no longer do things for myself and had to rely on him. But still, that didn’t mean I WAS him. It didn’t make our SELVES overlap.

We each had to take steps to save the relationship. He did not go to GA. The gambling resolved on its own. Meanwhile, I found other friendships by getting my first email account. This was on AOL. Remember “You’ve got mail?” So this way, I had a new world, my online world, and that was separate from Joe. He began to go back to AA where he had his friends who weren’t my friends. He also purchased a drum set, rented a practice room, and enjoyed many hours practicing. I took up running and I also began to write my first novel.

Now, we had our separate turfs once more. This was how we had to do our relationship, and that was how it always worked best. We spent many hours together each day and those hours were more calm and peaceful now.

In the year before he died we enjoyed attending minor league baseball games in Lowell, Massachusetts. Joe was thrilled that I could get such excellent seats for us. We loved the games, seeing up-and-coming players get started, and seeing children and their families at the games was exciting for us, too. We even drove to Upstate New York and toured the Baseball Hall of Fame. We spent several days there.

Much of what had happened before was something we didn’t revisit often. I didn’t think much about the ECT and how I ended up a basket case afterward. My life had gone on. His life had gone on, too, and he wasn’t gambling anymore.

I honestly don’t know if Joe died with a smile on his face or not. I suppose that’s between him and God, since he believed there was one. One day, maybe a month or two after his death, he came to me in a dream and told me Heaven was fantastic. “You should see this place! The food is great, and they have shows every night!” he said. Then, he was gone. I have had visions of him on and off over the years.

You are you, and I am I. Will our paths cross? If so, it’s beautiful. Leave it at that.

Feedback and comments welcome!