ASK CAROLINE: Our relationships expert Caroline West-Meads answers your questions
If you have a problem, email Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org. Caroline reads all your letters but regrets she cannot answer each one personally
My addictions have destroyed my life
I am struggling with an addiction to cocaine and alcohol which I’ve had, on and off, for more than 20 years. Since my last child left home it has got worse. I hate and love what I do. However, I have isolated myself from my family. I have no friends or boyfriend. Living alone is horrendous. I had a good job as a trainee probation officer, but handed in my notice because I couldn’t work and take drugs at the same time. I also have not stuck to my sessions with the local drug agency and they have now taken me off their books. I am on Prozac but I only seem happy when I am taking drugs or drinking. I sleep most days so that I do not have to face reality because as soon as I wake up I hate my life and where I live. Where do I go from here?
I think to begin with you need to treat yourself with compassion. Addictions do not usually arise from nowhere. They start from an emptiness that the highs seem to fill. Perhaps they mask deep pain, which could have arisen from feeling unsafe or unloved, the death of a parent, or an unstable or abusive childhood. Perhaps they come from being bullied at school or having a damaging relationship. Sometimes they start from poverty or lack of hope. Other times from inner demons or mental health issues. But drugs and alcohol lead straight back to emptiness. The addiction becomes the only thing that matters and alienates you from your family. Although you will be experiencing self-hatred, remember that it was because you were suffering that you started down this path and you deserve forgiveness. You say that you both love and hate your addiction, but question that love. Is it love that causes you to make self-destructive choices? That drives your family away and that, if you persist, will ultimately kill you? You know it is not. I am sure that you must desperately miss your children, so write down in large letters, ‘I love my children more than I love drugs or alcohol’, and put it somewhere prominent. Every time you feel tempted, look at it and think: ‘Do I really need this fix/drink or would I rather see my children?’ Your family will have suffered a great deal, but it is never too late to turn your life around and perhaps restore the bonds with them. It may be that they could also help you to move. It is not easy to change where you live, but the associations of a place can reinforce a habit. Also, you must be getting the drugs from somewhere, so to move away from those contacts would help. Sleeping all day is a sign of depression, so go to your GP and ask for help. Exercise is also essential. It is sad that the drugs agency has taken you off its books, but can you try a different service? You really need therapy, support and a mentor. You can find local services at talktofrank.com and smartrecovery.org.uk.
How do I stand up to my bullying boss?
I am a head of department at a secondary school and I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m in my late 40s and have taught at this school for years but a new headmaster has undermined my confidence. This past year has been so hard as I have had my children at home and also have to help my mother-in-law who can’t manage on her own. (My husband has a demanding full-time job.) But the new head is younger, male and quite sexist, with a wife who looks after him and their children. For some reason he seems to have taken against me. He finds fault with everything I do and piles responsibilities on me. In meetings, he puts me down. I am at the point of leaving but I used to love my job.
You have a great deal on your plate so no wonder you are overwhelmed. It sounds as though your boss might be guilty of workplace bullying, which could well be based in sexism. Or he may feel threatened by the fact that you are older (and perhaps more experienced) and by your popularity (you say in your longer letter that he is ruthless and not well liked). Bullies will sometimes back down if confronted, but he sounds quite intimidating and of course it could backfire. But you shouldn’t have to leave a job you love and he should not be allowed to bully you (and in fact this may cross the line into harassment, which is illegal). You need to go to your teaching union and ask for advice on how to tackle this. To reduce the pressure at home, could you and your husband afford carers to help with your mother-in-law?