You Need Help: Is Substance Use a Dealbreaker?

Q:

I was dating this woman for about a month, I really liked her. She’s sweet, kind, smart, beautiful, and I really enjoyed hanging out with her and wanted to keep getting to know her. The only thing is there’s a red flag that came up. She’s high on weed all the time. Like, I’d go pick her up for lunch and she’d stand outside the car and smoke. I don’t think I ever saw her sober. When she’s really high, she’d repeat herself and talk in circles, it was kinda a lot. And I started to get the vibe that there might be an alcohol issue there too. As someone who’s dealt with substance issues, my friends and my therapist told me to cut and run, so I did. I told her what the issue was for me, and I bailed. And now I regret it. It’s like I know I probably did the right thing, I just don’t feel that way, and I can’t get her off my mind. Should I go back? Keep it moving? I thought she could’ve been important, what if she was supposed to be, and I really fucked up here? Please help.

A:

Hi Reader! Thank you for sending in this question, it’s a tricky one and I wanted to tackle it.

First, I want to say two things can be true at once. You could be right for leaving this woman but you also could have done the leaving all wrong. I’m not sure how the conversation between you went, but the way you describe it seems like it was abrupt and might have blindsided her. If that’s not the case and she was fully able to engage with what you were saying to her about how her substance use made you uncomfortable, then ignore what I just said.

On the flip side of this, you two had been seeing each other for about a month, which isn’t very long. If someone is doing something in a relationship that makes you uncomfortable you totally have the right to cut and run. But I guess what I want to ask you is, were you kind? When you told her that her smoking and drinking made you uneasy, were you compassionate, or were you judgmental? How you performed this “breakup” may be at the center of why you can’t seem to get her out of your head.

I ask about kindness because it is important when dealing with people we care about. My history with drugs and alcohol has been well documented on Autostraddle, so I come from a place of experience. Many people that altered friendships or relationships with me because of my drinking were kind in their delivery, and I still have friendships with those people to this day. Those that were unkind I don’t talk to anymore. A big question for you will be do I want this woman in my life at all, in any capacity? If you do, then your kindness and compassion toward her will be imperative.

Also, you say that you took the advice of friends and a therapist in leaving this situation, which is totally valid. Your friends and especially your therapist may see a situation clearer than you can when you’re the one being swayed by feelings of attraction that they are not subject to. Was smoking weed a ton really a deal breaker for you? Ask yourself that, because it’s really all about what you want and what’s best for you. If the drug use really did make you that uncomfortable then, as I said earlier, you were well within your right to leave. But you are expressing regret, so there is something unresolved in that relationship that you may have to work out with her or on your own.

It sounds to me like you are stuck in this perpetual state of “what if?” What if she had a good reason to smoke so much? What if your relationship was going to be great and loving? What if you were wrong? To resolve those what-ifs, I think you have to ask yourself these questions:

Why did you end it?
Were you kind?
Are you comfortable not knowing her at all?

That last one is particularly important. She can be in your life but not be your partner/girlfriend, y’all can have a friendship that is full and mutually beneficial. But is that what you want? Do you want more or maybe nothing at all? I know it sucks to answer your questions with more questions, but this isn’t the kind of question where I could say “delete her number and never talk to her again!”

If you do end up going back to talk to her, I’d suggest expressing regret for how you ended things. Maybe you were abrupt and didn’t give her the chance to explain or tell her story. If that’s the case, then you could resolve your feelings with a simple: “I’m sorry for the way I ended things, I still don’t think we are compatible for the reasons I mentioned, but I wanted to express regret for cutting and running the way I did.”

If you don’t talk to her again, I would talk to your therapist about these feelings and see what they have to say. You can also journal about your emotions around the situation, which might help you understand why you are still hung up on her. I would also chat with your therapist before you do attempt to talk with this woman again, just to let your therapist know that you are thinking of making this decision.

I hope this helps you even a little bit.

x

DJ


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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danijanae

Dani Janae is a poet and writer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not writing love poems for unavailable women, she's watching horror movies, hanging with her tarantula, and eating figs. Follow Dani Janae on Twitter and on Instagram.

danijanae has written 115 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. I totally agree with all the above advice but also want to add- it’s totally possible that you’re feeling regret/missing the good parts of someone, or the imagined future you think you could have had, even if you were totally right to leave. It’s easy to think “everything was perfect except for this one thing” but that’s rarely the case. If substance use isn’t something that fits into your lifestyle/who you want to be/what you want to be around, then she wasn’t the right fit for you. It’s not fair to ask her to change her habits (especially that early in a relationship), and it’s not fair for you to have to put up with it if it’s a problem for you. There is someone out there who has all of the qualities you’re looking for, and also matches better with your level of comfort regarding substances!

    • Right, yes, this exactly. If you liked this person and the many good things about her that were *not* the dealbreaker, it is one million percent normal to have feelings of regret and ‘what if’, and IME that happens regardless of what the reason is or how the breakup went. In the same way that missing an ex doesn’t mean it was wrong to break up, these thoughts don’t mean you didn’t make the wisest decision for yourself based on your own history and needs. Ending things before they’ve otherwise run their course is just hard sometimes.

  2. God, the OP sounds like me if I had been smart before I got married. I was really naive when I met my wife. I saw some of the same red flags re: marijuana usage but I genuinely didn’t know what was normal. When I spoke to friends and a therapist they advised caution but not to cut and run.

    Spoiler: I was not cautious. We U-hauled it instead. It turned out that the problem was much deeper than anyone had anticipated, she was just good at hiding it (at least from me, since again, I was really naive). She was spending $800 or more a month, hiding it, lying, stealing money from joint accounts. And then she lost her job.

    I’ve put her through a year and a half of rehab and even more years of therapy. She hasn’t worked in four years. It has been excruciatingly painful. The emotional and financial hit of loving someone with a substance abuse problem is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and sometimes I look back at my younger self and regret that I stayed.

    I love my wife more than anyone. She is funny, smart, loving and sharp. But God, have I paid in pain and tears for a problem I didn’t know enough to recognize.

    To this day I don’t think people really understand how marijuana can become a serious addiction, since it’s not physically addictive. I thought it was bullshit myself. Nope. It’s not that there’s ever a “good reason” for substance abuse. It’s a disease. It can afflict anyone for a million reasons.

    OP, you recognized the problem before you walked into it. Maybe you want to stay friends, to support someone who may be suffering alone. Maybe you want to make the relationship work, but with your eyes open about how much it will hurt.

    Addicts do not put you first. They can love you with their whole heart and yet still choose the drug over and over. They will lie, cheat and steal. Every remission will carry the undercurrent of fear that the good times aren’t going to last, and your heart will be ripped out of your chest so many times you don’t know if it can be put together again.

    I honestly don’t know if I would make the same choice again if I knew then what I know now about marijuana and substance abuse. I might have. Or maybe not. OP, go forward knowing that the potential cost of the other choice is enormous and perhaps incalculable. And sometimes it’s worth it anyway — I just wish I had known what I was facing before I fell in love.

  3. As a person who spend their childhood with a highly addicted alcoholic dad, I want to say that kindness is not a virtue that the close social surrounding owes a substance abuser who regularly gaslights the whole family, lies, steals, blames everyone for his faults, deflects from his actions, doesn’t keep promises and uses violence.
    In addition, in my experience, substance abusers also frequently confuse kindness with no boundaries and no consequences, which means that one might have to be harsher here than with other people.
    I realize that the letter writer is/was in a different stage with the person they dated, but I wanted to express this nevertheless, as a more general thought. It is a lot to ask to be kind to a substance abuser after everything this person has done to injure oneself and others.
    Given my history, I would always cut and run when it comes to addiction, no matter how wonderful the person may be otherwise. The thing is, the more severe and lengthy the addiction, the likelier a beautiful personality will disappear over time.
    To cut a long story short – to cut and run would always be the right choice for me.

  4. Hi there. This is a delicate one and I’m glad that the writer’s response was so nuanced, gentle, and smart. Thank you for that. IMO, at a month into dating someone, it’s entirely fine to identify a component of them/how they show up for you that doesn’t work and end it. You do seem to be having feelings of regret, but we can’t really know why–do you wish you had waited longer before making the decision? Do you worry if your friends or therapist might have been judgmental or overreactive? Did her behavior trigger you in a way that made your own mental health or addiction dangerous? Do you regret how you talked to her about all of this, if you did at all? These things (obviously) aren’t anyone else’s business but for what it’s worth I picked up on these things when reading and just wanted to share them here in case it opens up anything for you or helps you to heal. My honest take is that if this is an issue a month in and you’ve already ended it once, I would walk away from the relationship and perhaps after some time, reach out and see if she’d like to have a friendship. If you cut things off with her in a way you regret, I think it’s also fair and valid to reach out with an apology for XYZ about your part. But even if you’re feeling confused about what “could have been” I would gently caution against reopening the romance/dating part of it, as especially if this person is living with addiction, it could cause them unnecessary confusion and upheaval too.

  5. So, I’m a therapist, and I feel like a conversation about advice and therapist influence and power here is important? I think that a therapists’ job is to make connections, and support clients in setting boundaries. For me, a therapist connecting their behavior to how I felt, and how I was able to show up as my best self. I feel like as a therapist it’s kind of unethical to give this kind of life advice: How to have a conversation or what kinds of boundaries might work for a situation are probably ok, but whether you should end a relationship feels like a Yikes!
    As an example, when I’ve had relationships with people whose substance use sets off red flags, I need to connect with the parts of me that are about my mom’s alcohol abuse, and identify how I’m being treated in this relationship vs. that one, and then evaluate if I’m responding from a place of trauma or if this relationship is genuinely unsustainable. I’d also probably think about talking to my person about those concerns and if those behaviors are things they’re willing to change. Like, is it use, is it addiction, are they aware and working on the behaviors, are their behaviors when they’re using the substance scary/dangerous/hurtful? YMMV, but I feel like more questions are the way to respond, unless they’re not that interesting to you, in which case, blaming the substance use isn’t necessarily the most honest or kind.

  6. What a hard situation. I think you did the right thing, asker. I don’t know what your experience is, but unfortunately in the queer spaces and communities I’ve been in as a young adult, substance use is sort of seen as a norm/a given. I have some firm boundaries around substance use that have been consistently pushed and disregarded, and I just want to say that it is okay to be a queer person who doesn’t use substances AND who isn’t comfortable being around substance use. It can be really isolating, but you aren’t alone, and it’s okay for you to find substance use upsetting.

  7. Substance use is a complicated subject that can be incredibly triggering for many people. I’m not here to downplay the other commenters experiences- weed is a drug and certainly people can have devastating issues with it. But I also know (and have been in the past) serious stoners who pretty much have their lives together.. gainfully employed, relationships, nothing in their lives really on fire or anything.. that being said, when people ALWAYS have to be high, even if we’re not in “scary addiction” territory, it’s definitely a LIFESTYLE at that point. I can totally see how if OP isn’t living that stoner life it would be totally tedious and annoying to be around someone who is intoxicated 24/7. I’m not judging the ex, but if you aren’t in that same mindset/reality it’s just really hard to relate to people in that state. It’s the same way drunks can be annoying to hang out with when you’re sober. You’re just living in different realities. I think if after only a month it was already getting on your nerves, it certainly isn’t going to get less annoying after a year. No one here is a bad person (also we have no evidence that the ex is on a downward spiral or doing anything other than being a lil annoying when they’re stoned) but these two are leading incompatible lifestyles and even if they’re compatible in other ways, there are certain issues that are big enough to be deal breakers. I think OP made the right choice. It’s doubtful the ex would change their smoking habits and it’s just too big of a lifestyle difference. Substance use is something a couple has to be on the same page about, just as much as whether to have kids, or what kind of sex you like, finances, politics, or any of those other lifestyle things.

    • This. It’s weird to me that pretty much every other comment is projecting their own trauma onto a person they have one point of info about. Such is the internet, ig. As someone who is a “stoner” with her life together, we’re not for everyone and that’s okay. You don’t have to stick around but don’t be a dick about leaving, esp if the person hasn’t actually done anything to you except exist and consume cannabis “too much” for you. On the flipside of that, I know that whoever I date needs to either also consume cannabis or not care about how much I consume. People come and go, weed doesn’t–esp now that I live in a legal state :)

  8. Trust your gut. The risk of triggering an unhealthy substance abuse again is not worth the faint chance that this person might be someone ‘important’ to you, in my opinion. There are lots of possibly ‘important’ people in the world to be met, and you will meet more of them <3

  9. As someone who has a very spiritual relationship with weed and who is an herbalist in general, who has worked for many years to get over family and community brainwashing and fear mongering around weed, and someone who has been disowned by “friends” simply for smoking weed at all, I personally have no time to be in relationships with people who pathologize my weed use and don’t understand it. It sounds to me like the ex dodged a bullet here.

    • Wanted to add also that repeating oneself and talking in circles are often just things that nuerodivergent people do. I have these talking patterns due to adhd for example, not from being high. Cannabis actually helps me to tone down these traits for social interactions, lol.

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