Dear Ada,

I’m newly married and my husband’s mother and stepfather have struggled with drug addiction for over 20 years. There is a lot of history but my husband and his step siblings have come out the other side better and stronger. Until last May, when his stepfather died of an overdose.  In the course of grieving, my husband approached the other side of his family—his father and stepmother. They didn’t seem to be aware of the situation of more than 20 years while my husband struggled to raise his siblings and at the same time lived 10 mins away from his father and spent every other weekend there.  

And now comes the advice part. I am having an easier time understanding and forgiving the disease of addiction. I’m having a really hard time not exploding on the other side of the family for not saving him from being exposed to it, even forgetting specific events.

I’m a fiercely loyal person. And the holidays are when I need to bite my tongue. But I need advice on how to look at this more maturely as the holidays bring up all the emotions of a father’s recent passing.

Any thoughts are appreciated,

Struggling with Struggling with Addiction

Dear Struggling,

I am so so so sorry that I didn’t respond to your email sooner. I swear I would have answered you earlier, but…I think I deleted your email accidentally/on purpose.

Let me explain.

Two years ago, I myself was struggling with a substance abuse issue. My drinking was out of control and I needed help. Having gone to a handful of AA meetings and deciding that the big book was not for me (I’ll let y’all have your own thoughts on the “Friends of Bill”; AA can be mad helpful for some, it just wasn’t my bag), I turned to every single online alternative sobriety platform a girl can turn to. My inbox was chock full of newsletters from Hip Sobriety and the Sober Señorita (shout out, those are both top-notch resources for anyone looking for a chill and inspiring alternative to AA), but eventually what helped me arrive at a healthier place was just a shit ton of talk therapy.

All this is to say, that when your email came through my inbox, and I saw the “Struggling with Struggling with Addiction” subject line, I thought it was a holdover newsletter from my darker days, and I promptly deleted it.

How’s that for some super solid excuse making!?

I have a point, I swear, and this isn’t just about absolving myself from the guilt of not answering your question in a timely manner.

The point is, that lifelong addiction can be like a crack in the wall that you’ve become so used to seeing that it starts to look like wallpaper. I was so used to seeing sobriety-spam emails flood my inbox, that your email faded into the tapestry of my own struggle, a struggle that I sift through and ignore on the daily, in a quest to keep myself at inbox zero (and denial 100).

But this isn’t about me.

Your husband’s mother and stepfather were both sick. You know that. Your husband knows that. Your husband’s whole family knows that. You’re not angry with your husband’s mother and stepfather for being sick, you’re angry with the people around them for not shielding a child from that sickness, and all I can say is that that anger is both justified and useless.

Every parent, no matter how fucked up and awful they may turn out to be, earnestly wants to be a good parent. And I assure you your husband’s father did not intentionally want to saddle your husband with the responsibility of raising his siblings and living in a home that was so clearly fucked. But, your husband’s father and stepmother have made their mistakes into their wallpaper now, and even your fiercest holiday aggression won’t make them see that their wallpaper is really just a spider web of cracked plaster. That doesn’t mean they’ll never see the reality of what they did to your husband, it just means that anger and indignation (no matter how righteous) are not going to help them see the error of their ways.

I sense from your email that your husband is warm and kind and forgiving. If he weren’t, you wouldn’t need to be so angry for him. I also sense that your anger is built on a fierce love for your husband and that, my dear, is your secret fucking weapon.

His stepfather is gone, his mother was (and maybe still is) an addict. His father and stepmother left your husband to pick up the pieces and raise his siblings, who you now describe as having “come out the other side better and stronger”. So, I encourage you to lean into your love for this man, which I can tell is strong AF, with everything you have.

When you feel the anger creeping up (which you will, because duh), remind yourself that the man you love is the man he is, not because he had it easy but because he had it hard. The people in his life who made it hard won’t see the error of their ways because of your anger, but they just might see it because of your love.

I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I love you and your wonderful husband.

-Ada

Dear Ada,

I am a woman of late middle age, recently divorced, and finding myself a bit at sea socially. The divorce is amicable, so there’s no friend drama involved but I’m finding that my still-married friends can’t really relate to my new status. I’d love to find some fellow single gals to befriend but… where? Any advice on forming new friend circles when you’re old and boring?

Alright Old and Boring,

Let me just start with how you’re talkin’ about yourself. If you’re a woman in late middle age, there is literally no way you’re “old and boring”. Existing in the world as a woman is an experience so full, rich, challenging, and complicated that it is physically impossible to make it anywhere north of 9 years without you yourself growing full, rich, challenging, and complicated.

So, now that we’ve scrapped the self-effacing language, let’s get to the good stuff.

When I was roughly 8 years old, my parents got a divorce. It was NOT amicable (my dad was a bit of a d-o-double-g). My whole family had just moved to a new town, under the auspices of being closer to my dad’s job, and when my mother found out that the whole move was actually to get us closer to my dad’s mistress…well…’twas un petit shit show.

My mom had a best friend in our old town, who we’ll call Nancy. Nancy and my mom had been close for roughly 10 years and there is no doubt my mom considered Nancy her bff4E. So, when my mom found out about my dad’s doggy-dog ways, she reached out to her best friend for comfort. She was met with deafening silence.

Now, all this was before cell phones and the internet, so like…maybe a squirrel chewed through Nancy’s landline or something? Regardless, Nancy was MIA and my mom was SOL. Here she was, in a brand-new place, with 2 nearly adolescent daughters, a scumbag soon-to-be-ex-husband and literally not a friend in the world.

*Pops and I are cool now BTW. Shit happens, you get over it.

The way my ma tells the story, after approx 2 days of scream crying, she picked herself up off the newly ½ empty his/hers closet and marched across the street to the home of a woman she had waved at one time while watering the lawn. With red eyes, snotty nose and her life a mess, she knocked.

The woman who answered the door became my Auntie Maggie, and they’re currently clocking 25+ years of friendship. Maggie wasn’t newly divorced, she didn’t have a scumbag husband, and she basically had exactly nothing concrete in common with my mother. But something in Maggie’s 2-second wave told my mom that she had what it took to pick up what ma was putting down. So, ma knocked.

My mom didn’t stop at Margaret. No, she was a new female-friend-acquiring machine! She joined a divorce support group where she met loads of cool 90s divorcees who introduced her to things like Lilith Fair and Ally McBeal, and who helped her buy a slutty Halloween costume. She even asked one of the women she frequently saw at the gym to go get coffee, which became dinner, which became wine, which became a very surprising story my mom told me when I came out to her as bi…

Aaaaaanyway, I fully recognize that your situation is loads different from my mom’s — you’re so obviously not in the closet-floor-fetal-position stage of things, and your divorce sounds like a lot less of a shit show than my mother’s was – but, I guess the point I’m trying to make is…knock.

Something tells me that there are people already on the outskirts of your life who you find funny, or strange, or interesting, or warm, but who you haven’t quite taken the step toward a friendship with. Start knocking. Be a little weird, vulnerable, and maybe creepy, and start asking out the women you meet who give you good vibes. Do the things that interest you, that take you out into the world, and then look around for the people who look interesting doing those things. They may not all become your Maggie, but maybe one of them might, and maybe one of them will help you pick out a slutty Halloween costume.

I think you can start knocking on your existing friends too. I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason Nancy pushed my mom away, is because my mom’s situation freaked her the fuck out. She was worried that it could happen to her (it did), and rather than woman-up to that very real fear, she shut out a friend. Obviously, that was tres shitty, but I also wonder if my mom had pressed her a little, if their friendship would have actually grown stronger. I wonder if the same can be true for you with your existing friends.

As I said at the start of this whole thing, the world is literally bursting with women who are full, rich, challenging, and complicated. Get your full, rich, challenging, and complicated self out into your life and start knocking.

Also, I’d totes be your friend.

Ada

Send me your questions (askada@graceless.com) and I’ll drop a truth bomb bigger than the ones we’re all terrified the Cheeto©-monster-in-chief is going to get dropped on us.